Magnificent Maleficent, An Analysis

GreyGhostIn the Spring of 2011, author Tee Morris gifted me a few things. First, he asked me to write a short story for Tales of the Archives, Vol. 1, “Dust on the Davenport,” which went on to win the Steampunk Chronicle’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Short Fiction in 2012; and second, he gave me a name for the “M” (and this really cool trading card of me, left).

I chose the pen name O. M. Grey as a feminine version of my husband’s long-lost brother’s adopted name: Oliver Grey. I knew Olivia would be for the O., but I really didn’t have a name for the M. My legal middle name is Marie, so that could be it, but the “M.” was really because the initials OMG were just too fun to pass up.

Enter Mr. Morris. During (what turned out to just be the very beginning of) a difficult period in my life, he pulled me out of a highly traumatized state (in the wake of the assault by The Writer) and got me back on my writerly feet again. Through his friendship and kindness, I had a project. I had a goal. I regained focus and was able to move forward in my healing and in my career. He also added to my Steampunk Persona by dubbing me Olivia Maleficent Grey, The Grey Ghost and Captain of the I.A.S. Blythe Spirit (a known Ministry associate). Unfortunately, since the second assault (by The Steampunk Musician) occurred just a few weeks later, I never took these gifts where they could’ve gone. The lost opportunities and damage to my career are far too painful to think about for very long.

I look at what Tee and his amazing partner Pip have accomplished over those three years, and I feel simultaneously thrilled for them and angry at my situation. Before the first Ministry book was ever released, Avalon Revisited was an Amazon bestseller. I had a NY Literary Agent, and publishers were interested in my writing, commenting favorably on my talent. The future of my career was bright, but after that second assault and discard, not to mention the third (The Auctioneer, aka The Austin Poly Rapist and The Sociopathic Rapist; or, for brevity, The Rapist), I quickly became a romance writer who could no longer write about romance, only about betrayal and violence and assault. My writing became darker and shorter, able to only write short fiction and poetry for years while I recovered from the traumas, but you likely already know that story…

Last week, I saw the film Maleficent, and it was beyond brilliant. The name Tee gave me three years ago took on new meaning because I deeply identified with Jolie’s Maleficent and her experience.

**SPOILER ALERT** Also, **TRIGGER WARNINGS** as I will be talking about the film and sexual violence/rape culture in great detail.

This film is about rape and recovery. This film is about the aftermath of rape and how the rapist robs their victim of their freedom, their reality, their very identity. This film is about rage and betrayal and justice.

I’ve seen articles across cyberspace criticizing the film for this, or minimizing the important social commentary by picking apart petty plot issues, but we must all remember that the original Sleeping Beauty tale is all about rape. In the original, Sleeping Beauty wasn’t awoken by “true love’s kiss,” she was repeatedly raped by a king and bore children, all while she was unconscious. Disney reduced these original assaults to a single kiss by a prince whose purity and grace and love woke her from her slumber, contributing to the social, narcissistic fantasy of perfect love and the damaging belief that one will be rescued by a perfect mate and taken away from all the pain and betrayal to live Happily Ever After. I’m glad to see Disney’s storytelling is changing into something more realistic and empowering.

But that’s another post.

As Maleficent, Angelina Jolie is Magnificent. Utterly Magnificent.

This is a story about a fairy with massive, strong wings that lift her into the clouds and enable her to protect her magical, peaceful home, a faerie realm known as the Moors, from the neighboring kingdom of greedy humans and their reigning, entitled king, Henry.

One day, a young human orphan named Stefan goes into the Moors and steals a precious stone. Maleficent, still a young fairy herself, shows him mercy and uses it as a teaching moment. This begins a lifelong friendship that evolves into love over the next several years, although Stefan’s obsessive ambition and lust for power overshadows his feelings for her. On her sixteenth birthday, he kisses her and tells her it’s “True Love’s Kiss,” but then he leaves and doesn’t return for years upon years….until he wants something.

Here’s the first great life lesson: entitled, powerful narcissists are extremely dangerous and petty.

