Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most beloved and important films. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture, it ushered in a modern era of prominence for the company, and who can forget that ballroom scene? Also the recent live-action remake as grossed 1.01 billion at the box office. But what is the film really saying about love? The trendy internet take is to paint Belle as a Stockholm Syndrome victim, or worse, makes the beastiality connection. However, I think there is a real demonstration of the of love in the film and even from a Torah perspective.
If he could learn to love another and earn her love in return then the spell would be broken… For who could ever learn to love a beast?
Right off the bat, Beauty and the Beast isn’t your typical love story as physical attraction is taken out of the equation. Granted in every romance film, the two leads have some sort of repulsion to over come. But rarely is there no infatuation or romantic tension at all. (At least for Belle, it’s a given that Beast would find her attractive. Her name means beauty.) However, for the sake of true love, this is actually for Beast’s benefit.
Infatuation can be deceptive. It clouds ability to see a person for what they are. It’s the reason shomer negia is so important in dating. Once one’s physical needs start to be met, it takes away the ability to see the other person for who they are. And what Beast needs is for Belle to see him for who he is and love him for that. Also part of the spell is that he truly love her and so he’s going to have to be able to see her for who she is as well.
But What is Love?
Rabbi Noah Weinberg defines love as “the emotional pleasure we feel when we see the virtues of another.” So what Beast has to do is get Belle to see his virtues. Unfortunately, he doesn’t start out so well with that. He’s demanding, “You will join me for dinner! That’s not a request.” Myopic, “If she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all.” Neither of which help his rough exterior. His enchanted friends the candelabra, the teapot, and the French style carriage clock, try their best to suggest more affable gestures. But the problem remains, as long as Beast has an agenda (to break the curse) his virtues will never show through.
Possibly the scariest moment of the film is also the tenderest.
Belle is finally starting to get used to her situation when she decides to break the only rule, Beast gives her. As she sneaks into the West Wing, she discovers a raw and unguarded chaos of his personality manifest in his dwelling. It’s dark and filled with pain. She crosses boundary into intimate territory. And though she might be scared, she is also intrigued by it.
But in the center is the most beautiful thing in the whole castle. The rose. It perfectly symbolizes Beast’s vulnerability and it is certain that Belle identifies with it on some level. But when Beast discovers the intrusion he lashes out. Though intimacy and vulnerability are prerequisites to being loved, not everyone is willing to let their guard down, especially when the exposure is unexpected. With the Beast’s violent reaction, Belle has all right to leave and never come back. But it’s after Beast saves her from the wolves, that she makes a decision. She decides to give.
The Key to Love: The Turning Point
The primary expression of love is giving. In fact, the Hebrew word for give and the Hebrew word for love share the same root, hav. When you give to people, it connects you to them on deeper levels. Think about it, who gives you the most in life? Probably your parents. And the only relationship that gives you more is a relationship with God. If you’re lucky enough to recognize what’s been given to you, you can’t help but love that person. And when you give, you’ll start to be associated you with the good you do.
So how does Belle give to Beast? After taking him back to the castle (I have no idea how she managed to lift him on the horse) she tends to his wounds, talks to him as if he were a human being, and finally she thanks him for saving her life. It’s this gift of gratitude, hakaras hatov, that takes the relationship in a new direction. But there are other more powerful forms of giving.
Gift with Thought
As Beast starts to care for Belle, he is overcome with the desire to do something for her. With some help, he manages give her the perfect gift. The library. It’s such a powerful moment, since the movie has established Belle so well as hungry bookworm. When Beast leads her into the room, eyes closed, we eagerly anticipate her reaction as Beast draws back the curtains and the sunlight washes over her.
When we give with thought, it shows we understand the person at their essence. It takes time and involvement. It means you have to think about the person often, looking out for what they might like or need. But if you surprise someone with something they didn’t think to ask for and maybe didn’t even know they needed, they’ll remember it forever.
Give By Seeing Someone – Blemishes Included
When Beast and Belle start to spend quality time together, they start to see “something there that wasn’t there before.” They start to see each other for who they are. Faults as well as virtues. When we are honest about who the other person is, it’s the first step to accepting who they are. Which is a necessary step to loving who they are. How can you love someone if you only understand them on a superficial level?
Seeing people for who they are means being concerned about their struggles and treating everyone as a human beings despite what they can do for you. A counterfeit of this is admiration, where you only appreciate someone for their virtues and ignore their faults. But true love sees faults and holds a magnifying glass to them. (Who loves you the most? Your parents. And who sees your faults the clearest? Your parents!) Love is the choice to focus on a person’s virtues despite their faults.
Giving Without Strings Attached
People often are uncomfortable with gifts and compliments because they suspect an agenda. When we give without asking for anything in return, it engenders trust, safety, and true appreciation. It demonstrates love in the boldest way because it, by definition, is selfless. So when Beast releases Belle from the agreement so she can save her father, we know it’s purely for her benefit. It is a truly selfless act that shows Beasts has finally learned to feel love for another person. Regardless of how the movie ends at this point, Beast will have made an everlasting mark on Belle’s life that she will never forget.
Happily Ever After
The ending of the movie is somewhat arbitrary in regards to the arc of their love. Belle has to give into the feelings that have been building inside her and, of course, the movie needs an exciting and dramatic showdown. But what these characters have become for one another; caring, loving individuals, has already manifested. The third act is simply a of revealing of that.
Where the loving kindnesses of Beauty and the Beast seems limited to romantic love, these traits of giving extend far beyond your bashert. When you are able to act with this manner for all people in your life, you’re living a life of love. Living with love endears you to people, fosters trust, and engenders unity. It’s a prerequisite for influencing others and without it, is impossible to effectively give reproach. But most important of all, it brings God into the world unlike any other act. If you can be sensitive to the needs and suffering of those around you, and then be a miracle to them because you care enough to be so… You will be a real beauty among so many beasts.
A version of this article first appeared on Aish.com.