When I truly love a movie as much as I love Maleficent, it’s hard to put it into words the reasons why. It appealed to me on every imaginable level — spiritually, emotionally, and visually. As a feminist, I loved its messages of female empowerment. As a greenie, I liked its main character’s connection to nature and her desire to protect it from human hands. And as a Christian, I was struck by its powerful symbolism and underlining themes.
Our Past Doesn’t Define Us
We all remember our own innocence, that period in our lives when we believed the best in other people and thought the world was a magical place. But then someone clipped our wings. Our innocent was broken. Our joy stolen from us. And, that incident has shaped how we view the world ever since. Maleficent shows us that our past doesn’t have to define or break us; we control our future. We can’t stop what has been done to us, but we can overcome it.
The character of Maleficent is a powerful reminder that others can hurt us, but whether or not they control our life is up to us. We have a choice. Even if we were victimized, we still have power. Two people are victimized in this story — Maleficent when Stephen clips her wings, and Stephen when Maleficent places a curse upon his daughter. Maleficent and Stephen both retreat into self-pity, but only one of them becomes so fixated on the pain of that past experience that they go insane because they refuse to move past it. While Maleficent heals her broken heart, Stephen’s grows even darker and more bitter. Thoughts of Maleficent consume him. He makes her downfall his life’s purpose. Instead of growing stronger as Maleficent does when she deals with her pain and grows past it, he chooses to sacrifice his own potential happiness and life in an obsession for revenge.
When we choose to be incapable of moving past our traumatic experiences and define ourselves as eternal victims, we give our abuser control of the past, present, and future. We empower them in ways they don’t deserve. For our own sake, we must heal and move on.
Repentance Brings Wholeness
Maleficent intends to mature Aurora into someone that everyone will love, so that the act of removing her from them forever is made all the more painful. She never anticipates that she too will love Aurora, and also feel that pain of loss! Hoping to avoid that pain, Maleficent tries to undo what has been done, but can’t. Her motivations are not selfless enough. It isn’t until she truly feels the grief of her actions by being forced to live with the consequences that she actually repents by taking full responsibility for her selfish actions and asking forgiveness, knowing full well she doesn’t deserve it.
Repentance isn’t genuine without grief. Unless we feel the soul-crushing depths of our sin and are so appalled by it that we know we do not deserve mercy or forgiveness, when we ask for forgiveness, we don’t really mean it. True repentance is not just wanting forgiveness; it is the determination to change our life from that moment onward. Maleficent means it. She asks for forgiveness from one purer than herself. She is forgiven, the curse is undone, and her wings eventually restored. She is not the same after her forgiveness as she is before. She changes. She is willing to sacrifice her safety for Aurora. She also refuses to kill her greatest enemy. Why? Because she has changed. It is not that the restoration of her wings undoes the past; it is that Maleficent has repented and having been forgiven, sees no reason to hate.
Salvation and repentance are words easily thrown around in Christian circles, but a salvation experience is not genuine without transformation. If our lives show no improvement, we must question whether or not our repentance was and continues to be genuine. No one, having truly accepted Christ, is the same after as they were before.
Every Curse Must Be Fulfilled
The curse can’t be undone, but it can be fulfilled. Having been put in place, it must run its course. Here, we see symbolism of redemption in Maleficent and a reflection of Christian themes in the fact that while the curse of death can’t be undone, it can be fulfilled through the love of Christ. Aurora is “dead” but “awakes” because of the true love of the one who created the curse.
Humanity’s evil brought sin into the world, so God had to impose limits on it. He introduced death, so mankind wouldn’t have to live forever in a fallen state. In doing so, God “cursed us” with the responsibility of our sin, but He also offers us true love with the power to fulfill and break the curse, freeing us from being bound to its punishment. The one who set the parameters of the punishment is also the only one with the power to undo it.
In that sense, Aurora and Maleficent both symbolize different aspects of divine intervention; an innocent whose love transforms the heart of Maleficent and restores her wholeness, as Christ transforms us, and a higher power far more capable of true love than the mortals that surround her.
Pain Brings Strength
Our greatest development as individuals and as believers comes about through periods of pain in our life. Without it, we would never grow strong. Adversity brings strength both of faith and character. Our suffering is never wasteful, but serves a purpose in our transformation.
Maleficent’s pain makes her stronger, because she learns to transcend it. She survives it, she learns from it, and she matures past it. Had she never learned the pain of betrayal, she would have never learned the power of forgiveness. Had she been content with superficial romantic love, she would have never experienced the profound depths of true love… not tied to romantic attraction or former kinship, but built of admiration, respect, and selflessness. When Maleficent gets back her wings, she is not the person she was before they were stolen from her; because of her adversities, her discovery of true love, and her ability to forgive, she is more than she was before.
There’s a moment in a film called Joshua, in which the Carpenter passing through town takes a glass ornament that someone has broken, to represent what life has done to them, and makes it into something new. It still has cracks but it isn’t the same design as before. It is better. It is stronger. It is even more beautiful. God doesn’t give us back our old life when we turn it over to Him. He doesn’t keep us the same. He makes us more.
Maleficent and King Stephen reveal the power our emotions have over our lives; both are motivated to do bad things for selfish reasons, but one has a redemptive arc by learning to love and forgive while the other allows his resentment and hatred to divide him from redemption. Maleficent spends some time in resentment before returning to the light by looking beyond her own pain and suffering to something greater than herself.
Stephan shuts himself up with his bitterness and hatred until he goes insane. When his beautiful daughter, who might heal him through her unconditional love as she did Maleficent, returns to the palace, he turns away from her. He locks her up in a tower to “protect her,” rather than loving her. He misses out on his chance for redemption. Maleficent offers him another chance at it. She has every right to punish him for his transgressions against her … but she can’t. She won’t. Again, he rejects this offer of salvation, this chance to know his child and find happiness again – and chooses death.
We choose our fate. We choose either happiness or resentment. This life is not about what has been done to us, but how we respond to it.
The message of this film is not that men are evil and unnecessary, nor that motherhood fixes any woman’s problems. It is not about a woman becoming evil because she was thwarted in love. That is a superficial assessment of the story. The messages of Maleficent are universal in that our past does not have to define us, and it is never too late to choose redemption.