On April 13, the day after I’d finished my last exam of second year undergrad, the Victoria College Knitting Club decided to go see Cinderella (Branagh, 2015) as an end of year social.
This classic “rags to riches” fairytale is familiar to everyone. I actually remember studying Cinderella in grade 2, and reading several versions of the story from various cultures, including a Vietnamese one that I had fallen asleep to multiple times as a child. There is something about this simple plot that has been captivating people for centuries. The astounding success that this most recent adaptation was met with proves that it has not lost its charm.
Going into the film, I had no expectations. I was not a fan of Disney’s animated Cinderella for many reasons, but I desperately needed a break from work and this seemed to be a promising one. I expected to leave the theatre feeling satisfied, but I did not expect the profound sense of wonder and relief that this film brought me.
Firstly, it was a visually stunning film. The costume design was divine and the sets were elegantly elaborate. The film took itself seriously, and as a result, the tone was incredibly mature, poised, and dignified, with just the right amount of humour. I felt entirely captured in its grandeur.
The fairytale was told with very few alterations, but it still managed to make a very old — and, in some respects, outdated — story fresh for a modern audience. For example, in just a few short scenes, the superficial romance between Cinderella and the Prince is transformed into a relationship in which both are learning from each other, and becoming better people because of each other — not in a way that takes over the story, but just so that the film is more digestible to modern viewers.
Most importantly, however, after months of dense analyses and complicated interpretations, it was inexpressibly refreshing for me to see a such simple story with a good, clear meaning: good things happen to good people. I found that I didn’t want depth, hidden meanings, or plot twists. Almost every part of my life now is already immensely complex, from the stories that I must analyze in class to the choices that will decide my future. Obviously, life is complicated, and that is why I love to read Chekhov or Carver; their stories are a slice of the intricate reality we live in. However, it is good — and indeed, very important — to be occasionally reminded of the simplest things in life.
Last week, as I neared my last exam of the year, I suddenly felt a powerful urge to watch Cinderella again. I needed that escape to a world of fairy godmothers and ballgowns, where one might be able to ride into the forest and meet a handsome prince. I needed that simplicity, that reminder it could all work out in the end.
It did not disappoint. Like before, I finished the film and was filled with a sense of contentment, as though all was well with the world. It managed to comfort me in a way that other light movies — such as romantic comedies — could not. Perhaps it was the element of magic and theatricality that allowed me to detach so completely.
One of the worries I had had going into the film was the inherently sexist plot: damsel in distress is saved by Prince Charming. As a hardcore feminist, I could not bring myself to enjoy the earliest Disney princess movies (Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959)), because I did not feel that these heroines did anything noteworthy.
To my surprise, however, I found that I was not cursing this Cinderella throughout the film at all. I did not find her tears to be out of place. In fact, I found her resilience admirable.
Unlike in many other adaptations, this film managed to capture the inner strength of this woman that had so often been overlooked. It is a quiet strength of character that isn’t always valued today. I love Mulan’s toughness and courage to go fight for her father, and Pocahontas’s bravery when she throws herself between two warring opponents. I love Jasmine’s sense of adventure and Rapunzel’s wit and curiosity. But, I also greatly admire Cinderella’s ability to stay positive and be kind to others even when she has nothing to give. It is a much more realistic type of heroism than most other story characters are lauded for, and yet, how many people in our world can truly exemplify this wonderful value? There is such strength in staying good in the face of evil, such courage in staying true to ourselves when confronted with so much hardship. This is a remarkable quality that is often passed by in favour of more exciting, noteworthy heroics.
At the core of this story is this message: have courage and be kind. It is one that I strongly believe in, but sometimes have to remind myself still. Amidst such busy schedules and deadlines, such complex analyses, judgements, and choices, courage and kindness can easily be the last things on our minds. Stories like this one not only provide an escape into the impossible, but also a reminder of what is perfectly possible, and right before us.
Cinderella does not represent the reality of the world we live in, but it represents the dreams of many. I believe that is what C. S. Lewis meant when he said, “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Reliving this fairytale made me believe in magic again — whatever form magic might take in our world — and I think, occasionally, everyone needs to be reminded of a reason to believe.