15 March 2015

"Cinderella" and the Disruption of Consumption

This past Tuesday, I attended a preview screening of Disney's live action Cinderella. My interest in the film was minimal, but one of my friends was excited to see it, so she and I went. I always write something about the movies I watch, whether at home or in a theater, and I even briefly considered writing a formal review to submit to Flickchart, but in truth I was really just there to spend time with my friend. However, something took place during the screening that I feel merits discussion so here it is.

Act I opens with the death of Ella's mother and concludes with the news of her father passing away off-screen. (Given that many other versions of the story - including Disney's own 1951 animated
 adaptation - begin after their deaths, I'm pretty sure I haven't just spoiled anything major.) There is no greater aspiration for any artist, in any field or medium, than to stir in others the same powerful emotions that they feel in response to their respective live experiences. Those who made Cinderella should know that they succeeded.

A young girl dressed in Disney Princess apparel sobbed for a few minutes, right along with her onscreen counterpart. I'm not admonishing Disney for making a little girl cry. On the contrary, I am acknowledging that their film, directed by Kenneth Branaugh, had such a visceral impact.

There is admonishment to be had, though, and it is leveled at the several adult members of the audience who made no allowance for how watching our protagonist - with whom we are meant to identify - endure the heartache of grieving for both of her parents. Surely, that is one of the most universally profound life experiences we must face as human beings. This child, her life experiences unknown to any of us, was forced to watch Cinderella go through that twice in the span of half an hour.

I had chatted briefly before the movie with the little girl's grandmother. They had won passes through WHAS-11. I imagine that they knew going into the screening that the fairy tale does involve Cinderella losing both of her parents, but the extent to which it may have been a trigger for trauma, I have no way of knowing. I'd certainly like to think they wouldn't knowingly subject her to something so upsetting, and that this was instead an instance of overpowering sympathy.

To tersely shush the empathy of that child despite all we had witnessed together, I can only conclude indicates that those intolerant viewers were so committed to consuming entertainment that they failed entirely to recognize and process the message of the art before them (and yes, even commercial art is still art).

I hope that empathetic girl heard not her impatient critics, but instead the mantra of Cinderella, handed down to her by her mother: "Have courage. Be kind."

And thank you, sobbing child, for being so "disruptive" with your compassion and making clear the contrast between empathy and apathy. Please, never become so hardened and jaded that you shush someone moved to tears by watching someone - even a character in a movie - grieve.

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