A few months ago, Disney released another film, this time a movie version of the musical Into the Woods. Once again it was gorgeous and well done, but it bothered me that there was not one character in the entire movie who I felt was "good." Everyone showed selfishness, greed, or a lack of conviction. And in many cases, those negative qualities caused harm or death to other more innocent people. (As you can tell, I hadn't seen the stage musical in quite some time or I might have been better prepared for such a dreary tale)
Why do I mention all this? Because this weekend I went to go see Disney's newest live-action fairy tale, Cinderella. I went into it expecting to adore it, and I left even more thrilled and satisfied than I ever had hoped I would be. I suppose this is the point at which I need to say "spoiler warning" for those who haven't seen the film yet, although really, who doesn't ultimately know what the story of Cinderella is going to include? But still, I will be mentioning a few details from the film, so...spoilers.
Cinderella is the best role model of a good-hearted individual that I've seen in the movies for years. My husband can confirm to you that from the first time I saw the first trailer, posted above, I immediately became a Pavlov's dog when I heard the words her mother said to her...
...and would immediately begin a sniffling cry. I don't entirely know why these words mean so much to me, but they do. They seem to beautifully sum up exactly what it means to be a good person. Kindness. My goodness (literally). What an old-fashioned quality that is entirely at odds with the priorities of modern life and modern society! Selfishness and greed are devastatingly rampant. In schools, students are being taught that there are no moral absolutes. And each generation seems to be more and more "me me me" and less aware of the concept of common courtesy.
In the film, Cinderella doesn't just generally flit around in an airy fairy way, grinning, giggling, and being sweet as cherry pie. She undergoes real trials, real hardships, and shows the true meaning of selflessness and kindness through those times. There are several moments in the film when Cinderella specifically shows these qualities. A few that stood out to me were...
-When an employee of her father's comes to tell the family that her father has passed away. Cinderella is clearly devastated and heartbroken. But before she closes the door, she pauses and looks at the man, saying "I'm so sorry. This must have been very hard for you." (paraphrased from memory) Even in a moment of absolute pain, she still finds the time to sympathize with another person.
-When Cinderella is frantically running to her carriage from the ball, she bumps into the king, bows, and starts to run, but then stops for a moment to say "your son loves you very much, you know. You must be a wonderful father." (again, paraphrased from memory)
-When Cinderella has just received her cruel nickname from her stepsister, and been told by her stepmother that she has no place at their table, she bolts from the house to a wild horseback ride through the woods, clearly in emotional tumult. She stops when she sees a flawlessly ethereal and beautiful stag, no more than five feet from her mount. Hearing hunting horns in the distance, she pleads with the stag to run, and sets off through the forest beside the hunters, pretending to be out of control of her horse, when really she is anything but. Once again, she sets aside her emotions in the moment to help someone else.
The point is...being good and being kind are not just a coat we can put on when life is easy or we feel like it. It is a habit we grow into day to day. For Cinderella, her parents taught her from an early age to care about the well-being of other people and creatures. It was a habit learned over many years, until it became a natural reaction in most cases.
But sometimes, it was harder to be kind. Under those circumstances, Cinderella had to draw upon her courage. It took courage to stand up to her stepmother and still try to go to the royal ball after she was told she would not be attending. It took courage, more generally, to stay in that household and be bossed around simply because she wanted to protect and care for the home that her parents had loved so dearly.
There is an every day kind of courage, the kind that tells us to keep going, keep moving in our lives even when things seem most dire. Cinderella had no expectations to meet a prince on the day she saved the stag in the forest. She had no expectations to find the prince again on the night she went to the ball. She did these things because she was kind, and because she was courageous. But I want to believe, no, I need to believe, that the universe is not fully random: that courage and goodness and kindness are somehow rewarded over avarice and greed and selfishness. Cinderella's great message is that this is indeed true.
Sometimes, life is not a fairy tale. The movie version of Cinderella is utterly and totally beautiful, a multi-faceted gem from beginning to end. Even the death scenes in the film are graceful and pure, sanitized for an audience of wide-eyed children. Sometimes life and death can be uglier than the film represented. But that doesn't change the importance of the message, or its truth for our lives, no matter how ugly or messy they can become.
Yesterday morning, after going to see the film the night before, my husband and I went out to the store to buy a doll of Cinderella in her ball gown (the most beautiful gown I've ever seen on the screen, fyi). We were driving from the toy store to the grocery store to do our weekly shopping, and when we exited the highway, my heart went from elated and happy to devastated and broken. On the exit ramp was the large body of a Canadian goose, hit and killed by a passing car. That was heartbreaking enough to see, but standing to the side of the road, confused and trying to protect its partner, was a second Canadian goose. They mate for life, you know. I immediately burst into anguished tears, and could hardly see to drive to the store. When we pulled in, I called the local police department to see if they would move the animal's body from the road. That was the responsibility of the Department of Wildlife, we were told, which was only open Monday through Friday.
We finished our shopping, but neither of us could stand the idea of leaving the animal there. We went back to the exit after picking up a shovel in our garage, and moved the bird from the road to the ravine by a small creek right beside the exit, but far enough away to give them privacy. My husband held the shovel, but he needed me to shift the bird onto there. I could hardly see through my sobs as I gently moved its weight onto the plastic scoop.
It was a moment of pure heartbreak. There was nothing beautiful or redeeming about it. It was utterly and totally gut-wrenchingly terrible. Tom held me while I cried afterward, and he whispered "thank you for having courage and being kind."
Because that's what I believe in. Have courage, and be kind. No matter how beautiful life can be, or how ugly and terrible, that's what can sustain us. A simple and old-fashioned concept, one easily scorned. But there are indeed moral absolutes, and in my opinion, kindness is one of the most important.
Have courage, and be kind.