"Brave" IS brave, but leaves the significant tear unattended
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon has suggested that Brave, however feminist, doesn’t really undermine patriarchy – the daughter weaves a spell of command and rhetoric to sway them to her side, but ultimately it’s to the men to determine when sharp changes to tradition can be undertaken. But the whole (or almost the whole – see below) of what Brave does is show only women as capable of the maturity, the majesty to see what the realm needs to survive; the men, are twits, practically always ready to hack at one-another over the smallest slight. The men, that is, though they can supply buffoonish charms, are mostly a drink-fest and a random melee waiting to happen: does the movie really supply any doubt as to who maneuvered these realm-saving “patriarchal” traditions into place in the first place? Andrew’s former peer at Salon, Stephanie Zacharek, has argued that Brave is closer to Ratatouille and The Incredibles than to Wall-E and Up; and with its preference to show ordinary folk as afflictions on those mentally at least one rung up, there’s no doubt about it – it is.
You could tell by the released preview of the film that it is the dynamic between mother and daughter which was going to make this movie good (and maybe great), and this certainly proved true, with the surprise being that the film actually ends up becoming more the mother’s than the daughter’s. (Asked now to conjure up an emblematic image, it wouldn’t be the redhead’s magnificent locks, but the queen’s surprise as she tries to cover her bare self from view, or her eyes as she started turning whole bear.) We remember not the young lass shooting arrows, but her delight at seeing her mother gain competency catching fish – it’s not so much the mother countenancing the changes in her teenage daughter, that is, but the daughter countenancing her mother’s accommodations to new status and frightening powers. I liked this, but it goes against the natural order, against plain fairness, frankly. It’s nice that the mother knows new adventures and stretchings out of the possibilities of self, but if the daughter doesn’t have her time now, during her teenage years, when the whole pull of her lifeforce is directing her that way, her best bet for it will be after she’s married and with kids, when her adventuring might be mixed with anger at her previous long denial and not do them any good.
You always hope films directed at young kids will still introduce them to something adult. What is adult is to appreciate that the reason teenagers can actually end up shortchanging their efforts to individuate, is owing to fear of the anger this arouses in their mothers (to the mothers, their individuation feels vindictive), not to their mothers ultimately prevailing to induce some appreciation of the complicated ways of the world into their still limited and fully self-absorbed minds. The youth agrees to marry – whomever, to cruelly circumscribe herself the beautiful adventure of finding a soulmate, after “maturely” coming to appreciate her desire for as much as selfish. A whole environment is Truman-show produced to show her brave act of telling her mom to piss the hell off, as something so intrinsically abase it would lead to the like of her mom being permanently disabled, and a whole realm at the cusp of war. Fortunately, the mother has been apparently introduced to enough fun that she ends up speaking up (or effectively motioning, if you prefer) for the wisdom of allowance, for her daughter’s needs for the same, and – with permission granted – thereby her daughter sways a bit off the masochistic and is saved the fate of being life-long humped by one of the idiot clansmen claiming her.
Still, there is a sense that the adult does make its appearance here, perhaps to be mulled over and chewed on without us being so much consciously aware we’re up to as much. When the mother starts losing her own persona and going whole bear, the daughter is face to face with someone who just a moment ago was her familiar mother but has suddenly become someone fully absent from her, and also very, very frightening and savage. I would argue that, outside of a few very lucky ones, there’s isn’t any girl out there who hasn’t known wicked fear at experiencing from their own mothers, this sort of upsetting transformation. The look the bear directs at the daughter in the film, a quick but very impressionable one, as of someone suddenly alien who means her terrific harm, is of the obliterating kind that foremost keeps young women from fully being comfortable with their intuitions to explore the adult, with their developing mental checks, inner-scolds, that keep them from letting life be too much about ostensible mother-betrayal and self-realization. We only get this look twice in this film, and perhaps you are agreeing – thank god for it!
Putting something this true into the film can’t quite be called brave, as it’s too “subliminal,” too deniable, to seem more than what a good-intentioned but also very careful place-holder might put forth. Same thing can be said with the film’s other brave element – its actually countenancing that what a family needs is a strong wife, able kids, and a strong father. As mentioned, the real father in this film is an idiot, and overtly this film belongs with a depressing, long slew of films we’re likely to see forthcoming, where it’s near beyond countenancing that female members don’t just simply take over. All the men in this film are like cartoon characters put in odd pathetic abundant company to a sex possessed of something vibrant and real – exempting one notable exception. The adult male monster bear – possessed somewhere inside by the spirit of a ranging, founding-father clansman – has no truck for idiots or fools, either, nor is he about to be toyed about by wee fey boys who idolize sweets, and he is a fantastic creature which inspires equally fantastic engagement on part of mother and daughter to be brought down. His is a powerful “voice” – the mother “bear” is something in defense of her “cub,” but he never in the battle, owing to someone else’s ferocity, loses his own magnificence – and the three of them together undeniably in their engagement inspire something along the lines of great, create a landmark encounter from which a worthy mythology might be constructed (the father’s engagement with the bear, from which he wrung out a lifetime of tale-telling, was in comparison but Ekler vs. Sugar Ray). The young girl’s talk of bravery subsequently, in fact, only gains some credence owing it.
The most significant rift in this film is between mother-daughter and an astray father, who has no “in” to meaningful involvement with his family, and pretends to have true volition only with the rush that comes from fleeing his impotence with them and wading into battles with other intrinsically cowardly men. The great bear shows such a presence the other two need to be at their best to shape its fate, and as it’s not so hard to imagine something understood mostly as majestic being something that should be slotted at or near the head on your own side, the great bear serves for a moment as akin to a beloved strong, fierce, formidable father surprising the involved conspiracies women were shaping by appearing forthright into their dynamic after a long spell of traveling was finally over. And to everyone’s relief.
I would argue that mostly owing to the male bear, and not to the movie-short shown just before Brave, which in retrospect seems a calculated effort to perhaps alleviate some young men’s feeling shortchanged by the film, boys might find themselves feeling provisioned by this theater experience. But I still strongly suspect that a lot of young men will walk away from Brave feeling as if mocked by it, as if having suffered yet another rebuff. The film informs us that progress in society involves further exploring the relationship between mothers and daughters, putting men on the backburner for a change. What a film like this, as well as a societal current which favors its view, denies is that real progress would come when boys, not girls, become more subject of their mothers’ attention and love. In real life, mothers and daughters already have extensive involvements with one-another, with the result being, and though I’ve talked in this review mostly of the harm, still mostly a fleshing out of the personality on the part of the daughter, the development of more soul and intrinsic warmth. Boys still mostly lose sight of their mothers, and as the psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause argues in his great essay, “Why Men are More Violent,” though “mothers may dominate their little girls and expect them to share their troubles, [. . .] domination has been found to be far less damaging to the child’s psyche than abandonment and routine distancing.” Without involved contact with their mothers, in comparison to girls, boys become personality-thin, evidently deprived and sadly dull. That is, the film actually shows a truth in showcasing teenage boys as unappealing to the eye, without any needing to look to their fathers to know there’s no use trying to excuse them for just going through an awkward stage, and in still showing more-or-less infant boys – still within the realm of maternal attention – as far more captivating and spirited. May a brave film appear that actually overtly argues that something should be done about this deplorable true-life actuality (and please not by Adam Sandler, who I've long appreciated but no longer trust).