Monday, April 23, 2018

Penelope & the Theme of Beauty

The thing that I liked about 1991's Beauty and the Beast that the live-action retelling kind of threw to the side (if not completely disregarded) was the theme of "looks don't matter because it's the inside person that matters." I've heard that Shrek was the story, more than Beauty and the Beast, that successfully expressed this theme--but I tend to disagree. Shrek liked Fiona because she looked like him--so their story is more along the lines of "everyone's beautiful to someone" than "looks don't matter." The movie that does, without a doubt, express the latter theme is Penelope.

This is a random movie that I don't even know if most people have seen or not. It's kind of a blend of genres: fantasy, family drama, rom com, etc. It's also the type of movie that starts to take on this cult film tone (for me at least); the more times you watch it, the more entertaining it gets. It's a modern fairy tale not in the sense of having princes or princesses (it has none) but in its plot and theme. A family is cursed but it takes generations for the curse to show up--in the face of Penelope. So you have this girl growing up and into her twenties hearing from her mother that her own face is not hers--that she will only be herself once the curse is broken.

They all think that she needs to get married (to someone from an upper class background) to break the curse. Plot elements, plot elements, turns out the truth is a little different. Point is, Penelope goes on this journey of realizing that her face is just her face. She doesn't suddenly look in the mirror and say, wow, I'm so beautiful. She doesn't say, I don't care that I'm ugly. She doesn't say, there are all different kinds of beauty. She just says that this is her face and she likes herself the way she is.

It's like her face becomes completely irrelevant: she and her family spent so many years obsessing over what she looked like that she finally became tired of it and realized that her face wasn't her entire person. She no longer cares about her face. Her face was the entire reason that she put up with the whole marriage plans mess; once she decides not to take part in all of that, she is also deciding that she doesn't care if her face never changes.

Think about what happens later, too. When Penelope and Max/Johnny finally meet again, he doesn't know that her face has changed. But he doesn't care; he still loves her and still wants her to know that. And when she does show him her face? He really does hardly seem to care. He's happy if she's happy but he cares about her either way. And notice, too, that for anyone who likes to be picky about such things, Penelope doesn't need Max to break the curse for her and she only goes back to him after she's all settled in herself first.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder doesn't just mean that everyone has different tastes (which of course is true; I can't deny that). It also means that you have the choice to see what you want to see. What do you see when you look at a person? Sure, there are some people so striking that you can't help but think that they look like models. But mostly when I look at people I see their expressions. You start inward and then move outward. If someone is always positive and upbeat and excited, probably you'll notice their eyes and find that they have nice eyes. If someone is always smiling, you'll probably find that they have a nice mouth. That sort of thing. It all goes to such a point where you don't even know how to physically describe someone because you just see them when you look at them, not what they "look like." Looks matter, sure, because we're in a physical world--but looks also don't matter at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment