Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Sign of Rebellion: Hair

One of the great songs of generational rebellion, correlating long hair with an act of patriotism: The Cowsills and their mega-hit of 1969, Hair:
The song references several "revolts" which "the sign of hair" was a part of, one of which is that of the Old Testament figure Absalom, the third son of King David, whose hair was so long that, as he fled the fight against his father's army, his hair was caught in the trees and he was hanged to the death by it. The line, "Oh, say, can you see/my eyes if you can/then my hair's too short," clearly references the American Revolution and the revolt of our Founding Fathers from the motherland of England; it wasn't just a religious group or an economic class which revolted, it was a generation that revolted, and according to The Cowsills and the hippies of the 60's, if they can do it, so can we, and as their impeccably powdered wigs were a part of their reasonableness in their slogans of "No taxation without representation!" then the flower power would mingle with the long hair of the hippies and be a sign of "freedom from reason." The song deserves its own post, but it clearly catalogs a history of the Pompadour and its intimate connection to that rite of passage: the generational revolt.
A “coming of age” film is never just a “coming of age” film: it’s far more dangerous than that. Coming of age means a gaining of consciousness capable of critiquing the behavior of the previous generation (or whichever generation is - or appears to be - in power at the time), calling their elder’s decisions into question and proposing new alternatives to what the younger generation sees as the real problems; in the 1960's, it started being described as the Generation Gap. In other words, it’s a clash of values, priorities, dreams and destiny, as we all know. (I am assuming that you have read Freud and Oedipus: the Ancient Struggle which details how and why generations need to revolt against the previous generation; this post won't make much sense if you haven't read it). What the hippies in the 60s knew is also what the teenagers of today know: it all gets tangled.
It took 6 years & $260 million to make, the second most expensive movie ever.
Since it's on Netflix instant view this month, I watched it and was extremely impressed with Disney's 2010 film Tangled and how it asserts the desires and problems of the younger generations' need to live their own lives (as you should know by now, good reader, I don't have much sense of entertainment, only a dry sense of what films are good as "social documents"). The key to the conflict lies in Mother Gothel: by keeping Rapunzel locked in the tower, she keeps herself young and is the only one able to use the magic in Rapunzel’s hair. In other words, by keeping Rapunzel locked up, Mother Gothel keeps her accomplishments “young” and “fresh” instead of letting them be consigned to the dust and grime of history, and Rapunzel can’t do anything noteworthy of her own.
Mother Gothel in her youthful form, not the aged, withering, old hag.
There are particularly two great songs in this film--again, you might not think they are great in terms of musical excellence--but they excel in establishing the impetus, the heart of a generation and the inner stirrings of the soul: When Will My Life Begin? (video) is every generations' right to exist and fulfill its destiny in the way that it sees fit; every generation has been put here by God and that's why it's so tricky to judge the past actions of previous generations. Similarly, the song I've Got a Dream (video) illustrates the importance of each generations' calling to do what it is in their heart to do.
What is a dream?
The revelation from the Holy Spirit of what it is you are destined to become: it might be an actual dream as you are sleeping, or the pulling of your heart in a certain direction, but it is a revelation and it's God sharing his plan for you with you. Rapunzel waiting for her life to begin is the correlation that her life is her dream and her dream is her life. That's why the mean guys at the Snuggly Duckling bar wish Rapunzel the best in fulfilling her dream but they tell Flynn that his dream sucks: Flynn wants comfort and material wealth, but nothing that will fulfill him as a person, nothing which is his uniquely and specifically, which are the characteristics of a dream.
There is an important character who supports this theory: the lizard.
Rapunzel's pet chameleon is named Pascal which means "Easter" (the "Paschal" sacrifice). In Christ's own resurrection, we find our own resurrection, from the death of Original Sin to the Life of Faith and Grace we are all destined for. But her hair also supports this line of reasoning: she has 70 feet of hair (7 is the sacramental sign x 10 the perfection of grace at work in her). So her hair gives youth and beauty to Mother Gothel, but it also gives Rapunzel her very life, the life she's waiting to live.
Flynn Rider is the "hero" of the film, reluctantly, but he makes some interesting comments and some interesting things happen to him. One of the issues with Flynn are the WANTED posters put up with his picture on them; they always mess up his nose, and this is important, because when one generation starts talking about another generation,  they always start messing up the "features of that generation." Baby Boomers have very negative connotations of Generation X, the 13th generation of Americans who know the American flag; the whole cult of "devil child" films, such as Rosemary's Baby, is about the children of Generation X; if that's not a slam, I really don't know what is. Generation Y is so distorted, they can't even agree on the dates or a name for them, and all of this is accurately reflected in Flynn's nose always being messed-up.
When Rapunzel and Flynn first meet, he tries out his "seductive" look on her and she isn't attracted to it one bit: this is an aspect of this generation of men, they can't use their looks the way previous generations of men have because this generation of women have caught onto it as a means of control (in the original Rapunzel story, the prince has been sneaking up and Rapunzel gets pregnant; that doesn't even come close to happening in this story).  The other item of note for Flynn is the frying pan: "I have got to get me one of these," he says after fighting off the villains with it.
