Disney’s recently released family fantasy epic “Maleficent” has led to interesting conversations amongst film critics about its content. Specifically it’s the fairly blatant rape metaphor at the start that there have been issues with, especially for a Disney-branded film that is essentially marketed for young teens.
The scene in question sees long separated childhood friends Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) reuniting. He’s now a meek man with ambitions of power, she’s an innocent and yet assertive and powerful fairy with a stunning set of wings that mean everything to her.
After a tender reunion, he then proceeds to drug her with a potion. Whilst she’s in a deep sleep, he uses a hand chainsaw to cut off her wings (the actual cutting isn’t seen) and takes them back to the king so he can be named the ruler’s successor.
He justifies his actions by telling himself he’s trying to protect her from a king who wants her dead – a king who has already proven to be no obvious threat to her.
The now mutilated Maleficent awakens and spends several minutes crying in pain and stumbling through her forest home. This act of betrayal and cruelty being the motivation for her to seek revenge on all humans – effectively jump starting the movie.
It’s a confronting scene, darkly filmed and pulls no punches with its implications that the only man she ever trusted has violated her in the worst imaginable way by taking the thing most precious to her. It’s also crucial to the story, without it you don’t have a film.
No-one who has worked on the film has talked about it in such terms during the publicity campaign in the lead-up to the film’s release. Now that the movie is out and people are seeing it, Jolie spoke about the scene during an interview with BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour (via US Magazine).
Jolie did confirm the rape metaphor, and in fact she and the film’s scribe very consciously wanted that kept in the film:
“We were very conscious, the writer [Linda Woolverton] and I, that it was a metaphor for rape. This would be the thing that would make her lose sight. The core of [the film] is abuse, and how the abused have a choice of abusing others or overcoming and remaining loving, open people. The question was asked, ‘What could make a woman become so dark? To lose all sense of her maternity, her womanhood, and her softness?'”
Jolie tackled the subject of rape before in her 2011 directorial debut “In the Land of Blood of Honey” which dealt with a rape case during the 1995 Bosnian War. The film prompted the Hague to become involved with the issue of rape in times of conflict.
But that was an adult film targeted at adults. “Maleficent” is a movie aimed at children and families, many taking their under 12’s to see it. The best fairytales often have quite dark subject matter filled with analogy, symbolism and metaphor that often go over the heads of most kids. However, is the theme of sexual violence – even told in the roundabout, metaphorical way portrayed here – taking it too far? Feel free to weigh in below.