True love, truly disappointing

Disney’s Frozen (2013) is the most accurate representation of contemporary romance in the cinema today. I wavered between shock and offense after my initial viewing of this animated feature; now I see that the film wished itself to be clearly understood, and to be understood, in a weak sense of the term, is to present a fiction that is immediately accessible, relatable, and conservative.

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How is it possible that an animated children’s film better represents contemporary romance than a live-action picture, one of high drama and seriousness? By depicting a particular myth and the power of that myth to found the romantic encounter as such. What is the myth? The character Anna sings about it on the day her castle is opened to the public:

Cause for the first time in forever,
There’ll be music, there’ll be light!
For the first time in forever,
I’ll be dancing through the night…
Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy,
But I’m somewhere in that zone!
Cause for the first time in forever…
I won’t be alone

I can’t wait to meet everyone! (gasp) What if I meet… the one?

Tonight, imagine me gown and all
Fetchingly draped against the wall
The picture of sophisticated grace…
Ooh!

I suddenly see him standing there,
A beautiful stranger, tall and fair
I wanna stuff some chocolate in my face…!

But then, we laugh and talk all evening
Which is totally bizarre
Nothing like the life I’ve led so far!

For the first time in forever,
There’ll be magic, there’ll be fun!
For the first time in forever,
I could be noticed by someone…
And I know it’s totally crazy
To dream I’d find romance…
But for the first time in forever…
At least I’ve got a chance!

For the first time in forever,

I’m getting what I’m dreaming of!

A chance to change my lonely world,

A chance to find true love!

There is something neurotic in her tune. Prior to the encounter, prior to the event of love as expressed by two separate and unique individuals, Anna has already determined its shape and form. On the one hand, she is a tyrant of solipsistic love. Paradoxically, on the other hand, the anonymity of a future partner relinquishes such tyranny – any individual will do, any person can fill in the hole opened by the myth of true love.

What else is contradictory in this myth? The anonymity of a loved individual conflicts with the practice of love itself, namely, love-making. To say that I am willing to love whomever may cross my path, an anonymous other, is to simultaneously will anonymous sex. Let’s not forget the first thing couples do when they find themselves alone after their marriage ceremony. Thus we are confident and sure of our capacity for true love but never, or rarely with such gusto, do we say I am ready and willing for anonymous sex. When a stranger becomes a sexual partner, this is when we employ cognitive dissonance: we often speak of “falling” for a lover either just prior to or just after we’ve copulated. This is done in order to bring that anonymity into the sphere of emotional intimacy. In this way we reconcile our myth of true love with the practice of anonymous sex.

So the myth depicted in Frozen is true love and individuals’ capacity to express a love which is representative of secretive desires, dreams, and fantasies. Anna is successful at the beginning, during the novelty phase of the relationship with Hans. The novelty of the budding relationship is perhaps the pinnacle of most couplings: it is the length of a day in the case of Frozen, or a stretch of days or a few months in the case of romances in the world. The tendency for couples in the novelty phrase is to fuse, to see the world according to One perspective; when describing how very alike the two lovers are, Hans begins, “We always finish each other’s…” and Anna humorously concludes, “… sandwiches.” There is nothing better than finishing each other’s sandwiches – this is what we’ve been searching for since viewing our first Disney movie in early childhood.

I have heard that the absurdity of Anna’s marriage to Hans is criticized in the film – Anna and Hans are engaged after one day of flirtation and conversation. But the criticism is from the very man whom immediately replaces Hans once the latter becomes the Evil Ex-Husband/Fiancé/Boyfriend/Partner. The Evil Ex is a type we all recognize; most of us, in fact, have one if not several of them in our respective pasts. Let’s be more accurate: do we not have an ex-partner who was crazy, abusive, needy, tyrannical, and so on, an Ex whom we distance ourselves from, whom we posit as the type we must avoid? Hans fills this role. He is a stage in a process…

Anna returns from an adventure with a cold heart, a hilarious metaphor for a woman whom had just championed anonymous love(-making). Her powerful sister shot her through the heart with an icy blast and the cure for a cold heart is true love sealed with a kiss. She rushes back to her future husband, but in her absence Hans has changed – he has become the Evil Ex (or more familiar, the bad boyfriend) and Anna must end her relationship with him; or, if we prefer, Hans breaks up with Anna because she has changed (jokes about frigidity aside). Now without true love, Anna is left for dead. Luckily (!) the man who had just criticized her for falling in love too easily speeds to the castle to express his true love with a kiss. And we must emphasize the act of carnality here which will save her – we can return to Sleeping Beauty (1959) or Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light (2007). Both films show the touch of flesh rekindling the conscious life of the protagonists. Again, I stress the links between love and love-making in this acknowledgment of carnality.

But Kristoff does not make it to save his beloved. Here Frozen is praised for its refusal to depict the male saving the helpless female. What resuscitates Anna is her sister’s love, which is both charming and beautiful. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the man would not have saved Anna had he arrived in time, or embraced her frozen corpse. We must not forget that Anna has bought into this possibility that Kristoff is her true(r) love. This is all the more pronounced at the end of the film.

Now rid of her Evil Ex, and a little wiser about her ideas of true love, Anna substitutes Hans with the next man closest to her. In my companion piece to this article, I wrote, “When the fusion of One is broken, the substitute partner in serial monogamy fills in the hole left by the absent partner. Thus, similar to promiscuity, no risk or commitment to love is present because the next partnership merely stands in for what has been lost – the process of fostering love, and its adventures, is foreclosed.” Anna and Kristoff embrace and we assume love will follow, if it has not already. What the narrative of True Love Myth > Monogamy (Marriage) > Failure (Disruption of the Myth) > Substitute Partner accurately displays is contemporary romance’s normative form: serial monogamy (or serial couplings). We see all the stages of this form in the movie.

Frozen provides us with a microcosm of the contemporary romantic situation and it does so without an ounce of ambiguity. The film’s success hinged upon this familiarity and humorous play with the myth of true love to then present us with another myth: our second lover is more likely our true love (or our third, fourth, fifth, n…). Perhaps so many parents took their kids to the film because they believed in the truthfulness and moralizing of its story. While love as sacrifice and love as an expression amongst family members is certainly present in the film, its dominant theme is undeniable, although until now, was unstated by critics and bloggers.

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