Sunday, August 3, 2014

I saw Maleficent for my birthday (spoilers of course)

My birthday is today but the celebration was yesterday and as a part of it I saw Maleficent.

It was a good movie insofar as it went but it left A LOT of unanswered questions some of which rose to the level of plot holes.

First, the plot:

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Two countries border each other and don't get along.  The happy communist fairies live in one.  A presumably feudal human kingdom is the other.  The human kingdom is full of greed, poverty, and injustice.

The two have come to war in the past, and as a result Maleficent is an orphan.  Even so, things are generally good and stuff.

Maleficent is the only fairy of her kind remaining, a human sized one with bird-like wings (except for spikes at the wrist) and horns.  Her kind of fairy happens to be the most powerful in the fairy country.  So when things come up, like say a human thief encroaching on their territory, she gets involved even as a child.

She has the human thief, a boy named Stefan who is about her age, return what he took and then returns him to the human kingdom.  They learn that they're both orphans, when his iron ring burns her (iron is fairy kryptonite) he throws it away, and the two end up being friends.

On her 16th birthday his gift to her is "true love's kiss" except not.  He leaves her for his ambition to live in the castle.

He ends up working in the king's chamber.  She ends up defending the entire fairy country.  Turns out that when the king rose to power he promised to deliver the fairy lands to his people.  He attempts to do this with an army and fails badly.  Maleficent opposes him, even entering into open combat with him.  The humans are driven back.

The ailing king declares that whoever kills Maleficent will be his successor.  Stefan hears this, returns to Maleficent, tells her all this claiming to be warning her, regains her trust, drugs her, and then can't bring himself to kill her.  He isn't that evil yet.  He will be --oh, he will be-- but not yet.  He uses iron to cut off her wings, brings them as "proof" that he killed Maleficent, and gets named successor and marries the princess, Leila.

Maleficent wakes up, finds herself de-winged, comes across a raven about to be beaten to death, and saves it by turning him human.  His name is Diaval.  While disgusted by the sudden lack of his wings, he pledges himself to serve Maleficent in thanks for saving his life.  He becomes her spy.  Flying where she cannot.  (He doesn't stay human all the time.)

When she learns (via Diaval) that Stefan cut off her wings to become king, Maleficent becomes queen of the fairies.  She just walks in and takes over.  (Remember what I said about her being the most powerful?  She totally is.)  She is perpetually unhappy and spreads the misery around her kingdom.

Now we're set up for the story of sleeping beauty to start, so think about the above.  Make sure it makes sense to you.  Got it?  Good.

Stephan and Leila have a daughter, nobles and monarchs from all over show up as do three fairies.  Just as the fairies are bestowing blessings on the daughter, Aurora, Maleficent shows up.

The curse is a mixture of personal details and randomness.  The spinning wheel thing is just because she happened to see one.  She makes Stefan beg to make it so the curse wont leave Aurora eternally asleep, and what it ends up being is that by sunset on her sixteenth birthday she'll prick her finger on a spinning wheel which will drop her into deathlike sleep that can only be broken by true love's kiss.

True love's kiss and 16th birthday are obviously a reference to what Stefan did on Maleficent's 16th birthday.  The deathlike sleep is probably a reference to him drugging her.

Stefan orders all spinning wheels in the kingdom to be destroyed and entrusts the safety of his daughter to the three fairies.  She is not to return until the day after her 16th birthday.  He also makes more or less constant war on the fairy lands.  This fails to accomplish anything as Maleficent creates an impenetrable wall of giant thorn-bushes around it.

Turns out that the three fairies are basically incompetent when it comes to raising a human child and as a result Maleficent and Diaval have to do the work because otherwise she'd never survive to her 16th birthday.

Almost, but not quite, 16 years later Maleficent allows Aurora to enter her domain.  Aurora declares Maleficent her fairy-godmother, and Maleficent finds that even she can't lift the curse she placed upon the girl.  (She tries while Aurora is sleeping, so Aurora doesn't know about it.)

The fairy domain knows fun and joy and happiness for the first time since Maleficent took over.

Stefan is convinced that the curse will be averted and when it is Maleficent will come for him.  He becomes more and more obsessed with that, and doesn't even come to see the queen as she is dying because he's too preoccupied talking to Maleficent's wings.

