Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Beauty's In The Eyes

This post is a contribution to the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series at The Film Experience.

Before I sat down and watched Beauty and the Beast for this entry, I managed to stumble, completely by accident, on an essay that discussed how the film might function as an allegory for the AIDS crisis and how it plays with ideas of gay male types. These ideas had never occurred to me, but they make complete sense - note particularly how the screenwriters have changed the attack on the Beast to be motivated by the general threat to the townspeople and the children he might snatch, whereas the original story is a much more enclosed, personal battle between the lead characters.

But, watching the film again, this wasn't the only suggestion that Beauty and the Beast subverts the traditional, conservative ideals that are generally attributed to Disney's empire. It's very easy to dismiss the film's ending as throwing its laudable moral - love is more than skin-deep - out the window as the Beast transforms back into a handsome white prince, but this ignores not only the groundwork the film has continually laid out, but the very expressive work we can see in the scene of the transformation itself.


On Belle's forbidden visit to the West Wing, the film establishes the key trope of eyes. In contrast to Gaston, who is constantly being distracted by his own reflection, you sense Belle has never really looked in a mirror. Here, she does, and in the cracked glass, she's confronted with about a dozen of her eyes looking back at her. While Gaston, and indeed the rest of the town, conceive of Belle as the 'Beauty' of the title, this shot, early in her time at the castle, sidelines that idea. As the Beast learns to love, Belle learns to see the value in the reality of the world around her. Here, she seems shocked to realise that she even exists, and the multiplicity of eyes reminds her of the value of looking.


It also makes for an intriguing visual correlation with this shot, just moments later. The Beast has ripped apart his portrait, reflecting the mangling of his own beauty by destroying its painted image, but crucially, the eyes remain in-tact. Belle goes to lift the hanging scrap, but she doesn't complete it, suggesting that complete physical beauty is always an afterthought for her.

My pick for best shot.
Which we see in these scenes, essentially of the Beast's 'death'. I'm not sure what it says about my state of mind that my favourite shots from Beauty and the Beast were of characters dying or crying, but it's rather apt and helpful that I really found the beauty in the beast in this shot. I don't think it's accidental - it's designed as a picturesque portraiture, Belle caressing the side of his face delicately. Moreover, it centres the eyes as the bright focal point - so much expression through drawing, a wistful love in the blue. As a frame, it's as carefully designed as the following one of Belle, looking down at him:


If anything, Belle, the supposed 'Beauty' who Gaston basically wanted to frame and preserve rather than love, has less of a portrait than the Beast, though the caressing hand is a poignant visual match to the previous shot. By having Belle looking straight at the 'camera', it positions this shot as a point-of-view shot, as opposed to the portrait of the previous image. But above all, once again, it's the eyes that are the key to the image - bigger pools on Belle's face than the slits on the Beast's, they seem to shine with concern. It's the character design of the entire faces that does the work for both characters, of course, but the images draw focus to the eyes, connecting the couple in what they think are their last moments together.

Finally, crucially, after the Beast has transformed back into the Prince, Belle doesn't care about the handsome new figure in front of her - she finds the answer, that he's still the same being, in his eyes.


Bonus: the geometrical matching of eyes to bodies in this shot of Cogsworth and Lumiere always tickles me.

3 comments:

Paolo said...

And here I was thinking that there was no way to posit this film or any other animated film within any sociopolitical meaning. This post warmed my heart, as well as making me ask what it means when the fairy 'infects' the prince.

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Silly Old Daniel said...

My favourite film! Some really interesting points I'd never really thought about before- another interesting eye-related Beauty and the Beast moment is as Gaston dies he gets skulls in his eyes. Weird.

I LOVE THIS FILM. Cool blog :)