November 14, 2020
Beauty and the Beast and Sexuality - Draft
Beauty and the Beast is a fairytale proven to endure the test of time, maintaining a very similar plot line while adapting from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et la Bête into Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast to be relevant to their different audiences. Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, which takes a Freudian approach to interpret various fairytales, including Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast, is useful when determining the differences between Cocteau’s and Disney’s adaptations and their audiences. Bettelheim discusses the benefit of reading fairytales to overcome or confront unconscious pressures and issues of growing up through becoming familiar with similar problems proposed in fairy tales (6). Bettelheim provides an example of this through his psychoanalysis of Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast as a tale of Beauty overcoming oedipal or unconscious sexual desires for her father. Using Bettelheim’s insights, I argue Cocteau’s film is targeted for an older audience and is also primarily centered on Beauty’s maturation, her ability to overcome her oedipal desires for her father. In contrast, in Disney’s version, which targets a younger audience, Beauty is already mature. Therefore, I argue Disney’s film is more focused on the Beasts maturation. The once selfish prince, who’s awful personality is represented by the Beat’s hideous physical characteristics, matures into a kind, loving prince only after he learns how to love and is loved in return.
In the beginning of Cocteau’s film, Beauty is interrupted while cleaning by Avenant who asks Beauty to marry him and promises her a better life. Beauty rejects Avenant’s proposal, explaining it’s not that she doesn’t like him but she “must remain a maid and stay with her father.” Later, when Beauty is explaining to her father what transpired, she says “No father, I’ll never leave you,” highlighting her disinterest in leaving her father to find a potential romantic suitor. Throughout Cocteau’s film, Beauty and her father have a close bond, especially compared to her selfish sisters, Adelaide and Felicie, who ask their father for extravagant gifts compared to Beauty’s simplistic request for a rose. Using insights from Bettelheim, Beauty and her father’s close relationship throughout Cocteau’s film can be considered oedipal. Bettelheim argues “that a child’s oedipal attachment to a parent is natural, desirable, and has the most positive consequences for all if during the process of maturation it is transferred and transformed as it becomes detached from the parent and concentrated on the lover” (306). Thus, in order for Beauty to overcome psychological problems of growing up, like oedipal desires for her father, she must relinquish childhood dependencies and transfer her attachment with her father to a more age-appropriate suitor, like the Beast (Bettelheim 6).
After getting lost in the forest, Beauty’s father stumbles upon a massive castle and falls asleep. When he awakens, he remembers Beauty’s request and decides to take a rose from the castle’s garden. When the furious Beast appears, he threatens to kill Beauty’s father for theft but then suggests that one of his daughters may take his place, which Beauty does. Thus, “it is the father who causes the heroine to join the Beast; she does it because of her love for or obedience to her father” (Bettelheim 282). She may only do this if, despite hesitation, her father agrees to her doing so, much like Beauty’s father is hesitant to accept her going to live with the Beast but is eventually convinced that she should do so (Bettelheim 283).
Later in the film, the Beast stumbles into Beauty’s room covered in blood which suggests a young adult’s first encounter with sex. Beauty, not yet ready to partake in sexual activity nor transfer her attachment for her father to the Beast, orders the Beast out of her room. The beast’s giant stature, immense amount of hair and fits of rage signify the behavior and physical appearance associated with maturation, which Beauty is not yet ready to undergo. Beauty must help the Beast tame these sexual urges until she is able to come to terms with her maturation and can reciprocate the same feelings, eventually seeing the Beast’s sexual urges as desirable. Only after Beauty overcomes her fear of sex, represented by the Beast throughout the film, the Beast’s desires and sexual urges no longer seem animalistic but on the contrary, ordinary (Bettelheim 16).
