Sunday, December 9, 2012

"What Not to" v. "Why Don't You": A Mini Analysis of the Politics of Style in "Brave"

 Last night my daughters and I watched Brave. SPOILER ALERT NEXT and THROUGHOUT

On one hand, I didn't know what the big deal was; my daughters turn me into a bear on a daily basis.

But on the other hand, I couldn't help notice the remarkable physical similarity between Queen Elinor and Stacy London, our favourite makeover guru.  See the long, lusturous black hair punctuated by the chic white streak?

The connections go deeper than hair, though; indeed, Queen Elinor CONSTANTLY tells her wild-at-heart daughter WHAT TO DO and WHAT NOT TO DO.  The princess Merida wants to wear her hair tangled and free; her mother wants to tuck it neath a snug head wrap.  Merida wants to shoot arrows all day; her mother wants her to be a lady. Merida wants her freedom; her mother wants her to marry one of three unacceptable suitors from local clans.

The list goes on, and at one point Merida erupts in anger, yelling at her mother about the tyranny of this "what not to" set of rules. Sound familiar?

(And, in a tangentially connected subplot, Merida's triplet little brothers--the boys--are forever chasing after their nursemaid Maudie's cookies, or should we say that the boys chase the girls, a la London parlance?)

Anyhoo, both Merida and her mum find it unbearable to be a member of the clan Ursidae and, in a streak of epiphanies, Queen Mother Bear realizes that her daughter was right: she grants her child the freedom to marry whom and when she chooses.

In terms of style, we might see this film as a showdown between two outspoken editors: Stacy London of "What not to" and Diana Vreeland of "Why don't you." 

So is this film dissing Stacy London's rules in favour of the more eccentric Vreeland's vision? (Why don't you tie black tulle bows on your wrists?  Why don't you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?  Why don't you rinse your blond child's hair in dead champagne to keep it gold?)

Perhaps, but it doesn't hurt that Merida is utterly gorgeous and competent in her unkempt state. Rather, I'd say that the film seeks a balance.  In order to turn her mother back into a human being, Merida must stitch up a rent in a tapestry image of her family, a wound in the fabric that Merida made out of anger.  The mended tapestry eventually is used to clothe the Queen as she transforms from bear to human; it was originally something NOT TO WEAR but the Queen is certainly grateful for the cover it offers. Both mother and daughter learn not to criticize each other.

Brave, written and produced by women, rejects the rules, instead offering girls--and women--the opportunity to do what they want, while looking like they want, within reason. Even the queen, by the end of the film, has loosened her tightly bound plaits and is galloping away on horseback with her daughter. Really, it's a story about the relationships between mother and daughter.  Daughters don't need a mother who represents London or Vreeland in the extreme.

What do they need? I'm still figuring it out myself, but the film encourages me not to wear my symbolic bear ensemble, for today, at least.


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen it, but sadly that's my harsh, could cut diamonds accent.

Miss Cavendish said...

Oh, your accent makes me feel right at home! My maternal ancestors are from the norrrrthwest corner of Scotland. It's music to these ears (though plummy-toned Emma Thompson voiced the Queen!).

Academic Writer (a.k.a. A-Dubs) said...

It's moved up the list, thanks to your review!

Maya Topadze Griggs said...

I pick Vreeland over London anytime :) Or rather pick Why Don't You over What Not to...