Posted by: thealienist | August 25, 2014

Frozen: The Cold, Hard Truth

I recently watched Frozen with my daughter and my wife.  It was a delightful movie, and Olaf was not nearly as creepy as I had feared from the trailers.  As I thought about the movie, I wondered what the psychological themes were behind the movie.  At first glance, I think that I see two major themes.

The first theme in the movie is a common fear among children — the fear that their thoughts, impulses, and actions are extremely dangerous.  As children begin to become aware of the world as separate from themselves and at times capable of being very frustrating and unresponsive to needs, they develop aggressive fantasies and aggressive actions.  Some fantasies and actions are expressed without much guilt because they are directed at aspects of the environment that are inanimate or not emotionally important to the child.  But some of the aggression is directed at parents, siblings, or other objects that are sometimes objects of love.  These fantasies and actions produce guilt and shame and lead to self doubt.  The princess, Elsa, is overcome with shame and self-doubt after her sister, Anna, is injured and nearly killed by her playful use of her powers.  The child who believes in the potency of his thoughts and actions may be horrified imagining what would happen if he were to lose control.  The result, as in Elsa, is anxiety, inhibition, and extreme efforts of self-control.

The second theme is one that is fairly common in adults.  It is the  idea that forgetting constitutes healing.  After the accident where Elsa injures Anna, Anna is taken to magical trolls for healing.  She is healed, but it is decided that she should not know of Elsa’s powers or of the accident that nearly killed her.  The trolls seem to think that out of sight is out of mind, but this is not true for either sister.  Elsa becomes more reclusive.  Anna fails to understand why she has been abandoned by her older sister.  The inability to come to grips with the past leads Elsa to abandon her kingdom and set up a “safely” isolated castle in the mountains and leads Anna to seek companionship from a scheming, manipulative, predatory prince.  Thus it is that Anna learns a lesson that she must teach to Elsa to save her sister from herself.

The dynamics displayed in Frozen are related to the Paranoid-Schizoid position described by Melanie Klein and its resolution in the Depressive position.  Elsa alternatively accepts her aggressive impulses and projects them on her environment.  When she accepts them, she becomes anxious and withdrawn as she fears the destructive power she has.  She is the monster that her kingdom needs protecting from.   When she projects her aggression on others, she gets angry and feels free to use her powers to either attack others or create her isolated but beautiful castle.  She is the oppressed child who will be revenged on her abusive kingdom or who will deprive her kingdom of her gifts.  Neither of these positions, however, are suitable for a life of stable, loving relationships or productive life in the community.  The solution is the realization that she is neither the monster nor the oppressed child.  She is not as evil nor as helpless as she fears.  Her kingdom is also not as virtuous or abusive as she fears.  Both she and her subjects are merely people with both strengths and faults.  The same people who one moment may be heroic, may in the next instant be selfish.  This intrusion of this grey reality into the previously “black-and-white” view of the world leads to a kind of grief.  But out of that grief comes a true appreciation of Elsa’s gift and the place of herself in her family, her kingdom, and the world.

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