When Beauty soon discovers her father is ill, she is thrown into a conflict between her love for her father and the Beast’s needs, choosing to desert the Beast and attend to her father (Bettelheim 306). Soon after leaving the Beast and returning home, Beauty realizes she can not bear to see the Beast distraught and declares her love for him, a “symbol of the loosening of ties to her father and transference of her love to the Beast” (Bettelheim 306). Thus, La Belle et la Bête suggests “for love, a radical change in previously held attitudes about sex is absolutely necessary” (Bettelheim 282). This shift in attachment represents the start of Beauty transferring her attachment to her father to a more appropriate love interest and overcoming her view of sex as loathsome and animal-like (Bettelheim 284). In the end, Beauty grows to realize that seeing her father and the beast in opposition is an immature outlook and that it is possible to have a different form of attachment for both (Bettelheim 307). Overall, Cocteau’s film La Belle et la Bête is not just a tale of Beauty’s maturation and her overcoming her aversion to sex but her own growth in the process (Bettelheim 307).
The major difference between Cocteau’s film and Disney’s adaptation is the portrayal of Beauty. Unlike Beauty in Cocteau’s film, throughout Disney’s film Beauty is characterized as an intelligent, non-conforming young woman who has grown weary of the provincial life she lives. Disney’s Beauty, contrary to Cocteau’s, has dreams and desires unconnected to her father and men in general, longing to escape her “provincial life.” Disney depicts Beauty as an educated reader, endows her with a sense of curiosity, a longing for adventure and gives her a bold attitude. The townspeople often refer to Beauty as “peculiar” because of her love to read and her unusual unimpressed attitude towards Gaston, Disney’s adaption of the Avenant character from Cocteau’s film. Although Beauty also rejects Gaston’s proposal, much like Cocteau’s film, her reasoning as to why differs between the two films. In Cocteau’s, she rejected the proposal because she was not yet ready to transfer her attachment for her father to a more appropriate love interest. In Disney’s film, Beauty is already mature and independent, her reasoning for rejecting Gaston’s proposal was simply because she was uninterested and believes she deserves more than being the little wife who massages Gaston’s feet as he describes.
Although Beauty and her father also have a close bond in Disney’s film, especially since Beauty is an only child, Bettelheim’s argument of oedipal desire does not fit Disney’s adaption because Beauty is already mature and has aspirations apart from her father. Instead, Disney’s adaptation is more focused on the Beast’s transformation and maturity. Thus, the beast can be considered just as much of a protagonist in Disney’s adaptation as Beauty can. One winter night, an enchantress disguised as a beggar offered the Beast, who was a cold-hearted, selfish prince at the time, a rose in exchange for shelter. When he refused, she transformed him into a beast and his servants into household objects until he learns to love and earn their love in return by the time the last petal falls. The Beast’s physical appearance, which represented Beauty’s fear of sex in Cocteau’s film, now represents the Prince’s arrogant, egotistical personality which must be changed in order to disenchant the spell and learn his lesson. Although, he can not do this without Beauty’s love. It is Beauty’s affection and devotion that transforms the Beast and only her that can disenchant the spell (Bettelheim 283).
In the beginning of Disney’s film, the Beast is portrayed as monstrous and angry, resenting his new appearance and doubtful he will ever find anyone to love him. Unlike the prince before his transformation, Beauty is able to recognize outer beauty does not reflect inner beauty. Shortly after living and spending time with the Beast, Beauty comes to the realization that “there’s something sweet and almost kind” about the Beast, highlighting her recognition that the Beast’s personality has begun to change and mature from the selfish prince he once was. The Beast’s maturation becomes evident when he frees Beauty, releasing her to be with her father who is ill. In this act of kindness, the Beast is willing to put Beauty’s priorities over his own, a true symbol of love and maturity. Beauty even acknowledges the Beast’s maturity when saying “He’s different now, he’s changed somehow” (Disney). However, it is not enough for the Beast to have matured and love Beauty, he must be loved in return. Once Beauty declares her love for the Beast, the Beast is returned to his former self and the two may live happily ever after. Overall, Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is primarily about the Beasts maturation, although Beauty plays a significant role. The once selfish, cruel prince matures to a loving, caring Beast who loves Beauty and is loved in return, just in time to disenchant the spell placed upon him and return to his human self.
Another major difference between Cocteau’s film and the Disney adaptation is the age difference between their audiences. Cocteau’s film is intended for adults, whereas Disney’s adaptation primarily targets ch