The thing I love most about Maleficent is not that Angelina Jolie was born to play this role (she was), that the production design and effects are spectacular (they are), or that the story is fresh (it is), but that the film shows a balance of masculine and feminine that shows a clear way forward to resolve some of the tensions of the “battle between the sexes” that continue to drag us down.
Ostensibly a re-visioning of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent is much smarter and more nuanced than that. We see Maleficent as a girl and learn why she puts the curse on baby Aurora that she will prick her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and die on her 16th birthday. Frankly, we sympathize with her.
By presenting Maleficent’s back-story, complete with two horrific sequences of male violence with unavoidable parallels to rape culture, the character is multi-layered in a way that is seldom seen in popular culture. She fully embraces both her feminine and masculine traits in a way that contrasts markedly with the oppressive and corrupt patriarchy that tries to destroy her.
The key to understanding why Maleficent appeals to me so much is not that it is a feminist tale, though it can be read that way, but that the eponymous character finds a balance between the masculine and the feminine. Even her name carries both traits in equal syllables (my friend Karen who went with me to see the movie pointed this out).
Maleficent is gentle and maternal and loving and trusting and fearless and strong and vengeful and athletic and smart and playful and more. She can also be cruel but not for very long. With the exception of cruelty and vengeance, which is best avoided by all sexes (yes, I said all instead of both to account for intersexes), why can’t each of us be all of those things if we want to and it feels natural?
We don’t need a patriarchy or a matriarchy but a balance of masculine and feminine energy. When the patriarchy tries to contain the extraordinary energy that is Maleficent and she repeatedly overcomes the butchery and the burning snares, it is thrilling to see her soar.
I want to see it again…