Rethinking Love: A Review of Maleficent

(This is for my creative writing class under Professor Wendell Capili)

Can you remember that time your parents told you that Santa Claus wasn’t real? The look on your face when you found out that it wasn’t an obese, magical grandpa who sneaked into your house at Christmas night who gave you your presents? You probably don’t. The movie, Maleficent, a remake of the classic Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty, might help us rekindle something close to that feeling.

It was out of spite that the beautiful Aurora was cursed by the soulless witch. From her castle of thorns surrounded by a green mist, she waited for the day that mankind would bear her wrath. She was the epitome of hatred and the embodiment of all things evil. On the opposite, King Stefan was cast as a benevolent, charming king beloved by all of his subjects. He was king worthy of the title. At least that is what we are told.

Yet what this movie shows is not just a retelling but a complete overhaul of the character’s intentions. It challenges our pre-conceived notions of villain and protagonist and muddles the distinction between good and bad. Maleficent, after all, may not have been who we thought she was.

Born as a fairy in the magical land of the Moors, Maleficent knew nothing of hatred. She was a friend to all and an enemy to no one. She embodied the spirit of any child—gutsy, curious, and compassionate. Innocent to the realities outside of the Moors, Maleficent’s heart was pure.

But fate has a way of playing with people. It pushes us into an endless cycle of betrayal and failure that we sometimes think to ourselves: What’s the point of being nice when we only get envy and hatred in return? Slowly we grow numb to the hatred around us. We become desensitized to the harsh realities of the world that love also becomes a wishful thought. Worse, it drives many of us to do the most terrible things. The story of Maleficent may not be so different for you and me.

Vengeful for the treachery of the man she loved, the once virtuous Maleficent seized control of the Moors and vowed to avenge herself. Darkness covered the lands with large walls of thorns separating the Moors from the kingdom as she swore to spare it from human touch.  It was on the christening of King Stefan’s first child that she did her most evil deed, casting an irrevocable curse that she would soon regret.

The movie digresses from traditional storylines, however. Far from what audiences would expect, it skips the sudden change of Maleficent from evil to good as its ending. Instead it immediately directs the movie to this transformation in Maleficent’s character and prepares us for a bigger plot twist.  As soon as the baby was hidden by three clumsy fairies in the forest, Maleficent ceases to be the malevolent fairy. She sends Diaval, a crow-turned-human assistant, to deliver food and even saved the child Aurora from falling into the cliff. Barely halfway into the movie, Maleficent’s character has changed massively. Despite the authors attempt to paint her as evil through poorly-inserted scenes of attacking soldiers, Maleficent is no longer the same fairy that cursed Aurora.

Her closeness to the grown-up princess would soon come to a pause, as the latter finds that it was Maleficent who cursed her. On the day of her return of Stefan, the same anger and feeling of betrayal that once consumed Maleficent, now afflicted Aurora. She would soon end up pricking the spindle while inside the castle. Here lies the most captivating part of the story and it is a testament to how forcefully it confronts traditional norms. The prince, whom Aurora barely spoke to in the forest, could not wake her up with his kiss. It was Maleficent’s kiss—a kiss of longing and of friendship. It was a kiss far more powerful and more meaningful. Needless to say, this movie challenges our traditional notion of love. It shows a love that is deeper than the bond between two lovers. It is a more profound love which we cannot control. It comes at times when we expect it least.

It is a bitter irony to see that love both hurts and heals. For the same love that drove Maleficent to do evil things also saved the life of Aurora. It was love that broke into the wall of hate that love itself has helped build. Indeed, it sheds light even in the deepest caves or the wildest moors. Walls of bricks and cements cannot withstand love’s strength.

But Maleficent is bound for a more fatal trial as King Stefan has prepared a trap. A huge iron ring falls on her as she brings Aurora to the castle’s exit. Soldiers attack her as the deadly metal burned her skin. Even as a dragon, Diaval couldn’t save his friend. Aurora accidentally entering the room where Maleficent’s wings were kept was the movie’s turning point. By then, it was clear that Maleficent would regain her wings right before Stefan could stab his former lover. It had a more profound meaning, for it symbolized Maleficent’s liberation from the chains of hatred and anger.

The roles have been reversed. Maleficent was now the antagonist and Stefan the protagonist. Despite Maleficent sparing his life as they ended on top of the tower, Stefan plunged on her until they fell off and Stefan met his terrible end. It was not Maleficent who killed Stefan, though. It was his hatred and selfishness. Indeed, anger clouds our reasoning and pushes us to do things that would harm us further. Once it is let loose, anger leaps out of the fences of our own moral codes.

Maleficent’s story is our story, too. While movies of old have obsessed with dividing characters into good and bad, Maleficent acknowledges a simple fact that everybody can relate to—that morality is relative.  The world cannot be divided between those who are good and those who are evil, when each of us has both forces present. When we see people do bad things, it is not simply a product of a fleeting idea. It is an emotional response which many of us cannot escape.  It is up to us to accept this reality and to train ourselves to always seek the good side despite the challenges and failures we face.

Overall, Maleficent is a refreshing movie in an age dominated by dull good vs. evil superhero plots. It delves more into the human character and the complexities of the world. Far from casting plots in an oversimplified light, Maleficent works with the world’s contradictions and creates a rich story of love and magical adventure.