Saturday, June 14, 2014


Last week I got a chance to see Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. I've been waiting to see it for some time. I remember seeing the trailer months ago, and it looked good:  high fantasy on the order of The Lord of the Rings. It was worth the wait.

The story is the classic Sleeping Beauty story told from the perspective of the evil fairy witch Maleficent. It starts with Maleficent as a child, living in a blissful enchanted forest called the Moors, where fairies and pixies and magical creatures live in harmony with nature. A boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) stumbles into this enchanted forest and is greeted by a very young Maleficent, the two quickly become friends and grow up together. Maleficent falls in love with Stefan, but he doesn't seem to share her feelings and he stops visiting her. As it turns out, Stefan is an opportunist, and seizes a chance to make himself king by betraying Maleficent, making her evil and vengeful. 

This telling is much darker than anything I've seen before, though the story of Sleeping Beauty is by nature at least a little dark (as are most fantasy stories, even Star Wars). There are some deviations from the classical story, which serve to make the story all that much more interesting. I really liked how they portrayed both the good and evil sides of Maleficent; how her broken heart lead her to seek revenge against an innocent, but instead learns to love her, the daughter of her enemy, whom she condemned, and becomes a mother figure to her. It was very human. That is the emotions were very human:  anger, hatred, forgiveness, love. And the name Maleficent is of course derived from the words "magnificent," and "malevolent."

It really made me think of Star Wars, ironically. Specifically how Anakin Skywalker started out as an innocent, benevolent child Padawan, then turned to the Dark Side as a result of an emotional crisis. Later, when he learned he had a son, he became conflicted. All his power and influence couldn't prevent him from loving his son, and that love ultimately drove him to betray the emperor and lead him back to the light. There is good and evil in all of us. We are emotional creatures. Our hearts are strong but so easily broken. 

I read an article on Facebook that mentioned feminist themes and pagan imagery, and I can say that I agree with both observations.

The strong characters were all female:  Maleficent; Aurora; the pixies. Strong roles portraying strong women, played by strong actresses. Jolie's performance was gripping - strike that - Angelina Jolie was ON FIRE!!! Elle Fanning's accent was so convincing that if I hadn't known her, I would have thought she was from England. And that smile is worth a billion dollars. The other roles paled in comparison. Copley's performance is not even worth mention. A mere footnote in his career. And the female characters were all extremely independent. The film never gave any detail of Maleficent's parents, and Aurora grew up never even knowing hers.

There was a lot of Pagan imagery. Half the story takes place in a magical forest where the dominant character was a fairy/witch (the Goddess Feminine). That was the most obvious thing. Other Pagan images and iconography included megalithic stone formations akin to Stonehenge in and around the Moors, and circle themes. Both are associated with Paganism and witchcraft. I'm not going to go into any arguments about Wicca and the like. There were no such specifics that I, the layman, could discern. There was Pagan imagery, enough said.

As a Christian I tend to shy away from movies with overt themes of Paganism, witchcraft or satanism. But this story was benign in my opinion. There is no reason to think the themes in this movie are tied to satanism or anything overtly evil, that is, and I don't think it was an attack on Christianity as some fundamentalist will no doubt say. But I do think Disney took a risk with this film. I'm sure there are or will be Christians that say Maleficent looks like the image of Baphomet, the Pagan deity. Looking head on at the movie poster which shows Maleficent's full head and shoulders, you could probably draw intersecting lines that would form a pentagram (connecting the various points of her costume:  horns, collar, neckline; as has been done before with the image of Baphomet (sometimes called the beast). That is probably a stretch, but I wanted to throw that out there before anyone else does. In reality there was no suggestion of devil worship, and I don't want my readers to think that I'd take an interest in something with such associations.

I did some research to find out what Christians think of Maleficent. I've included links to what I've found.

Jeffrey Totey wrote an interesting article on called "Sympathy for the Devil" in which he talks about a trend that paints classic villains like The Wicked Witch of "Oz the Great and Powerful," and Darth Vader of "Star Wars," as well as Maleficent in a 'good' light, portraying them as "victims" of malicious intent that drove them to evil, when, at the end of the day, a villain is still a villain. has a complete write-up of the film, including reviews, and makes mention of a couple of good Bible verses that discuss vengeance and forgiveness, and showing love to your enemy.

What it all comes down to is your personal preference. In particular, I myself like to see the back story. I loved the story of the first three episodes of Star Wars, despite their foibles. For twenty years I wanted to see what Anakin Skywalker looked like as a Jedi; as a child. I wanted to see what Obi-Wan Kenobi was like as Anakin's master. I longed to see other Jedi. Millions of people will agree with me that when they fall in love with a character or a story they long for more. And I love a good story about redemption, because after all, that is all of us. It's humanity. And one of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 3:23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

IMDb gives this movie an average rating of 7.5 stars. I give it a 9, hands down, one of the best fantasy movies since The Lord of the Rings.