Disney’s Frozen might be the most Christian movie that I have seen this year. That’s saying a lot since Man of Steel was self-consciously trying to be the most Christian movie of 2013. I could probably write a post about how Frozen is a better allegory for the Christian gospel than C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but if I did, my colleagues at HBU might run me out of the university on a rail.
But I don’t want to talk about the Good News in Frozen, I want to talk about the Bad News. Don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil anything that’s not already in the trailer.
Elsa is a young queen, and she can’t seem to control her supernatural ability to freeze things. She runs to the mountain to get away from her problems, and once there she creates a palace of ice and sings with gelid abandon. Her song is one of defiance. She doesn’t need anyone else. She will be true to herself for the first time. She needs freedom.
Except, is Elsa really free? She’s trapped herself in an ice palace, and she’s all alone. She’s not free. By indulging her gift, she’s imprisoned herself.
While watching this scene I was overwhelmed with memories of Dante’s Inferno. In the Inferno, Dante takes a trip through nine circles of hell, telling about the sinners and punishments he sees along the way. When Dante gets to the very bottom of hell he finds Satan. But the bottom of hell isn’t a fiery pit, as most of us would suspect, it’s a frozen wasteland, and Satan is frozen up to his waist in ice.
Satan has six great wings, and every time he flaps them, they produce an icy blast that further freezes him in place. His wings were a gift, but since he is trying to use his gift to serve himself rather than God, his wings have become a curse.
Satan and Elsa suffer from the same desire. They both long to be free. Elsa wants the freedom to be herself by shedding obligations to family and society. Satan wants to fly. Nothing says freedom more than flight. In both instances their desire for freedom imprisons them in ice. Ice of their own making.
I also detect echoes from Milton’s Paradise Lost when Elsa sings, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!” Disney depicts Elsa’s fall in a manner consistent with the Western literary tradition’s picture of humanity’s decent into sin. We call license “freedom,” and it enslaves us. Luckily for Elsa, a redeemer is coming to rescue her instead of leaving her trapped in her frozen hell.
I don’t know if the filmmakers were actually reading Dante and Milton when they wrote Elsa’s scene. But at the very least, the same eternal truth seems to have inspired them all. Real freedom can never be found through allegiance to self.