Aurora bumps into Philip.  Diaval thinks that Philip might be the solution because there's an obvious attraction between Philip and Aurora.  Maleficent thinks that there's no such thing as a "true love's kiss." Aurora tells her "aunts" (the three fairies) that she's leaving (she plans to move in with Maleficent) and it comes out that her whole life is a lie, she's cursed, and she's the princess.  She confronts Maleficent and then runs off to the castle.

Aurora gains admittance, Stefan recognizes her, complains that she came back a day early, and has her locked in her room.  Maleficent collects Philip (uses magic to render him unconscious and has his horse follow her) and rides Diaval-transformed-into-a-horse toward the castle.  Aurora is drawn to a hidden servants' door, and through various passages to the room where the charred remains of the kingdom's spinning wheels are kept.  One magically reassembles itself and she pricks her finger on the spindle.

Everyone reacts.  Maleficent continues on toward the castle.  The three fairies try to figure out how to get a true love's kiss.  Stefan says there's no such thing and prepares for Maleficent.

Maleficent drops Philip outside Aurora's bedroom door. He is rightfully hesitant to kiss someone who can't consent even though three fairies are yelling at him to kiss her, and even when he gives in he isn't able to wake Aurora.  The fairies throw him out and exit themselves.

Maleficent and Diaval are left in the room with Aurora.  Maleficent is convinced the curse will last forever because there isn't such a thing as a true love's kiss but promises to watch over the sleeping Aurora and keep her safe none the less.  She kisses her on the forehead and begins to walk away from Aurora, which is just about when Aurora wakes up.

Sorta-Parental love for the win.

Aurora has forgiven Maleficent and wants to go to live with her in the fairy realm.

Aurora, Maleficent, and Diaval flee the castle, cue giant fight scene, Diaval is turned into a dragon.  Stefan's fairy-killing plans would have actually worked (lots of iron) except for the fact that Aurora set free Maleficent's wings which flew back to her and reattached themselves.

Maleficent tried to let Stefan live, but he tried to kill them both and ended up only half succeeding.

Maleficent stepped down as queen of fairyland.  Aurora became ruler of both lands.  The end.

--

Ok, so, various points.

It's nice to see Disney doing more things where true love isn't only between romantic partners and another thing where there's a point made about not diving into relationships (Phillip is quick to point out that, chemistry or not, he only briefly met Aurora.)

The fairy country was beautiful.

I want to fly.

--

Stefan is a problem.  It's not what we see so much as what we don't see.  How the hell did this jerk hang onto power?  Also his decent into obsessed evil is kind of ... well, poorly told.

His steps toward evil are thus:
  1. I care more about ambition than I do about personal relationships
  2. ???
  3. I'm willing to betray my oldest friend, but I can't bring myself to kill her so I'll just dismember her and claim to have killed her.
  4. ???
  5. We are to war with fairies.
  6. ???
  7. I don't care that the task is impossible, get it done!
  8. ???
  9. My obsession is so great that I'll leave my wife to die alone so I can talk to the chopped off limbs of my nemesis.
  10. I'd rather we both die than let you live.
Some of those question marks could do with some filling.

Beyond the fact that it seems like he was singularly obsessed with Maleficent his entire kingship post-Aurora-curse there's the question of legitimacy.

He was named successor because he supposedly killed Maleficent.  Maleficent showed up very much alive at the very public christening of his daughter.  Every other person who sought the throne would have been there to see that his claim was illegitimate.  He wasn't of royal blood, other than having killed Maleficent, which he didn't do, his only tenuous claim to power was that he was the father of the Queen's daughter who NO ONE CAN EVER SEE but she's totes alive and totes legitimate and totes reason to keep listening to this jerk.

The only thing he's ever shown doing competently is planning the killing of Maleficent (he would have gotten away with it if not for that meddling Aurora) there's really nothing suggesting he runs the kingdom well.  So why do people listen to him?

Does he have some of Nicolae Carpathia's incredibly competent invisible staff?

There is a 16 year time-skip for him.  We see Aurora growing up and Maleficent growing closer to her (and realizing that, "I hate you so I curse your child," is a very bad idea) but the only thing we get of him is when he's telling the army that he doesn't care that the task he's set them to is impossible, he wants them to do it.

Which means that we're not getting a lot of sense of how he changes.

It also means that he's making unreasonable demands of the army.  That's not a good way to keep your hold on power.

--

I'm almost entirely certain Queen Leila exists, but I'm not sure that the movie supports that.  She's there for Aurora's christening and then... um, we get mention that she's near death at some point during the final run up to Aurora's 16th birthday.

