Monday, April 21, 2014

"Let It Go" *Spoiler Alert*

There is a song in the film FROZEN that has become very popular. Little girls are singing it everywhere, and it is a rare Disney film that has actually made it on billboard charts. The song itself is one of the best aesthetically in the film, but the lyrics are morally impoverished. One of the dangers of taking a song out of context when it is part of a musical, is that one can miss the point of the song. In the film, the main character goes through a transformation. This song is from an important part of that transformation. But ultimately it represents an existential crisis, a major fall from which the character must eventually extract themselves.

At the point when this song is sung, the main character has been doing everything they can to hold back their fears by learning not to feel anything, but rather to live according to some tight set of rules and obligations. It is an attempt to live and to be motivated not by what one wants but by what one should do. In an attempt to move past this kind of 'frozen' existence, the character decides to seek a kind of absolute freedom, where there are no rules and no responsibilities. She wrongly believes that to be free is to live outside the bounds of rules. The song specifically talks about embracing a radical relativity, 'no right nor wrong' where freedom is found by making up one's own moral order.

The character quickly discovers that living without rules doesn't make one more free, but less, by isolating them from others and by creating terrible consequences for other people. We cannot neatly extract ourselves from responsibility, because who we are is inclusive of other people. The self is not isolated and atomized, thus freedom cannot be found all by our own. A freedom that does not free others is no freedom at all. The main character's supposed 'freedom' oppressed others, and so was no kind of freedom.

She goes on to learn that it is only by creative love, by finding a mutual self-giving that is neither an escape from responsibility nor some life controlled by hard and fast rules, that fear can truly be overcome and freedom truly embraced. Freedom is not escape from all duty but an embrace of a higher duty born not because of some imposed obligation but because of a spontaneous sense of responsibility that comes from the discovery of self in relationship with others. By giving of myself to another, I discover who I really am. And in that self-discover I find my true freedom.

The song itself calcifies one moment in the film, and it is the moment where the main character has made a serious mistake on the road to genuine self-discovery and freedom. It is a mistake we all make at some point. But that it should be celebrated is a bit disturbing. It is not surprising given the fact that our society often makes the existential mistake of identifying 'the good' with external obligation and 'the free' with the ability to flee from obligation. But the real adventure of life is more subtle and complex than our modern imagination is often capable of conceiving.

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