At this point, there was no ruler in the Moors, for they didn’t need one. It was a place that needed no ruler because all the magical creatures could live together in mutual respect, harmoniously. One day of particular narcissistic boredom, King Henry decides it’s time and wages a full attack. The magical folk in the Moors never threatened or tried to move into the human’s kingdom. Never once, so King Henry’s attack was not a case of defense or safety. No. This was about a solitary man and his childish temper tantrum that someone else had something he didn’t control. King Henry had promised his kingdom that he would conquer and acquire the Moors for no other reason than because he wanted it and no one could tell him he couldn’t have it. Wah.

Maleficent, soaring above the Moors on her glorious wings sees the advancing army and rallies a defense. She’s totally badass, along with her magical allies, and they easily defend their world with much less effort (and much more power) than King Henry has at his disposal. This is important to note because the people of the Moors could’ve demolished Henry’s kingdom at any time, but they had no need or desire to do so. They lived peacefully in their own space.

King Henry is furious, as you might imagine, having suffered such a profound narcissistic injury. As he lay dying from his battle wounds, he claims that whoever defeats Maleficent will be named his heir. (Remember, his fatal wound was caused because he waged war against a peaceful nation who defended themselves. He brought this on himself.)

This, by the way, is “vengeance*,” just so you see the difference later on in the story. (See the notes at the bottom of the post for why I choose to use the terms in this way.)*

So, Stefan, another narcissistic, power-hungry, entitled man, sees his opportunity for advancement, and Stefan has a weapon at his disposal King Henry did not. Love. Stefan returns to the Moors, now in service to King Henry, and calls out to Maleficent. She’s thrilled to see her beloved again after so many years, albeit skeptical. He warns her that she’s to be hunted and killed because of the king’s decree, so she softens because he came to warn her, to ostensibly save her life. Over the next several hours, they catch up, share a drink, and become close. Stefan explains why he stayed away for so long and how much he regrets it, and she finds she still loves him, and he her (Sociopathic Love Bombing). Next thing the audience sees is Maleficent passed out on her stomach, for Stefan had spiked her drink with a fantasy version of Rohypnol. Stefan positions the dagger over her back, about to kill her for his own political benefit, when he finds he can’t do it. I’ve seen articles that say this shows that Stefan has some good in him, but I don’t see that at all. Not even a little bit. It wasn’t goodness that kept Stefan from killing Maleficent, it was cowardice.

What he did to her was far, far worse than killing her would’ve been. Turned out worse for him as well. Good.

While she’s unconscious from his treachery, he cuts off her wings and takes them back to the king to prove he defeated her, thus securing the throne for himself.

The scene where Maleficent wakes the next morning is the most poignant of the film, and Jolie pulled it off flawlessly, displaying all the raw emotion of betrayal and violation in a guttural howl to the heavens. It’s a moment every woman (#YesAllWomen) can relate to, whether or not they’ve survived sexual violence at the level of this powerful metaphor.

Whether it is waking up after being drugged or intoxicated to discover someone you trusted had violated you while you were unconscious–feeling the physical difference in your body–or if it’s the slow, agonizing realization (awakening) over months or years that someone you loved and/or trusted had violated you in a more subtle, socially acceptable (although still assault and no less damaging) way, and all the confusion around that (only 27% of survivors whose assault meets the legal definition of rape think of themselves as rape victims because certain forms of sexual assault have been so minimized and normalized in our rape culture), #YesAllWomen can relate.

In that moment of realization, everything changes and nothing will ever be the same or really okay ever again.

It wasn’t something you chose. It was something done to you. Something stolen from you.

Here the film portrays a visual, powerful metaphor for a rape survivor. Everything changes. Part of your identity has been stolen from you. Your perception of reality–or your actual reality–had been altered, perhaps irrevocably. You stumble away in confusion and dissociation, just like Maleficent did, trying to make sense of this new reality. Trying to process the betrayal, the inherent change in your deepest being.

