In my giveaway (that ends today! go enter now!) of a signed copy of Eleanor & Park, I asked what your favorite unconventionally awesome female characters were. I am loving the answers! Some of them I am nodding along with and others I’m writing down to learn more about. Haley brought up Merida from Pixar’s Brave, and so, in honor wild red hair I thought I’d repost the review I’d wrote last summer. This was originally posted over at This is a Woman shortly after the movie was released, but not shortly enough that I actually remembered all the details. (Thank god I’m cute.)
PS. This week has been not only busy but also cumbersome with too much Oedipus Rex and multipletrips to the mechanic. I will try to get to posting some Lady Links for you, but I just can’t promise it. I’m sorry!
Last weekend I took my kids to the drive in to go see Brave. It was fabulous. If I’d been smart, I’d have taken notes. But as it turns out, it didn’t even occur to me that I should write about it here until this past weekend. So we’ll have to make due with my memory of having seen it only once over a week ago in a venue that is somewhat distracting (my kids seem to be allergic to each other and break out in the MOM, S/HE TOUCHED ME’s if they come within six inches of each other. Which. They do. When they’re sitting in the back of a small station wagon).
OK. So. SPOILERS!
The movie is, as you are no doubt aware, the story of a spirited young girl with amazing hair, arguably the best accent on the planet, and amazeballs skillz in archery. She’s strong-willed in all the best ways and takes a stand against centuries-old tradition when it doesn’t suit her and what is best for her own life and personal growth.
Only. That’s not what this movie is about at all.
Well, OK. It is. But the story is more about Merida’s mother, Elinor.
It’s about a woman who grew up and had no qualms with the status quo. She was perfectly happy to grow up and be the queen she was expected to be, to live the life that was planned for her. She had zero desire to ever put her weapons on the table. In fact, she had zero desire even to own weapons of her own at all. She was not in touch with her inner Wild Woman in any sense.
And then she had a daughter who was the absolute embodiment of Wild Woman and who was physically, mentally, and spiritually incapable of being anything else. (We all need to have such people in our lives, whether not not we spring them from our loins.)
The story begins with various arguments between Elinor and Merida over what Merida should and shouldn’t be doing. After begging and begging her mother to hear her, Merida ultimately loses her shit and rides off into the night where she stumbles into a magic circle of stones, not unlike Stonehenge. Her horse refuses to enter the circle, but Merida is in her element here. On the other side of the stones, a path lit by will-o’-the-wisps appears, and she follows it. According to Wikipedia, a will-o’-the-wisp leads you from the safe paths. YES. Safety, in terms of the growth of our psyche is bullshit. Safety is what Elinor’s life has always been about. Safety is the opposite of what Merida lives for. Safety will never guide you forward spiritually or psychologically. Take the unsafe path. Follow the will-o’-the-wisps.
The will-o’-the-wisps lead Merida to a witch. I want to give props here to Pixar for making a witch who isn’t a villain. It is so easy to make witches the bad guys. After all wise women, both in folklore and in real life, have for centuries been made out to be bad witches. It’s so ingrained in us now to consider them bad, that we have largely forgotten that once they were revered. In Brave the witch is the method in which Elinor learns her biggest lesson. Merida begs for help and is granted a cake to serve her mother which will help her to change her mind about Merida’s future. Only, the witch doesn’t say exactly how that change will occur. True wisdom and growth doesn’t come from an outside source changing your mind for you. That is oppression. Elinor lives oppression. She needed something to help her to grow from the inside. And the witch knew that.
So Elinor is changed into a bear.
Merida witnesses this and is horrified at what she’s done. Because she, too, is oppressed, even if it is to a far lesser degree. On a realistic level, she just totally screwed up her mom’s life and possibly caused her death. On a spiritual level, she caused that big change, and that, too, is scary.
They run off into the woods where they try to find the witch again and ask her WTF, but she knows damn well that she has to be gone. She leaves them a cryptic message, telling them they have to fix this on their own. Because if it was simple, no one would have learned anything, and Merida would have been even further ostracized.
In the morning, they find there is no kitchen staff out in the woods to fix them breakfast so here’s where the work begins.
Step 1: Elinor must rely on Merida for her very survival. She doesn’t have the first clue about surviving in the wilderness. But Merida, like Katniss, knows her way around a bow and arrow and so has a very good advantage out in nature.
Step 2: Elinor must learn to feed herself from what nature provides. She is still hungry even after Merida’s hunted breakfast, so Merida takes her to a stream and tells her to catch some fish so she’ll be able to feed herself for a lifetime.
Because how better to find your Wild self, than by being wild?
And then there are some adventures and some mending of a tapestry-family-portrait that I forgot to tell you about earlier (Elinor had been working painstakingly for years probably on this tapestry and Merida sliced it in two, separating herself from her family CORRECTION: Apparently I remembered it wrong, it was Elinor that Merida separated from the family in the tapestry) and some more adventures and time is almost up for Elinor. If she and Merida don’t fix this, like, NOW, she’ll be a bear forever. The whole town is out to get Bear-Elinor, and her own husband is at the forefront. Merida keeps shouting the truth, but no one listens. Suddenly, the actual bad-guy-bear comes in and pins Merida and Mama Bear Elinor takes over and KICKS HIS ASS. It is symbolic of love, of motherhood, of her final test in becoming who she is meant to be. And things are mended and she is herself again. Naked.* Isn’t that exactly what such an amazing growth experience does to us – leaves us totally naked, right in front of everyone? At least in front of the important people.
The story was more about Elinor than Merida. About her transformation, about her growth, about her journey to find her psyche. The story was about Merida, too. She grew in her own way in this movie; she stepped into her role as Wise Woman for the first time.
I hope there are countless more movies like this for our daughters (and sons!) to grow up with. And also for us to learn from.
*Naked in a Pixar/Disney way. She was totally covered. That doesn’t make it less important. Just less porny.