Mother Knows Best, and the Father of Lies
By: Laurel Cornell Robinson|Published: September 16, 2011 3:52 PM
My daughters have watched the movie Tangled more times than I can count since its release late last year. I watched it with them the first time they saw it, and have heard the songs played incessantly in our home.
While there are things I like about Tangled -- I found Maximus the hound-like horse hilarious, for one -- I am increasingly disturbed as I reflect upon the “mother” figure in the movie.
I’m not referring to the real mother, who loses her infant daughter, Rapunzel, in the middle of the night and spends the next 18 years searching for her. I’m talking about the fake mother, Mother Gothel, who kidnaps baby Rapunzel in order to use the magic anti-aging qualities in Rapunzel’s hair to keep herself young forever. Mother Gothel is the epitome of evil -- the subtle, sneaky kind of evil orchestrated and perpetrated by the enemy of our souls.
Consider the things that Satan and Mother Gothel have in common.
Each approaches as a trusted figure. Satan entered the Garden of Eden as just another harmless critter, talking to Eve in a way she clearly did not find objectionable. Eve considered his input and allowed herself to be influenced by it, not something you would do if you had your guard up.
Mother Gothel really did raise Rapunzel, taking care of her basic needs -- albeit for selfish reasons. Rapunzel could not help but form a bond with her in the early years. In the beginning of the movie she is seen coming home to the tower with ingredients for one of Rapunzel’s favorite dinners. Everything she does, she presents as somehow beneficial to Rapunzel -- and who is Rapunzel to question what her mother says?
Each subtly undermines the confidence of his or her victim. Satan is known for whispering convincing lies that keep people -- via fear, spite, confusion, or despair --from doing what is right. He seems to know just what to say to make people afraid, whereas the Bible says that “[God’s] perfect love casts out fear.” Satan appealed to Eve’s curiosity in the garden, and even intimated that God was withholding His best (the “knowledge” that would make them more like Him) from Adam and herself.
Mother Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel in the tower so that she can keep the magical power of Rapunzel’s hair for herself, and so her true parents will never find her. In order to motivate Rapunzel to stay in the tower, Mother Gothel tells her “in love” that she is inadequate to interact with others:
Mother knows best
Who would have the confidence to go out after that? It would require superhuman fortitude for Rapunzel to believe, without any experience to confirm it, that someone out there might love her -- let alone that there is someone looking for her.
After she demoralizes Rapunzel, Gothel also plays on (yea, creates) Rapunzel’s fear of the world outside the tower:
Each makes what’s good for self sound like it’s good for the victim. When humans are overcome by temptation, or controlled by lust, greed or anger, it feels as though we don’t have a choice. In the power of the moment, we cannot perceive any other course. This is spiritual warfare; the only antidote is the armor of God and the power of the Spirit. We cannot “logic” our way out of it.
Gothel adds this emotional element to her argument against Rapunzel leaving the tower:
Go ahead, get trampled by a rhino
Gothel is appealing to the intrinsic compulsion of the conscience to obey one’s parents, and twisting that to urge Rapunzel to (once again) serve Gothel’s own incredibly selfish purpose.
By the time Mother Gothel is revealed to the audience as a conniving witch who would sell out her own “daughter” to get what she wants for herself, all young viewers in the room are rooting against her, urging Rapunzel to “run away,” “don’t listen to her,” even “kill her!” Cheers erupt when justice is served. This is as it should be: Evil should be vanquished, by good, for good.
The thing that disturbs me is -- well, why did “evil” have to be the Mom? Young girls around the world identify so strongly with the lovely Rapunzel, and I’m afraid that at some point they might look over at their true mothers, who would do anything for them, and begin to wonder if these women are really just using them somehow, spinning the truth to accomplish their own goals. It’s a complicated issue to impose on an elementary school-aged child, and teenage girls don’t need any more motivation for strife than their hormones are already giving them.
Don’t let me get you down. (Or myself!) Let me encourage us to make the most of every opportunity to discuss the Gospel with our kids. The good news is that, even in this Disney production, Love wins. After Rapunzel gets a teeny boost of confidence and seizes a chance to leave the tower (wrestling greatly with guilt along the way), she ultimately discovers that she is loved for who she is. She sees that the “love” she thought she had from Mother Gothel was not love at all.
Oh, that we citizens of this earth might also see through the lies of our enemy, reject his attempts to keep us imprisoned, and burst forth into the world with victorious singing. In the meantime, parents, let’s keep an eye on what our kids are watching -- and look for how the Gospel relates to it.
Laurel Cornell Robinson is a writer living in Maryland.
Image copyright Walt Disney Pictures.
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