Maleficent’s raison d’être was ripped from her. Her wings, the part of her that enabled her to soar through life in joy, that gave her life purpose in her community as protector, were violently ripped from her.

For me, it was my ability to write and my sexuality that were stolen from me. My raison d’être. My career. My identity. My most profound ability to experience joy and love in life.

My metaphorical wings had been ripped from me, too.

Maleficent’s bright, beautiful, magical world became dark and dead, full of rage and confusion. The beautiful cinematography and effects showed this visually, and we all felt it viscerally.

Her first goal was to find out “why,” as if it would change anything, but understanding “why” is something inexplicably necessary and almost always elusive. However, with the help of Diaval, a raven she saved from certain death who becomes her shape-shifting confidant and ally, Maleficent found out why: because Stefan’s selfish, entitled, narcissist need for power and control were more important than anything or anyone else.

In fact, that’s pretty much the “why” for most sexual (or any) violence, come to think of it.

She creates huge walls of thorns around the Moors in an attempt to protect herself in a dangerous world she no longer understands, knowing deep down she will never feel safe again. Then she takes a throne of her own to rule the Moors, which is a metaphor for the necessity to feel in control of everything, your entire world, after enduring something so horrific through force. It’s the first thing any rape recovery counselor or sexual assault attorney tells a survivor: you’re in control.

Then, to add even further insult to profound injury, she learns her attacker (her rapist) announces the birth of his daughter in his happy life with his happy wife in their sumptuous castle. This breaks her completely. So many say what she does in response is revenge* or vengeance*, but it’s not, it’s justice*.

Remember, King Henry who brought his injury on himself through his own selfishness and greed? Well, Maleficent’s injury, nay–virtual destruction, wasn’t her choice. It was done to her under the guise of love and trust.

This is justice*. Balancing the scales. Her life was violently taken from her, but her attacker gets to be powerful and adored and happy. He needed to be held accountable for what he had done. He must answer for his crimes and accept the consequences of his choices. Again, as is so very often the case in our own world and communities, no one will step up to ensure the perpetrator answers to his choices, so the burden falls on the traumatized, often causing more trauma; however, doing nothing is worse, so we shout into the darkness until one person listens…and then another…and then another. We keep shouting until we can come back into the light, protected by supporters and other survivors who say: No More.

Some say she could’ve just killed Stefan, but that wouldn’t be justice.* That would be relief. Similar to the way Constance delivers justice in Avalon Revamped, Maleficent ensures that Stefan will also live each day as much confusion and fear as he inflicted upon her with his selfish, violence actions by cursing his daughter.

Granted, the innocent child doesn’t deserve to be the target of Maleficent’s rage, as she did nothing to harm Maleficent or anyone, but this is where another powerful metaphor comes into play. As I mentioned in my “Hmmmm…Would I Accept an Apology? (A Rant)” post, daughters of rapists and other such treacherous, abusive people, are cursed. They are cursed by their father’s actions and by who he is. This is what happens in Maleficent, only through Maleficent’s will, which was itself created by Stefan’s violation and betrayal.

I won’t go into the psychology of brain development and developmental trauma here, but it has been widely observed, generation after generation, that children learn what relationships look like, how to behave, and who to choose in romantic and sexual relationships based on the examples of their caregivers, usually their parents. Before they can even speak, they learn these things. For those raised in abusive and/or dysfunctional situations, this inevitably turns into a constant search for someone with whom they can play out and “fix” childhood issues and trauma, albeit subconsciously. Little girls with scumbag daddies usually end up with scumbag partners, for example. Over and over and over again. Abused children, usually end up in abusive adult relationships, either as the abuser or the victim. Over and over and over again. Victims of assault often find themselves victimized again, not being able to see the warning signs early enough because of previous trauma and nervous system reorganization.

But I digress.

After having her purpose ripped from her, Maleficent must find a new purpose for herself. Over the next sixteen years, we see Maleficent watching over Aurora, even saving her life many times from the incompetent pixies. Perhaps at first it is to ensure Aurora survives long enough to fulfill the curse, but within a few years, as time heals her wounds and quells her justified rage, Maleficent falls in love with the child. Maleficent sees Aurora for the individual she is, not as an extension of her father. Maleficent even tries to remove the curse, but she can’t.

