Sunday, December 2, 2012

Maleficent & the Absence Of Virtue?

The newest released photo of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. "Maleficent" means evil intention, or an evil effect, so does the make-up and costume convey that characterization and, if so, how? The most striking and unique feature is the green face, of course; is this just for showy design or is there a purpose? Green can either mean hope (thing of the new birth of spring time when everything starts to turn green again after a long, dark winter) or green can mean rot and decay (think of mold in your fridge when you didn't get rid of something in time). Knowing Maleficent is evil, we go with the degenerate image of green and, because the face is the primary feature of our physical identity (please recall discussions of the importance of the face from The Skin I Live In) the face being green means that Maleficent's primary feature is her rottenness. The eyes, because they are the window of the soul, are the most important feature of our face, and Maleficent's being framed by blue denotes depression ("Feeling blue" is a common expression for someone who is depressed). But it's possible that, instead of blue, the color is closer to violet, a variation of purple. Why is this important? Purple is both the color of royalty and suffering, so if the film makers retain purple associated with Maleficent, it will alert us to her own views of her social status (that she is royal, and, juxtaposed against Aurora's being royal, but growing up thinking she's not, will make an interesting "clash" in the development of these two characters as to pretension vs birth right). Pink lips? Did someone just get carried away with the Revlon? No, pink means either a love that has not yet attained it's full force (pink is on its way to becoming red, the color of true love because when one is truly in a state of love for someone they are willing to spill their blood, which is red, hence why red is the color of love but pink is not yet attaining that state of martyrdom, it is imperfect love) or pink conveys the feminine which I think is the far better interpretation in this case. The pink lips (the mouth being symbolic of the appetites) against the green face suggests that her appetite for the feminine is rotten, or what she thinks is feminine and what she craves isn't actually feminine but rotten and death. What about the high cheek bones? The 2,000 year-old Christian proverb of "Turning the other cheek" applies here, because that is the wisdom of how to take an insult or injury, you turn the other cheek and let your enemy slap that cheek as well. Maleficent, as we know from the original tale, doesn't do that: when she feels the burn of insult from not being invited to Aurora's birth celebration, she strikes back with death, so the sharp bones of her cheeks rather implies that, if you dare to strike her with an insult, she will hurt you back. The unnaturally arched eyebrows show us how unnaturally Maleficent "frames" what she sees (the artificial way she sees how the world treats her and interacts with her).  As always, the widow's peak formed by her head-covering symbolizes death and the "horns" (if those are retained) revert her back to the animal appetites and passions, not civilized decorum.  
With an estimated budget of $200,000,000, Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie (pictured above) and Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora, isn't due out until March 2014. Like Mirror, Mirror (Julia Roberts) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Charlize Theron), the film is being told from the perspective of the villain rather than  the hero or heroine; does that signal a shift in American culture? Of course it does. It's further significant that Oscar-winning actresses are going in to portraying the evils instead of the "goodies-goodies." Disney has recently announced that Cate Blanchett will be the evil step-mother in a new version of Cinderella.
The first released photo of Jolie as Maleficent with prosthetic cheeks. Jolie's and Brad Pitt's daughter Vivienne is cast as the young Aurora.
It appears that virtue is no longer bankable.
It's arguable that in our culture today, no one wants a heroine because traditional feminine virtues would be cited as sexist by feminists; it's also possible that virtue just isn't believable in a character nowadays, it's much easier to believe the occasional  virtues a villain displays, to admire their ambition or feel sorry for them because of how they have suffered and been victimized by society while the hero/heroine symbolizes the oppressing force rooting out evil the villain symbolizes. Let's face it, being bad is far easier than being good, and when you have a glamorous wardrobe to do it in, it's probably going to get bigger audiences than a movie about the life of some poor, virtuous, saintly woman.
Disney's original villain  from 1959.