In the past several weeks, I’ve read a lot about the new Cinderella movie.
(If you haven’t …. And you wish to, I highly recommend Linda Holmes’ treatise on the evolution of Cinderella. It’s lovely).
And yet, even as I walked into the theater a few nights ago, there was a little voice in the back of my head, questioning. How does a story so old remain interesting? It’s a pattern so familiar most of us could recite it in our sleep, seen endlessly, over and over again in a variety of genres and colors, both musical and non. And yet we continue to watch, interested, despite the familiarity, despite the simplicity.
Girl loses parents. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finds shoe. Boy uses shoe to find girl.
It’s not about the dress (although it’s certainly a fabulous dress). And it’s not about the shoes (which, I’ve been informed, are actually quite comfortable, despite their crystalline nature).
It’s about the love story.
And while many things about this story remain the same puzzle pieces to which we have become accustomed – the pretty dress, the cruel stepmother, the beautiful (and obliging) fairy godmother – it is the love story that serves as the backbone and the reason why we watch over and over again.
And while this particular movie doesn’t have much claim to modernity, its love story does.
What impressed me most of all about this film is that, out of all the clever and well-thought-out decisions that were made, it manages to ask the right question.
Cinderella approaches her Prince, wearing the not-particularly-raggedy rags to which she has become accustomed. This is the scene to which the entire film has lead, the pivot on which their futures hinge.
And the question is not, as it has always been in the past, “Does the shoe fit?” or perhaps “Will you marry me?”
It’s far simpler and somehow more complex than that.
“Who are you?” he asks.
And this is the question on which their love story rests. “Who are you?” and “Are you willing to accept me as I am?”
While the rest of the movie might not appear terribly modern, these questions are. The beauty in this film (aside from aforementioned dress and shoes and, of course, the incomparable Cate Blanchett) is the balance of its love story.
The shoe itself seems of little consequence. This Cinderella escapes the dreaded if/then conclusion.
If the shoe fits, he must marry her.
If he wants to marry her, then she must love him.
Her consent – and her love – are no longer a foregone conclusion. They choose to love each other. They choose partnership.
Her question is not “Will you marry me?” or even “Will you take me away from this awful situation?”
“Can you accept me as I am?” she asks. “Can you love me?”
“Can you accept me?” he asks in return. “Can you love me the way I am?”
This is not merely a love story – it is a partnership. He doesn’t fall in love with a pretty girl who has good taste in footwear. He falls in love with a kind, brave, adventurous girl. One he knows is flawed and is willing to accept anyway.
The shift in this story – told over and over again, for hundreds of years – is the change in the characters. He is no longer merely a prop of a rescuer, come to take the put-upon maiden away from her terrible life. And she is no longer the miserable, starved servant girl of yore.
The difference between this story and so many others of its ilk lies in asking the right questions – not “Do you love me?” but “Can you love me for who I am?”
The beauty of this particularly Cinderella comes not from the pretty wardrobe or the attractive cast, or even the special effects. It comes from an old story, beautifully told, and a love that is not merely if-then, fairytale love, but true partnership.
In a world where princes have to be more than charming, and princesses have a great deal more to worry about than simply being pretty…. Where shoes do not always fit and the story does not always end the way it should, it is a great relief to sink into a story like this one and find that all is as it should be.
Here’s a link to the aforementioned Linda Holmes story, if anyone is interested:
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