Brave: Story of Two Women.
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish to spoil it, do not read as it contains way too many spoilers.
The idea of gender equality is hardly new, and has been debated, be it on a singular or an individual level, or as part of the larger picture, since many centuries. Mostly restricted to the religious arena, this debate came out of its closet in about the nineteenth century, but despite that, even legal gender equality came much later, and in many countries, is still many reforms and revolutions away.
Brave, the story of a girl called Merida, though set in ancient times, is a story every girl/woman can relate to. The movie having made use of animation has added certain advantages to this experience of storytelling. Animation helps the director and the audience alike to explore metaphors and smileys, themes and concepts that would’ve been if not impossible then extremely difficult to examine and comprehend in the ‘real’ life. The movie thus is full of symbolism which I will discuss. Perhaps the biggest reason Brave appealed to me was because this movie is not only a radical approach to feminism, but a rational one too. I chose the word ‘rational’ not in terms of the gender synonyms associated with it, but in terms of the ability to look beyond, as the ability to understand and comprehend, and not as a lack of emotions. I have quoted from the movie scenes which are very significant in my opinion, and share a universal root. I have analysed the scenes in a chronological manner, and then given some points as to why I fell in love with this movie.
Merida first appears to us as a little girl playing with her mother, the significance of this scene lies in two aspects, the first being Merida’s physical appearance, bright red unruly hair, all over the place, which immediately give a sense of wildness; and her clothes, which are not an overtly feminine pink or red, but brown, a colour associated with the earth, and a gender neutral colour as well. The next important aspect of this scene is that Merida is first shown with her mother and not father, thus in a way hinting at the mother-daughter relationship that the film delves into deeply in this movie. Also important are her first words to us “Can I shoot an arrow?”, further emphasising that this is no fairy-tale princess satisfied with being restricted to dresses and shoes.
The next scenes I would like to elaborate upon are when Merida has grown up to be a teenager, and is rebelling against her mother’s expectations of her as a princess. This particular string of scenes is quite straightforward, and it involves Merida’s mother constantly telling her what to do and more importantly what not to do. It’s the household story which every girl has experienced.
“A princess must be knowledgeable about her kingdom”, “She does not doodle”, “A princess does not chortle”, “Does not stuff her gob”, “Rises early”, “is compassionate ”, “patient, cautious”, “clean”
-Elinor (Merida’s mother)
Next we see Merida fearlessly riding her horse and shooting arrows simultaneously, and then climbing cliffs to drink water from the ‘Fire Falls’, a place where according to her father only the brave dared to go. These set of scenes give us a wordless insight to Merida, a girl who loves her freedom.
“Merida this is what you’ve been preparing for your whole life”
“No! This is what you’ve been preparing me form whole life.”
This dialogue is a universal one, followed mostly at the prospect of marriage, just as it does in the movie. At this point we see a clear divide between Merida and her mother. The next important scene is the one which introduces us to a legend which in some ways form a base for the story, the legend of the four brothers, and how the eldest one’s ‘selfish’ ambitions to rule the whole kingdom ruins it. Here we see Elinor’s resistance to ideas of individuality, freedom, and dreams of a personal nature. Though both mother and daughter in their place are right, no one is willing to really listen to the other. This inability to communicate is seen when Elinor is talking to her husband who pretends to be Merida, and Merida is talking to her horse, pretending it’s her mother.
This scene, which is a monologue for the characters and a dialogue to the audience, is extremely important, as it points to a major lack of communication and understanding, and also reveals an inevitable generation gap. Another hilarious scene is when the three clans start fighting with each other, when they have come to present their sons for the hand of Merida. Fergus, Merida’s father, in attempt to stop the fight manages to get into it. Elinor now disdainfully flicks her hair back, and simply walks through the commotion, immediately commanding respect, such was her personality.
A pivotal and game changing scene is when Merida re-interprets an age old tradition, and decides to participate in the archery competition to win her hand. Not only does she win the competition, but her skills manage to humiliate and put to shame the skills of the ‘men folk’. The other profound imagery in this scene is when Merida tears her very restrictive and corset like clothes, in full view, to become more comfortable so she can shoot. This image is a recurrent one in feminist work, also resonating the dumping of corsets, bras and even traditions that seek to control women.
