Mary Gregerson, PhD
Heartlandia Psychology, Leavenworth, KS
A Review of Beauty and the Beast (Director: Bill Condon, 2017) featuring Lion (Director: Garth Davis, 2016)
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” Voltaire
Dance defines both self and relational elements in Beauty and the Beast. Actor Dan Stevens dances through the fairytale film, first, as a spoiled Prince, then as The Beast, and finally as a resurrected decent Prince. Dance elevates almost to the level of a character itself, embodying both identity and relatedness. Movement, or lack thereof, reveals internal character, otherwise hidden from the camera in relation to others. George Bernard Shaw defined dancing as “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.” Certainly delving into the dancing in this reel reveals both the essential and bestial in anti-hero The Beast/The Prince. It’s as if a directorial/writer conspiracy agrees with the adage, “Why push through life when you can Dance through it?” And, when life is a-kilter, there will be no dancing.
“Who am I?” “Are you the ‘one’ for me?”—These “quest”ions intertwine as youth’s eternal quest. Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson (Erikson & Erikson, 1998) identified (pun intended) these quests as the 5th (Identity vs. Confusion) and 6th (Intimacy vs. Isolation) Stages of Life Span Development. Another recent docu-drama film, Lion, based on a true story, features Dev Patel as the “lost” young Indian man Saroo Brierley. At a college party Saroo demurs dancing with his newfound girlfriend, explaining he is “lost” and doesn’t much feel like dancing. He does not know his birth family or who he is. How can he dance when he is so unmoored? Yet dance, or lack thereof, in these two recent films depicts the integral nature of identity and relatedness. Was Erikson right, or wrong? Is there sequence to stages of adult development, or do motifs of identity formation and relatedness simultaneously interlace like the DNA double helix? As the ditty about love and marriage says, “You can’t have one without the other.” Without firm identity, relationships pitch fitfully or evaporate wispily. Without social connections, identity eludes us.
In Beauty and the Beast youthful fecklessness results in confusion for self and others. Spoiler Alert: Not until The Beast masters loving another and being loved back does his inner Prince resurrect from Beast. Dancing ceases during The Beast’s curse until appreciation of both self and others as well as another occurs. At the fairytale outset during a lavish, semi-debauched ball Stevens’ spoiled Prince is the only male swirling through a sea of exquisitely clad and coiffed willing ingénues. When a desperate bedraggled stranger seeks shelter in exchange for a rose, The Prince’s cruel repulsion and rejection cause the now-revealed sorceress to cast upon him a rosarian curse that exposes outside his inner ugly “beast.” The Beast’s hairy scowls, brownish fangs, hooves, and horns cover The Prince’s boyish handsomeness. Each time the rejected rose drops a petal, this ghoulish ghastliness deadens evermore The Beast’s human heartbeat. Eternal damnation is threatened unless The Beast loves and finds someone to love him before all the rose petals descend to earth. Love is to be his salvation. Enter the cerebral, bookish, yet beautiful Belle, ridiculed by the villagers as odd for her reading habits. Fatefully, she becomes, first, the Beast’s prisoner and then his companion as they read, and read, and read together. Only dancing, though, culminates their coupling, weaving the necessary magic for intimacy with the now enraptured Belle. Her kiss dispels his curse, and they dance “happily ever after.”
Dance is essentially personal and social expression. Humorist Mark Twain advised, “Dance like no one is watching” while philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Yet, modern psychologist Wayne Dyer observed, “When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” Pleasure and dancing are synonymous. Dancing traverses identity and relatedness while melding and mirroring each other.
Most B&B reviewers gloss over actor Dan Stevens’s amazing physical feat (pun intended) navigating atop 10” stilts while waltzing, stair climbing and descending, to say nothing of sword/staff fighting. Movement was also integral to Stevens’s breakout role as Matthew Crawley on BBC’s Downton Abbey. For one season as a wounded WWI veteran he was wheelchair bound, miraculously recovering to dance not only with his luckless fiancé who soon dies, but also with his cousin Lady Mary who wins his heart in the end. As The Beast Stevens descends lightly, almost gliding on air to escort Belle down the wide staircase before waltzing and dipping seals their love. The Beast truly “walks on air.” The center of his being shifts from his gut/loins to his heart/head.
On a more personal note, actor Stevens’s biographies often mention he is adopted. The Telegraph reviewer Daphne Lockyer (2011) notes Stevens has not sought out his birth family. Like the Lion Saroo, “lost” until Google Earth helped track down his birth family, one wonders what identity and relatedness treasures await Stevens’s discovery of his birth family. “Who” is Stevens? What will happen to his dancing then, eh? As the Japanese proverb opines “We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot” (Abdelnour, 2011).
Abdelnour, Z. K. (2011). Economic warfare: Secrets of wealth creation in the age of welfare politics. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Condon, B. (2017). Beauty and the beast. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios and Mandeville Films.
Davis, G. (2016). Lion. New York, NY: The Weinstein Company.
Erikson, E. H., & Erikson, J. M. (1998). The life cycle completed: Extended version. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Lockyer, D. (2011, August 27). I’m not really posh, says ‘Downton Abbey’ actor Dan Stevens. The Telegraph.