Stefan, on the other hand, under the guise of “protecting” his daughter, sent her away to live in isolation, another metaphor for patriarchal control (and what so often happens to rape survivors, self included). When Aurora learns he’s her father, she rushes back to the castle on her 16th birthday. Stefan, instead of, you know, talking to her about what’s going on, gets angry that she’s a day early and locks her away.

Think, if he had just said, “By the way, Aurora, don’t touch any needles before sunset, okay? If you do, you’ll fall into a deep, deathlike sleep forever. Just a heads up.”

Honestly.

But, no. He has to control his property, so he locks her away. Since she was raised to be an independent woman in the isolation of the forest, and since the curse is driving her to find a needle on which to prick her finger, she escapes and finds the pile of spinning wheels King Stefan had supposedly destroyed sixteen years prior. Before Maleficent can warn her, Aurora pricks her finger (which in the original story was a metaphor for rape) and falls into her deep sleep.

Maleficent weeps and doesn’t ask for forgiveness over Aurora’s sleeping form, for she knows what she’s done to the girl can never be erased by “I’m sorry,” (ahem, my point here). They tried to have the handsome, love-at-first-sight Prince Phillip kiss Aurora, but it wonderfully didn’t work. The very reason Maleficent included the clause of “True Love’s Kiss” is because she has learned, through great personal sacrifice, that no such thing exists, or at least not in the way we’ve been taught to believe.

In her grief and remorse and motherly love, Maleficent kisses Aurora on the forehead. This awakens Sleeping Beauty. The true, unselfish love between two people is perhaps the truest love of them all. Where they love each other for who they are, not what they can get from the other, whether that be sexual gratification or notoriety or arm candy or a possession.

The beautiful simplicity when one soul recognizes the magical divinity of another.

Maleficent’s love returns Aurora to herself, and Aurora’s love enables Maleficent to become whole again. Aurora finds Maleficent’s severed wings, which the narcissist King Stefan kept in a glass case over which to preen or rage or whatever, and realizes what her father had done. She returns the wings to Maleficent just in the nick of time, and they reattach to Maleficent’s body. Whole once again, after sixteen long years, she has regained her power through love and forgiveness and kindness. She’s healed, as much as she can be after losing nearly two decades of her life, and she’s done with this war.

King Stefan, however, doesn’t stop trying to get revenge* for his perceived hurt, and even though Maleficent tries to walk away from him and his life for good, he attacks her while her back is turned, like the coward he is. They tumble off of the turret, but since she has her wings again, she is able to save herself from death. Joyfully, King Stefan isn’t saved. The fall ends his miserable, obsessed life of self-induced torment.

When Aurora becomes queen, she unites the two realms, and they all live in harmony. Prince Phillip returns, and they have a chance to actually get to know each other and make a mutual decision whether or not to be together, as individuals, rather than the stereotypical perfect-happily-ever-after-narcissistic-bullshit-fantasy of love.

To summarize, Maleficent was a loving, trusting, beautiful soul who was horrifically violated during a vulnerable moment by someone she loved. This violation fractured her identity and her very soul. It completely altered the way she saw the world. She then watched her attacker become famous, loved, adored; and she knew there would be no justice (and thereby no healing for her) unless she delivered it herself. In contrast, where she had the clarity of a single, undeniable violent act in one evening, my destruction took three separate, confusing assaults and betrayals over a period of 18 months. Like 73% of rape survivors, I didn’t see them for what they were for a long, long time. Now I do.

Still, this is why I identify with Maleficent. This is why I applaud my gifted name.

May you all find peace.