Another important aspect of this scene is- as each arrow is loosened by Merida, rather than recognising her astonishing skill at archery the people and her parents are busy being shocked by her ‘guts’. Even when she splits the arrow in two, a resonance of what women are capable of and of what they achieve, she is only ridiculed for daring to step outside of her role. After a heated argument between Elinor and Merida, Merida runs a sword through a family tapestry, rending a tear in it and separating herself from her mother. This scene is symbolically important as it echoes the legend of the four brothers, and of what is possibly about to come.
“I want a spell to change my mum, that’ll change my mum” This thought, a somewhat flawed and immature thought as can be seen, leads Merida to take a spell that changes her mother, to Merida’s surprise, into a bear. The movie takes a leap here, in terms of creativity, because now many interpretations can come through. It is only when her mother transforms into this beast, and after Merida takes off from the castle with her to protect her from her father, a fanatic bear hunter, that a ‘conversation’ starts between them.
“Listening, one of the major themes in the film, is the key to learning – and learning is the key to relating. Elinor does not listen to Merida until she becomes a bear and is unable to talk; Merida, likewise, must listen to what her mother is not saying in order to understand her.”
-Jessica Mason McFadden
In most movies or books we see the son taking the father’s role of teaching the son; and here we see Merida taking the role of her mother and teaching her mother how to gather food. We don’t see many daughters doing that in movies or novels.
“Fate be changed, look inside, mend the bond, torn by pride”
These are pretty straightforward and very non fairy-tale lines, and the key to breaking the spell, which will be permanent after the second sun rise. The focus in not ‘true love’s kiss’, or magic wands and shoes, instead it lies on the mother daughter bond that has to be mended. The two days that Elinor spends as a bear with her daughter, unadulterated by the world, lead to the following scene, where Elinor totally breaks away from tradition. At a point when Elinor is becoming more like a bear, the wisps, a kind of guiding light, appear to Merida for the third time, this time leading them to the ruins of the fallen kingdom of the legend, thought to be fiction. It is here that Merida realises for the first time what disastrous consequences her actions can have. The bear Mordu once again comes and tries to kill Merida and her mother saves her. It is also in these ruins, that Merida thinks, that the mending of the tapestry she had torn, will restore her mother to her former self. To achieve this, she helps sneak her mother into the castle, to retrieve the tapestry and drape it on her, but it’s not so much sneaking has the only way in is full of all the four clan members fighting, since the Queen hasn’t given her decision. When Merida, after restoring peace among the clans, by reminding them how they had fought for each other in times of need and war, is about to give in, it is her mother who steps in.
“I’ve decided to do what’s right, and break tradition. My mother, the queen, feels, in her heart, that we be free to write our own story, follow our hearts, and find love in our own time. “
And before the lords could protest about this, the young princes agreed with the Merida, thus convincing their fathers as well. When Elanor was locked by in her father ‘for her safety’, it reminded me of how girls and women are locked in their homes without ever being asked about their wishes. And even as her father was walking away Merida doesn’t lie on her bed and cry, she spends her time trying to get out to help her mother. She tries to break the door down more than once and finally when nothing works calls her brothers to help her out. A point to be noted here is that the brothers only help out the sister and do not play any major role.
Perhaps the most crucial scene in the entire movie is when Merida confronts her father, who is about to kill Elinor, believing her to be Mordu.
[Merida shoots off her father’s sword just before it strikes Elinor, who is tied down by other clan members]
Merida: “Get back. That’s my mother”
Fergus: “Are you out of your mind, lass?”
[Merida facing her father with her bow pointed at him]
Merida: “Mum, are you hurt?”
[As Elinor shakes her head. Immediately Merida is trapped by the men, though temporarily, as she breaks free and takes a sword up against her father.]
