Welcome to Part 2 of “Lessons from Frozen,” in which I discuss a very prominent element of the film’s plot: Elsa’s blessing/curse which eventually freezes Arendelle and moves Elsa to isolate herself from everyone.
Some people have claimed that Elsa’s personal torment contains a hidden pro-gay agenda. Allow me to offer a different interpretation of it.
So, the conflict of the story begins the moment that Elsa accidentally hits Anna with her winter powers. You’ve seen the film, so you know what happens — Anna’s memory of the incident is wiped away and Elsa proceeds to hide herself from Anna. Not sometimes, but nearly always — for years.
Early on, we see that Elsa’s ability to hide her powers from her sister isn’t developing well. So her father gives her a pair of gloves. As he puts them on her hands, he tells her that they will help, and there is an exchange of dialogue that becomes the backbone of Elsa’s character arc:
Father: “Conceal it.”
Elsa: “Don’t feel it.”
Both together: “Don’t let it show.”
This is partially where the whole “hidden gay agenda” accusation comes in. But think about it for a minute. Doesn’t everyone have the temptation to simply “conceal, don’t feel” at some point in their lives?
Feeling left out? Conceal, don’t feel.
Stressing out over just about everything? Conceal, don’t feel.
Thinking that nobody cares about you? Conceal, don’t feel.
In other words, whenever we have personal problems that nag at us, we have a decision to make. Do we reach out to those around us, asking for their love and support? Or do we hide it, trying to deal with it on our own?
Moving on for the moment. Elsa’s and Anna’s parents die, and eventually the day comes for Elsa to become queen of Arendelle. We see her still struggling to conceal her powers. She sings:
“Conceal / don’t feel / put on a show / make one wrong move and everyone will know.”
During the coronation, she has to take off her gloves when she picks up the scepter and the orb-like thingy that I don’t know the name of. Her hands tremble. Ice begins to form on the objects and she puts them back down as quickly as possible, slipping her gloves back on immediately.
What are we seeing here? Why can’t she control her powers?
Elsa’s torment is caused by her fear. She fears that she might accidentally hurt Anna or someone else again. She fears that everyone will fear and hate her if they find out about her powers.
Anna knows that Elsa is afraid of something, but she doesn’t know what. When Elsa refuses to bless Anna and Hans’s marriage, she shouts at her.
“Why do you shut me out? Why do you shut the world out? What are you so afraid of?”
The Coronation Day has already pushed Elsa extremely hard. But this has pushed her to her limits. She turns sharply about, yells “I said ENOUGH!” and inadvertently releases a wall of razor-sharp icicles.
Everyone stares at her in horror. Some whisper, “Sorcery.” Elsa can think of only one thing to do: run.
And run she does — far away, up into the mountains. And thus begins the most famous number from the film: “Let It Go.” I think pretty much everyone knows the lyrics by heart, but please bear with me as I break apart some of the song.
“Let it go / let it go / can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go / let it go / turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway”
What is Elsa saying? “Turn away and slam the door?” “Let the storm rage on?” Hmmm. Does this sound familiar? Going back to what I was saying earlier about concealing our hurt from others, what do we do when people do find out that we’re hurting? Often, we isolate ourselves. “Leave me alone,” we say. And we wallow in self-pity, and sometimes anger. This is not to say that wanting to be left alone sometimes is unhealthy — I can personally vouch for it being a good thing. But do we eventually come out of ourselves and reach out to others? Or do we stubbornly refuse to do so?
This is Elsa’s problem. She doesn’t want to share her hurt and fear with anyone. She wants to deal with it on her own. This ties into Elsa’s fear. She’s afraid of what people will think of her. She’s afraid of rejection.
“It’s funny how some distance / makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me / can’t get to me at all”
In other words, running away from our problems makes them seem smaller, and Elsa believes she has escaped her fear. But does this really work? We’ll see in a moment.
Some people see the “Let It Go” sequence as a triumph for Elsa. They see it as a turning point — that she finally is accepting that she has these powers and is not afraid to hold them back anymore. While that might seem like a good thing at first glance, what is she really doing? She’s building up walls around herself, both literally and metaphorically. She’s imprisoning herself to avoid running the risk of hurting anyone anymore. While this is a noble goal, we can see that she is going about it the wrong way. She still lives in fear. She has deceived herself.
This becomes apparent as the film continues. While Elsa hides in her icy citadel, Arendelle remains completely frozen. When Anna finally reaches her sister and tells her this, Elsa is distraught. She thought she had solved everything on her own, but she has made matters worse.
Things get worse still. When Anna insists that she can help Elsa overcome her problem, Elsa despairs, screaming “I can’t!”
And Anna is struck by Elsa’s powers again — but this time in the heart. In panic, Elsa creates a snow monster to chase Anna and her companions away before she hurts anyone else. Not long afterward, Hans reaches her palace and sends in his men to seize her.
The men, however, have been ordered by the Duke of Weaseltown (ahem, Wesselton) to kill her. She lashes out in self-defense, but to no avail. She is captured, thrown into a dungeon, and chained. Hans comes to her and asks her to stop the winter, but she insists that she doesn’t know how. Later, she manages to escape with her powers, and runs out onto the frozen river, where a blizzard is taking place. She doesn’t know it yet, but Anna is out in the blizzard, dying and calling for Kristoff.
Hans soon catches up with Elsa and lies to her, saying that Anna is dead because of her. And a funny thing happens as Elsa is overcome with remorse and grief: the blizzard stops. This is a hint at what is to come very soon.
With the blizzard stopped, Anna can see clearly, and thus is able to save her sister from Hans as discussed in the previous post. And it is then that Elsa realizes how she can stop the winter and be in complete control of her powers.
It makes sense. The blizzard stopped moments earlier because of Elsa’s outpouring of grief over her sister whom she loves and believed to be dead. It also brings to mind a Bible verse, 1 John 4:18a:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (RSV)
Elsa has let her fear control her all her life. It led her to remove herself from her sister and later conceal herself in her own icy prison. Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let it show. Don’t let them know.
But now, Elsa has learned that this is not the way to live. Love is the answer. Love will thaw. Perfect love casts out fear.
Disney has gotten it right once again. I hope that everyone who sees this film is inspired by Elsa’s transformation.
Sorry you all had to wait several days for this post! Let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? A little of both? Sound off in the comments!
I promise the next post will come more quickly. When it comes, I hope you enjoy “Lessons from Frozen, Part 3 of 3: Everyone’s a Bit of a Fixer Upper!”
ADDENDUM: Someone rightly pointed out that I didn’t discuss why Elsa’s torment isn’t pro-gay propaganda enough in this post. Well, to summarize, I can see why people might interpret it that way. Elsa has lived in fear, isolating herself and holding back her powers to the best of her ability — some see this as a parallel to someone who is “in the closet,” and thus cheer for Elsa when she triumphantly sings “Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.”
But, in my opinion, that’s where the gay view stops. If this movie is pro-gay, why does it make it so clear that what Elsa was doing was wrong? Elsa “lets it go,” which only makes matters worse for her in the end. I believe that the writers’ intention was to show that when we are troubled about something, we should reach out to others rather than conceal it within ourselves. I’m sure that gay people can relate to Elsa’s feelings, but I simply don’t see how her personal transformation fits into the whole pro-gay agenda. Thoughts?