-_Q

*A note on chosen words.
Although the words “vengeance,” “revenge,” and “justice” are virtually synonymous in definition, the connotation of each in our society is quite different.
Unfortunately, the words “vengeance” and “revenge” carry a strong connotation of petty, exaggerated punishment against an (often) “perceived” hurt. In our rape culture and highly misogynistic society, they’ve almost become inseparable from the concept of “a woman scorned.” Vengeance and revenge are looked down upon by our culture, especially at the hands of a woman. Whereas so recently scores (in fact, hundreds and maybe thousands) of men defended the actions of Elliot Rodger, saying he was justified for going on a rampage against women because ‘the bitches shoulda put out,” an entire nation still remembers the name Lorena Bobbitt for the action she took against her rapist husband for one assault too many (back before marital rape was against the law. In fact, this case it what helped it become against the law). He became a porn star, and she became the butt of a national joke.
All this is why I reserve these highly loaded words for the assailants in this analysis and use the more benign term “justice” for the actions of Maleficent. “Justice” is seen as fairness. It is seen as “justified” “just,” as in all things good, the way it should be, etc.
When someone goes to prison or faces some other punishment for their criminal choices, we don’t say the defendant was out for revenge. We say they got justice.
Maleficent got justice. I’m seeking justice, which is my only hope for justice in a world where only 3% of rapists ever see a single day in jail and where police minimize, dismiss, and make rape victims act out their assaults.
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~ by omgrey on June 9, 2014.

18 Responses to “Magnificent Maleficent, An Analysis”

  1. And I wish to God there were happy endings. But right now, I am doing my best to make 3 come true. In the end, I’ll get nothing out of it, save the knowledge that I did something when others just turned away.

    Call me mad, call me a white knight, call me insane or “In dire need of a fairy tale”, but I am doing what I am doing and hang the consequences.

  2. completely agree with your assessment of Jolie – the film as a whole left me cold, which was more due to some clunky script issues and a visual style that I just don’t dig. your assessment of the original tale and how Disney distilled it is fascinating. food for thought

  3. Wow… glad I read your synopsis first; now I have to see the film!

    “To summarize, Maleficent was a loving, trusting, beautiful soul who was horrifically violated during a vulnerable moment by someone she loved. This violation fractured her identity and her very soul. It completely altered the way she saw the world. She then watched her attacker become famous, loved, adored; and she knew there would be no justice (and thereby no healing for her) unless she delivered it herself. “

  4. “There would be no justice (and thereby no healing for her) unless she delivered it herself. ”

    AMEN.

  5. Which written version of Sleeping Beauty do you refer to (do you remember the author)? I recently read what was purported to be the original version and it has nothing of what you describe.

    While I liked your post (you made some very valid points), and in no way wish to dismiss your experience (with either trauma or the movie) I have to strongly disagree with your characterization of Malificent’s actions as “justice”. Justice would have been to attack Stephen directly and maim, but not kill him. A king who can not fight does not remain a king for long and he would have to live out his mundane life knowing that he attained AND lost what he so deeply wanted. But then there would have been no fairytale.

    It is never “justice” to harm an innocent because of harm done to one’s self. This is the culturally sanctioned justification men use today to rape women and children in war, as revenge or intimidation in certain cultures.

    • Agreed that it’s not justice to harm an innocent, and Maleficent realized that.

      The original fairy tale, author unknown, as it was passed down through generations via oral tradition.

  6. I was eager to see the movie when I first saw the trailer, but I am even mor eager now. I’ll be taking my kids to see this movie, my son and daughter, and I interested to see what their reaction is and what questions they might have. Thank you so much for all that you have done and continue to do.

  7. I agree with all your main points and interpretations, and reading your analysis made me feel almost relieved because I was reading so many reviews/analyses that were criticizing simply the plot lines, and completely missing all the messages and symbolism in the movie. Or, they were criticizing people for “overanalyzing.” And I was sitting there wondering if I was the only person who saw all the deeper messages behind the symbolism in the movie.

    Anyway, here’s another analysis I just read that I found very interesting, and has somewhat similar messages as yours:

    http://groupthink.jezebel.com/maleficent-mending-relationships-between-women-but-le-1585968551/all

  8. […] for the following reasons herein, but it’s finally time to execute OMG and make her “The Grey Ghost” for […]

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