This is the generation of men who, more than any other, has to deal with "blurred lines of gender" and he becomes "successful" by the story's values when he is able to not only accept it, but embrace it. At the end, Flynn jokes that Rapunzel kept asking him to marry him and he finally said yes, but that's a joke, he says, he proposed to her and she said yes. This is an important moment, because it codifies in a rare way (and becoming rarer with every film released) what roles each gender has and which traditional gender roles are still... acceptable.
This may seem strange, well, that's because it is strange, but it fits in with the film. Flynn and the horse, Maximus, are, well, rather enemies. The traditional role of the Prince riding up on his horse signifies that he is a prince exactly because he can ride the horse, his passions, that is; Flynn, in wanting to gain lots of wealth, isn't in control of his passions, but Maximus, a horse from the castle, is after the outlaw to bring him to justice, and in this case, justice happens to be marriage to the lost princess, Rapunzel. Flynn Rider, in other words, is an outlaw because he isn't a "rider," but Maximus is going to teach him how, symbolically, that is.
Flynn Rider invokes an important movie: “This is the story of how I died.” It’s Joe Gillis (William Holden) at the beginning of Sunset Boulevard who tells the story (the entire movie) as a corpse face down in a Hollywood swimming pool; in this linking of Flynn Rider to Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard also becomes a “coming of age” film because Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) holds young Joe hostage in her big home (as Rapunzel is held hostage in the tower).
Joe Gillis (William Holden) dead in the pool in Sunset Boulevard, 1950.
Joe is a screenwriter who wants to make his own movies but Norma wants him to write (or help her write) a screenplay to make her a big star again (seeking to be young once more, just like Mother Gothel). Desperate to keep Joe with her when he resolves to leave, Norma shoots him dead. Contrariwise, in Tangled, when Mother Gothel vows to keep Rapunzel locked up forever, it’s Flynn who takes a shard of mirror and cuts of all her hair so she will be freed of the burden of keeping Mother Gothel young.
The shard of glass used to cut Rapunzel’s hair is vital: since the mirror was broken when Mother Gothel realized Rapunzel knew she was the lost princess, it symbolizes the “reflecting” Rapunzel has done in first, realizing her destiny and that she wants to fulfill it and, secondly, how Mother Gothel had kept her from living it all her life. Flynn is the perfect character to do this because, not having anything of his own, he doesn't become a slave to it and can give it up, and this is what gives Rapunzel her freedom, because she wouldn't have been able to do that on her own.
Leaving the tower for the first time.
There is something unique which both Rapunzel and Flynn have in common with the story of Oedipus Rex: being orphans. Flynn's real name is Eugene Fitzherbert (which means "the son of Herbert") and Rapunzel grows up thinking Mother Gothel is her real mother, when she's actually the lost princess. Finding one's true parents is a part of the artistic realization of the generational revolt (parents shouldn't think that children want to disown them, but it's about finding out what your place in history is). When Flynn steals the crown... it's really his own heritage, and that is the "foolishness" of younger generations, not realizing what their own inheritance is from the previous generation, and each other.
The point of the film is for Rapunzel to be re-united with her parents, her real parents, and thereby to discover who she is. As I said, this is the point of each generation's revolt, even in the song Hair, it is a historical exploration of how each generation has distinguished themselves by their hair-dos; some call it the changes in style, but I would like to differ. The head is not only the part of us that reasons and thinks, but also that governs us. The hair, literally, is each person giving you an illustration of what their thoughts look like (in the film Carrie, for example, when both her mother and herself are "losing their minds," their hair gets really frizzy so you know their thoughts are fizzling out of reason).
Is Flynn right in cutting off Rapunzel's hair?
It's easy to argue that her hair would have better served humanity by being left on, she could have been rescued another way... or there would have been a better way of getting rid of Mother Gothel... but the point is, this is the stance that this generation is willing to take. This is a statement of their priorities, their values, their decisions. The older generations might be more pragmatic--by their own standards--but no one ever ever ever does anything without a reason; there is always a reason for what we do. We might not know it or understand it, but that's the "gap" in the Generation Gap, understanding. Yes, Flynn was correct in cutting off Rapunzel's hair, because her soul goes from occupying the little tower, to the great castle pictured below. In looking at Rapunzel's hair as a resource--like oil, gold, medicine, a golden ticket to American Idol--Rapunzel has been reduced to being an object, not a subject, and it's freedom from objectivity that Flynn frees Rapunzel. This is the difference between the Baby Boomers and this younger generation, their determination not to be objectified, and for them, the issues aren't tangled at all.
When Flynn has first entered Rapunzel's tower, she says something we find very odd: "I've got a person in my closet." We all have a person in our closet, the closet of our hearts, and that person is ourselves. We tend to shove ourself into hiding when we aren't living up to the expectations that we or others put upon ourselves, but there is a person in our closet, and the best way to find out who that person is, is by looking in the mirror, looking at your hair, and figuring out what it is that you are really thinking, and what it is that you really want and need to help you find the beauty and the splendor of your hair.