Fergus: “Merida!” [Merida fights her father and cuts of his wooden leg, mamimin him for the moment]
Merida: “I’ll not let you kill my mother”
This scene is crucial as the bear in this scene, is no longer a bear, but a symbol of Fergus’s ambition, a man’s ambition, which often blinds him. Further, when Merida takes up a stance against her a father, it reverberates what many daughters have done or have wished to do, in an attempt to save their mothers from an abusive or controlling father’s tyranny. Now, the real Mordu comes and attacks Merida, and it’s her mother, and not her father or any men, that save her from him, focusing once more on the mother daughter relationship. This intervention is also important as it defies the notion of the role of the father or the man as the protector.
When Mordu dies, a spirit of a man emerges, and for a second it seemed he would turn into a prince and sweep Merida away; but it was the spirit of the prince in the legend, who caused his kingdom to fall into ruin. After a silent thank you, he disappears for good. Finally as the sun is rising, Merida drapes the stitched tapestry back over Elinor, but it seems to do nothing. Again, the focus turns from magic charms to a deeper understanding of human relations.
Merida: “No…I don’t understand. I..[sobbing uncontrollably and down on her knees in front of Elinor]. Oh, mum, I’m sorry. This is all my fault, I did this to you. To us. [Hugging Elinor] You have always been there for me. You’ve never given up on me. I just want you back, [everyone else looks on sadly] I want you back mummy. [just as the sunlight is about to touch Elinor] I love you [crying]”
Another thing that I noticed was how this time the onlookers were men, and how the subject was not a daughter trying to appeal for her father’s permission or attention, but a sincere scene between a daughter and mother. [slowly the scene shifts to a close up] Elinor: [hugging back Merida, and crying and laughing] Merida: “Mum, you’re back, you changed!” Elinor: “Oh, darling!. We both have.”
Elinor did not change because Merida draped a tapestry over her, she changed back because Merida, for the first time, apologised, and confessed her love for her mother. In the last scene, Merida and her mother are riding together: Merida:
“[in the background] There are those who say fate is something beyond our command, that destiny is not our own. But I know better. Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”
These lines question the rigidity of the notions of the expected destiny of a woman.
If I had to put in a nutshell the essence of Brave, it would be in the following aspects. Women have been conventionally thought to be upholders of tradition, and yet they are not allowed to tamper with them, and heree we see Merida re-interpreting traditions and Elinor as completely doing away with them. This brings empowerment to the women in the film. Some may say that Merida shies away from feminine qualities and embraces masculine attributes, thus she is not essentially a feminist character. This argument is made especially in terms of her appearance. Here I would like to point out that Merida though doesn’t wear bright colours as such, but she still wears a dress, a comfortable one and her hair is only wild and loose and not cut off. Merida’s appearance is inspired by comfort and her actions by heart. One has to remember that wanting to be free, wanting to excel at some sport, riding horses, are not masculine attributes anymore.
The movie is strongly feminist as in the limelight is consistently the mother daughter relationship, instead of a father-daughter relationship. This relationship is not stagnant; it grows and matures on both ends, signifying the need to communicate and compromise, and the importance of not just a mother-daughter relationship but also human relations. Merida is also essentially the story of a girl, an ‘everygirl, as opposed to an ‘everyman’, a powerful archetypal myth, which breaks away from bonds of patriarchy.
The lack of a prince in the movie is further proof that a woman may not necessarily need a man to make her life complete, or to help her on her journey to find herself. Merida’s brothers have been shown to be exaggeratedly havoc wrecking; in my opinion it speaks volumes about how sons can get away with so much. The same sort of exaggeration was applied to Merida’s suitors, thus highlighting how unsuited they were for her.
The role of fate has not been like a set events pre-destined, choice was a very important factor in the story, teaching us about the possible consequences of choices we take and the responsibility that comes with being able to make our own choices.
Finally, a story as a creation is always thought to be ‘fathered’, a term which women critics have been questioning for a long time. Brave makes a bold statement, she is a girl, and she has not ‘fathered’ her story. In fact it would be more appropriate to say that she has ‘created’ or even ‘mothered’ her story.
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