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May-June 2017

Cinema Therapy by Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.

Beauty and the Beast

"The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities in every one of us."
Joseph Campbell                                       

Disney's Beauty and the Beast is the latest movie adaptation of a French fairytale, La Belle et la BĂȘte, published in France in 1740 (Madame LePrince de Beaumont, 1750s) and has held a special place in the hearts of the public ever since. In this version, a father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), has been blessed with the very best of daughters, Belle (Emma Watson). She is a beauty, humble, hard-working, and self-sacrificing. She is also a wistful bookworm, which makes her the odd girl in her village. Because Beauty's mother died giving birth to her, she has become the dutiful daughter, turning down suitors, including the vain Gaston (Luke Evans), because she feels obligated to care for her lonely father.

When Maurice goes into the forest, she asks him to please bring her back a rose. Once deep into the forest, Maurice gets lost and wanders around until he comes upon a dark, gloomy castle inhabited by an ugly Beast (Dan Stevens). Maurice enters the castle garden and plucks a rose for his daughter, causing Beast to holler and bellow that he has been robbed. Beast throws the father into his dungeon but the father tricks Beast into letting him return home to see his daughter. Beauty, always loyal and self-sacrificing, offers herself in her father's place and returns to Beast's castle with a rose plant to apologize for her father and try to right his wrongs. (In another version, Maurice, offers Beast to trade his daughter in exchange for his own life). Beauty remains in the castle as his substitute.

Beast seizes Belle and takes her prisoner. She is scared of his terrifying looks and beastly behavior. Beast, touched by Beauty's fear and loveliness, agrees to set her free if she will just stay long enough to get to know him, then let her heart decide. Beauty soon begins to look beyond Beast's hideous exterior and recognizes that he has goodness inside. She is unaware that her captor is actually a prince who has been physically altered by a magic spell. In order to break the spell, Beast must learn to love another and be loved in return. Beauty befriends the castle's enchanted staff, explores the forbidden rooms of the castle, and more and more sees the kind heart of the true prince that hides inside the Beast's ugliness. Eventually, her love changes him back into a handsome prince. Love conquers all!

Psychological Implications
Viewed through a psychological lens, fairytale plots and motifs use symbolic imagery (dark forest, castle, rose, father, mirror, Beauty, Beast; helpful staff, exploring unknown rooms, etc.) to illuminate our inner experiences, provide insights into human behavior, and guide us along a journey of transformation. Myths model various ways to help others wrestle with life's challenges, face conflicting aspects of the self, and sow the seeds of change. In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states, "The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities in every one of us." There are gods of violence, compassion, and those that unite the inner and outer worlds. Maurice, then, offers Beast his daughter in exchange for his own life. Out of loyalty to her father, Beauty agrees. She remains in the castle as his substitute. In order to break the spell, Beast must learn to love another and be loved in return. Psychologically, each of the characters in the story represents different facets of the personality, a collective inner experience, understood as metaphors for psychological change.

While there have been numerous variations and interpretations of Beauty and the Beast, most have certain elements in common. The story represents a transformative journey, the purpose of which is to redeem the disowned, split-off aspects of the self, and move us towards a harmonious whole — from fear and naivety to fullness and maturity.

In the beginning of the film, Belle, so deeply bonded with her father out of her guilt over feeling she was the cause of her mother's death, is cut-off from any awareness of her own beauty, and oblivious to the shadowy aspects of her handsome suitor, Gaston, who wants her to make him look good. Belle is so sweet-tempered, devoted and self-sacrificing we wonder if she can ever stand up for herself or nurture herself. She nurtures others. She masks the disowned, mature feminine part of herself by turning away suitors. She will remain unable to come to maturity while she still remains a self-sacrificing maiden to her father. However, once she finds herself imprisoned in the dark and foreboding castle and begins to explore its forbidden rooms (symbolic of the mysterious aspects of herself), Beauty starts to open up to Beast and later on, when she begs him to permit her to visit her father, she is able to feel Beast's grief over the potential loss of her.

Beast, initially bewitched, cursed, lonely, and filled with rage, makes the journey towards redemption. Beauty holds a mirror to Beast's feelings of ugliness, his anger and sadness, and nurtures the goodness buried within. Beast, rather than devouring Beauty, stresses that she has free will which changes her and helps her make the internal shift from pleasing and serving others, to being able to make decisions on behalf of the self. Beauty's ego, once hidden and trapped in her unconscious, becomes strengthened. She finally finds her voice in behalf of herself! The rose is the symbol of virtue and bridges her intellect, her emotional and sexual awakening.

Beauty moves out of maidenhood and now we feel a connection, a passion, between Beauty and the Beast. Though polar opposites, they share a common wound, and are brought together and healed through symbols from the unconscious that learn to talk to each other, integrate, and ultimately accept all aspects of the self. Thus they are a perfect psychological fit.

The continued romance of a vulnerable Beauty and Beast are connected with the emotional concerns of modern life that represent an inner journey, an initiatory descent into the shadowy, unknown aspects of the self.

Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D. (PSY22909) is a clinical psychologist who practices in Encino. She leads Women's Empowerment Groups that help women learn the tools to move beyond self-destructive relationship patterns. She may be reached at 818.501.4123 or cgelt@earthlink.net. Her website is www.drgelt.com. Her office address is 16055 Ventura Blvd. #1129 Encino, CA 91436.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists