Just saw Maleficent and had to type up my two cents. Spoilers behind the cut.
The film starts with a young woman who is confident and happy, until the day she is date raped by a man she trusts. After the trauma of that experience, she finds it hard to get close to anyone again. The future she imagined for herself as a leader and perhaps even as a mother is lost, and she turns her energy toward revenge.
Yes, I’m still talking about Maleficent. I don’t want to flatten out the film by minimizing it to one single metaphor, but for the purposes of this review, the basis of the film is a very dark and convincing date rape metaphor. Angelina Jolie does an amazing job as the title character, and the most chilling and memorable moment of the film for me was the morning after her traumatic experience, when she awakens from being drugged and suffers the pain, disorientation, loss, and betrayal of what has happened to her. From that scene forward, the movie was about a rape to me.
For a long time, I have been of the belief that speculative fiction can help us deal with trauma in ways that nonfiction cannot. It does so by separating the reader from the realism of the event while simultaneously eliciting compassion and empathy by placing us in the shoes of the character and putting us through the same trauma. I use “reader” in this case because I’ve often made this argument about some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy books – genres that are often accused of not tackling “real life issues.” Yet I’ve read countless fantasy books that use speculative elements as metaphors for very real, very frightening traumatic events – and give us tools (or at least hope) for survival.
Which brings me around to why I think Maleficent is brilliant. It is the story of a victim of violence overcoming her trauma. It realistically portrays the struggle involved in such an experience – the courage, the challenge, the hearbreak. In many ways, the story is as much about the self-doubt inflicted upon Maleficent as a result of her experience (and her internal suffering) as it is about external, man vs. man (or, in this case, fairy vs. human) battles. And the real triumph comes when Maleficent recognizes her own value, despite what she has suffered.
And all of this in a children’s movie.