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Why were the three fairies there?  Were they asylum seekers?

Why were they trusted with Aurora?  Did Stefan assume that they'd hire a nanny or was he just an incredibly bad judge of who could be trusted with a human baby?

They had to be incompetent because the story, in a nutshell, was that Maleficent came to love Aurora as a result of being forced to take care of her because otherwise Aurora wouldn't survive for long enough to have the curse kick in.  Did they have to be annoying too?

--

The previous war between humans and fairies was something that the fairies were afraid might repeat itself.  Given the lack of illness, injury, and crime in the fairy domain it's the only logical thing that could have killed Maleficent's parents.  How the hell did the humans pull that off?

The humans of the movie's present are hopelessly outmatched when it comes to fighting the fairy domain.  Stefan can lay a trap for the strongest of them with years to prepare and while fighting on his own turf, but no one ever makes any headway at all in invading.

How were the humans of the movie's past able to make war well enough to make the fairies fear a second one.  Not be annoyed or angry at the possibility of a second one.  Fear it.

--

Can we for a moment return to the fact that Stefan wasn't deposed?

Was he doing things off screen really well?  Did he have intermediaries who were doing things very well?  Was there any particular reason that a kingdom whose army was in a war without end against thorn bushes (and losing it) wasn't invaded by another kingdom whose military wasn't similarly tied down?

--

I can think of several good reasons why Stefan didn't have spies keeping an eye on Aurora.  The movie attests to none of them.

Nor does it support the bad reasons I can think of

--

A random almost 16 year old shows up claiming to be the princess and they grant her a personal audience with the king.  Really?

Do they also hang a sign that says, "Assassins welcome, no weapons checks"?  Maybe they do.

They assumed she was a peasant when she was dressed like that?
  1. If they assumed that, why let her see the king?
  2. Is Stefan's grip on power achieved by giving the peasants clothes they should never be able to afford?
--

Awesome raven:
*Maleficent saves Diaval by turning him into a human*
Diaval: What have you done to my beautiful self?
Maleficent:  Would you rather I let them beat you to death?
*Diaval looks at his lack of wings*
Diaval:  I’m not certain.

There would be more awesome raven but I can't find the quotes on the internets.

--

Stuff?

6 comments:

  1. She can't lift the curse because she made "no power on earth can change it" part of the curse. I was waiting for God or the Devil to get involved, but no...

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  2. I'll feel like there could be more question marks between 9 and 10, cuz it's like...more than 10 years? Maybe I have the chronology wrong...

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  3. I loved Diaval's reponse to getting turned into a "dog".

    Maleficent partly set her own fate when she reinforced, as part of her curse, that all who looked upon Aurora would love her. From that point on, she could not avoid the affection for "Beastie" that grows in her.

    My guess at Stephan's progression involves steps like:
    Young Stephan cares about Maleficent, maybe not "true love", but some variation on affection. Possibly complexed with personal pride that someone so amazing would choose him as a friend.
    However, he does not care as much about her as he does about himself and his ambitions and so he leaves her.

    The "true love's kiss": he was young, maybe he convinced himself it was true love? Adolescent passion burns hot and fast - it can seem like the real thing before it fades away. More callously, if he can convince her that she loves him then that's more fuel for his ego.

    So, I think he starts from this position of genuine (but not deep) caring for Maleficent.

    Absence and time and self-centeredness all work together to make him forget his positive feelings and allow him to think he does not care and can kill Maleficent to serve his goals.

    Once he meets her again and is welcomed so warmly, some of his former regard comes back. It wars with his self-centeredness. Self-love wins out, but narrowly.

    Compare him with Lady MacBeth. Both were convinced they did a bad, yet necessary, thing for the right reasons. Afterward, both (in my conjecture) became consumed with guilt and pushed toward madness.

    In contrast to Lady MacBeth, Stephan subverts his guilt into demonization of his victim. In order to assuage his feelings of self-hatred, which cannot co-exist with his overriding self-regard, he needs to convince himself that Maleficent was and is a threat to him. Hence his descent into paranoia.

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    Replies
    1. I too loved Diaval's response to being turned into a dog and it would have been one of the things I quoted if I could find a transcript of the exchange.

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  4. Happy birthday! (Well, at least I'm not several months too late, just two days...)

    --- Redcrow

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