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Elsa Is the Villain

Published on 3rd December 2019

--Let It Go was originally conceived as a villain song, and despite appearances to the contrary, it appears in the film as a villain song.

--The decontextualization of "Let It Go" has resulted in widespread misinterpretation of its message. When watched in a vacuum, it's a triumphant pean to self-expression and self-empowerment. When viewed in the context of Frozen's overall narrative and thematic trajectory, it becomes a nihilistically selfish abdication of responsibility and reckless rejection of moral boundaries--almost an animated piece of Nietzchean propaganda. 

--To read "Let It Go" as a straightforward empowerment ballad, as a salutary metaphor for the liberating expression of any number of marginalized identities, is to do a grave disservice to its moral complexity. Indeed, it is to seriously undervalue the brilliance of the film's cultural critique. 

--Let It Go, and Frozen as a whole, betrays a deep ambivalence about our culture's paradigmatic ethic of authenticity, its deeply liberalized presuppositions about self, autonomy, and ultimately the dialectic of individual and community. At the deepest level, the film questions our collective cultural commitment to a particular conception of the self, one we have uncritically inherited from the Enlightenment. 

--Elsa's ultimate act of liberation is also one of ultimate isolation. Her grandiose pretensions of self-actualization, her declarations of unlimited freedom, are little more than hollow rationalizations of her self-imprisonment. Elsa can only be herself while locked away in a literal ice castle. Her inability to express herself without withdrawing from society puts the lie to her so-called liberation.

--Hadith about being patient with people. Elsa needed to be patient with people, but they also needed to be patient with her. It's a two way street. This is the nature of sociability. 

--Frozen is critical of Elsa's selfishness, because it violates the harm principle. Her pursuit of her desires has resulted in sweeping societal harm, has indeed risked mass catastrophe to thousands of innocence. By adopting this moral positioning, Frozen reveals the very real limits of our culture's liberal ethic of authenticity. As Charles Taylor observed, no human society can function without such limits. This is why the cries of a certain class of religious conservatives--whether Christians, Jews, or Muslims--that our current culture is a nihilistically hedonistic one rings false as little more than a lazy caricature. What is contested is where we draw our moral limits, not the necessity of moral limits themselves. But where does Frozen think we should draw those limits?

--Frozen's vision of utopia. Elsa is accepted by her people--but only after she demonstrates that she can control her power. Her people's acceptance is contingent. This is a fascinating point with fascinating implications. Dig into them.

--How does Elsa come to be someone who can control her powers? Through her sister's love. She is redeemed by her sister.