March 21, 2015

THERE'S ONLY ONE STORY:

KENNETH BRANAGH'S VERY CHRISTIAN CINDERELLA (FATHER ROBERT BARRON, March 17, 2015, Boston Pilot)

Kenneth Branagh's "Cinderella" is the most surprising Hollywood movie of the year so far. I say this because the director manages to tells the familiar fairy tale without irony, hyper-feminist sub-plots, Marxist insinuations, deconstructionist cynicism, or arch condescension. In so doing, he actually allows the spiritual, indeed specifically Christian, character of the tale to emerge. I realize that it probably strikes a contemporary audience as odd that Cinderella might be a Christian allegory, but keep in mind that most of the fairy stories and children's tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm and later adapted by Walt Disney found their roots in the decidedly Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.  [...]

[W]hile out riding in the country, Cinderella encountered a magnificent stag that was being pursued by a hunting party. Subsequently, she met the leader of the hunting brigade, a handsome young prince, the son of the King. The two almost immediately fell in love. Because she returned home without identifying herself, the prince called for a ball and invited all of the young women of the realm to come, hoping to lure his mysterious beloved. Though her stepfamily tried desperately to prevent her from attending, Cinderella, through the ministrations of her fairy godmother, managed to get to the ball, where she, of course, entranced the prince. Once again, she was compelled to return early, and the lovesick prince sought her desperately until he found her and married her. 

We are tempted, no doubt, to see all of this as the stuff of ordinary romance, but we should look more deeply. First, the stag is a traditional sign of Christ and thus his presence as the object of the hunt is meant to signal his presence at the symbolic level of the narrative. Moreover, the prince, the son of the King, who falls in love with a woman despite her lowliness, is an obvious evocation of Jesus, the Son of God, who was sent to become the bridegroom of the human race, whose spiritual beauty had been covered over by sin. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the "builder of the human race" would come one day to marry his people, and the motif of the sacrum connubium, the sacred marriage, runs right through the New Testament. Indeed, the fathers of the Church took particular delight in ringing the changes on this theme, emphasizing that the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, in marrying the human race, lifted us up out of our lowliness and bestowed upon us all of his own benefits and dignity. This is precisely why the early theologians of the Church specified that the sacrum connubium involved an admirabile commercium (a wonderful exchange), God taking our sin from us and giving us his grace. In the symbolic language of our story, the unmerited love of the prince indeed transformed Cinderella into a princess.

The surest sign that this transformation has occurred--and it is one of my favorite elements in Branagh's telling--is that Cinderella, upon escaping from the cruel oppression of her stepmother, turned to the wicked woman, not to curse her, but to offer a word of forgiveness. There could be no more compelling proof that she had thoroughly taken on the character of the bridegroom.

Posted by at March 21, 2015 7:24 AM
  

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