Beauty And The Beast (1991): “Disney presents a study in Stockholm Syndrome.”
We all know the story of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast – the most beautiful love story ever told. A wealthy, arrogant man is cursed by an enchantress when he refuses to help her, and is only saved by the unconditional love of Belle – a rebellious, kind-hearted young woman who accidentally crosses paths with him after rejecting the advances of a local man, and inspires ‘the beast’ to be kind. But, let’s look at this from Belle’s point of view, shall we?
Belle is increasingly uncomfortable with the advances of the possessive and persistent Gaston – a popular local man who is stalking her. Having rejected his advances, she learns that her father is being held against his will in an isolated castle, and sets off to rescue him. Arriving at the castle, she finds her father at the mercy of a ‘beast,’ and offers herself in exchange. The ‘beast’ withholds food from her, then sends her into a life-threatening situation, before swooping in and saving her life.
Meanwhile, Gaston is still stalking her, and arranges to have her father committed to an insane asylum. Discovering this, the ‘beast’ allows Belle to rush to her father’s rescue once more, while he pines away in his lonely castle. Gaston uses her father as bait to capture and imprison Belle, while arranging an attack on the ‘beast.’ Belle escapes, and rushes to the aid of the ‘beast’ who is heartened by her return and consequently shows mercy to his attackers. Having received a terrible wound at the hand of Gaston, the curse is broken, and Belle opts to stay with the newly humanised ‘beast.’
Belle is emotionally manipulated at every turn by her stalker, her father and the ‘beast’ – all of whom wish to possess her. It is the ‘beast,’ however, that creates in her elements of Stockholm Syndrome – a psychological phenomenon in which hostages develop positive feelings for their captors, identifying a lack of abuse as kindness. Having been abusive to her in the beginning of their relationship, the ‘beast’ plays on Belle’s kindness and sense of obligation to convince her he can ‘change.’ Maybe he can, but Disney’s comprehensive study in Stockholm Syndrome still stands.