Princess Merida: And YOU’RE a beast!
[points her sword at the family tapestry that Elinor had been working on]
Princess Merida: That’s what you are!
Queen Elinor: [gasps] Merida!
Princess Merida: [sticks the tip of her sword into the tapestry] I’ll never be like you!
Queen Elinor: No! Stop that!
Princess Merida: I’d rather DIE than be like you!
If new years and new starts are about anything, they’re about potentially changing your fate. That’s why so many folk make resolutions. It’s why they set out to cut back, do more, get “healthy”, “be better”.
To truly change our fate however, we must know and understand where we currently stand- we must know our “story so far”. This includes holding the stories of our parents and our culture in our hearts – for those are the stories we stand on to embrace who we truly are.
That Disney Pixar’s Brave starts with the story of “how my father lost his leg” is no mistake. It’s clearly been a story retold around the family table many times. But it’s part of who Fergus is, and that makes it part of who his children are. Our family stories, our past are an essential part of our fate, of our future. To leave the past behind completely cuts the heart out of our future. But just as Elinor encourages Merida to break with tradition when she suggests that the “young people” choose for themselves, so must we consider not being bound by our past. We must understand it, honour it, share it and be rooted in it – but at the same time, learn from it in order to grow beyond it.
And growing beyond our family is often where that conflict with our parents comes and tries to hijack our fate. For while we are in conflict with our past/parents/culture we cannot move on to our new fate. Ironically, the desire to change who we are, to change our station and going the wrong way about it can actually prevent that desire by ensuring our fight is with the one person who will support us in going towards our fate. Merida and Elinor’s fight (a snippet of which quoted above) is something I actually find rather painful to watch. Because it’s pretty true to life, because both parties say and do things deliberately hurtful, because it could so easily have been the end of the story. It’s a measure of the maturity/immaturity of the two characters that Elinor regrets her actions immediately, yet Merida takes almost the entire remainder of the film to show regret, penitence and the love that her mother shows – despite being a bear.
For most of us, turning our parents into an animal isn’t an option on the table when it comes to moving forward in our lives or overcoming our conflicts with them – except, it is actually what so many of us do to our parents metaphorically. Because if they are “a monster” then it makes our behaviour excusable, doesn’t it? If they somehow don’t “behave like a mother” then all our responsibilities to behave like daughters pass away, don’t they? We become the hero and they are the enemy to be defeated. By turning our mother into a bear (metaphorically of course) our behaviour of running away or turning our back or leaving behind that “negative influence” is suddenly the right thing, it’s what ensure our “healing”, it’s what changes our fate. Except, in reality it resolves nothing, it prolongs the conflict. It keeps us tied to a fate with no connection to the stories and memories of our past, with no connection to truly selfless love and no connection to the person (or people) who would truly crawl over broken glass for us. And on the other side, holding those you love to traditions and ways of doing things, just for their own sake, does not ensure a happy fate for them, it only keeps them imprisoned in an immature past that facilitates your control. Attempting to destroy those things in their life that you disapprove of or dislike (as Elinor does when she throws Merida’s bow onto the fire) only ensures distance, anger and hurt.
For both Elinor and Merida, the moments to change their fate came. For one, it was realising that departing from restrictive tradition doesn’t necessarily mean leaving behind the parts of the past that truly form you and lead you to fate. For the other, it was realising that there is no new fate, future or destiny without the person (or people) in your life who would defend you, protect you and yes potentially kill for you (I’m not entirely sure that Elinor as bear at the moment she causes the collapse of the great stone is fully aware that her actions may kill, or that Mordu is another human in bear form – I’m open to be convinced either way. But either way, it’s clear that she is aware, even in an almost completely “bear” state that she is protecting her daughter – and that to me is the point). And of course, Merida in turn protects her mother from her father’s killing blow – with the very weapon that her mother disdained at the beginning of the story. A rather nice touch.
It’s also rather interesting (to me at least) that personal reconciliation and community reconciliation go hand in hand, feeding off one another. And the real key to the community reconciliation – of course that was story itself. Merida brings the kings back from the precipice of complete war by telling them the stories of their community; by reminding them how their friendships, their community, was born. She reminds them that as their past lay together, so does their future. Their future fate lay within themselves, in the stories of themselves. As does ours.
So we end with ships sailing off into the sunset, with families and friends reconciled and a new fate waiting for all concerned. But a new fate forged not in rejection, indifference or abandonment. Instead it is founded on imagination, adventure, reconciliation, forgiveness, selfless love and the stories that bind them all. I hope and pray you too will find a fate like that, embrace it.
“Our fate lives within us,you only have to be brave enough to see it.”