“Why do princess movies always end in happily ever after?” Addie exclaimed, eyes rolling with the credits of Beauty and the Beast.
We’ve done an intentional job in our house skewering princess culture — maybe too intentional? — and the result is a viewership that notices anytime damsels are portrayed as helpless, princes are married without relationship, and life as portrayed as too happy.
I wasn’t buying it tonight, though.
Normally I’d be right there with Addie, but I saw something different. Not only was Belle clearly amazing (self-sacrificial, well-read, independent, brave, resilient), but: As the Beast transformed into a human, and the glum landscape returned to vibrant artistry, the household objects returned to their human form, I felt a sense of wonder. It wasn’t me dropping my jaw or shedding a tear, but it was definitely me going, “No, no, this is good, keep it going. I get it.”
The cynic in me has dismissed “happily ever after” as a false promise, because we’ve seen Real Life. We know that marriages are beginnings, that real life has grief and contours, suffering and loneliness, and we endeavour to show scars and share stories be real with each other. We’re past Happily Ever After. We want Authentic Even Now.
I’m usually there.
On this viewing, though, I realized Happily Ever After isn’t a promise or a suggestion for a linear next-step state. A happily ever after vision is giving us a taste of what’s possible outside of the timeframe of the daily expectations. It’s priming our imagination to sense that beyond the world’s mundane and predictable housekeeping, there is another world unfolding.
“Another world is not just possible,” says the poet Arundhati Roy. “She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
We’re stuck in the Ever. The reality we occupy, with its leftovers from ancestors’ choices and its storylines that box us in, this is the Ever. It’s the whenever. The unconscious participation in time immemorial. Ever was it thus.
But after that, should we ever choose to awake, might we work together towards a new vision? One where we believe abundance is possible? A collaboration outside time and space where redemption and renewal is a possibility? Is there not a sliver of hope for this trans-material change, beyond the day-to-day?
What might it look like?
It might look like what I saw unfolding onscreen.
After that Ever, there might be a Happily, making it a <title of post>, not just another cliche, false-promise, eye-rolling Happily Ever After.
A girl can dream.