It’s not long now until Emma Watson will grace the big screen as Belle in the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. While many are excited (me included), there are people who condemn the story as an example of Stockholm Syndrome. Something that, rightfully so, should not be romanticised. While the story of Beauty & the Beast does contain elements which can be attributed to the syndrome, I wondered if the story is truly about this syndrome. Let’s dive into it together.
Tale as old as time
The tale as old as time is familiar to most, but for those who do not know it, let me give you a short recap. In short, the story is about a prince who is turned into a beast because of a curse. He imprisons a girl named Belle. The spell can only be broken if he learns to love her and if he earns her love in return. It is no wonder that people assume the story is indeed about Stockholm Syndrome, but I guess we should look a little closer at all the details.
What is Stockholm Syndrome?
I am the worst at describing such things, so I went over to my great ally Wikipedia to see what they were saying on the matter:
Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. These feelings, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. Generally speaking, Stockholm syndrome consists of “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.
There are a few characteristics that people who suffer from this syndrome have in common:
- a hostage’s development of positive feelings towards their captor.
- no previous hostage-captor relationship.
- a refusal by hostages to cooperate with police forces and other government authorities
- a hostage’s belief in the humanity of their captor, for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.
So why is the story of Beauty & the Beast not a case of Stockholm Syndrome?
I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I don’t care. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite fairy tales, because I can identify with Belle. She’s clever, loves books, she’s brave and most of all, she’s independent.
That’s right, there is no man telling Belle what to do or how to behave. Gaston tried to make her become his wife, but she refused. The Beast initially tried to make her have dinner with him, but wasn’t met with much understanding. Furthermore, Belle is constantly disobedient when it comes to the beast. She is not impressed when he acts violent or abusive towards her. Instead, it isn’t until he changes his ways, that she changes her attitude towards him. Stockholm Syndrome manifests itself also when a captor is acting abusive towards a victim. That is not the case here. Belle’s feelings towards the Beast gradually change, but only because he changed and became kind. She then sees right through his looks and realises that he is gentle inside.
Stockholm Syndrome develops as a way to survive. The victim is at the mercy of their captor. By adapting themselves to their captor and eventually falling in love with them, victims make sure they survive. While it can’t be denied that Belle is a prisoner, I don’t feel like she feels doomed at any moment. She knows she will make it out alive. In fact, it is the Beast who develops sympathy for Belle when Belle is not sympathising towards him. You could therefore argue this story is more about Lima Syndrome, in which the captor develops sympathy for their hostages.
She stays because she wants to.
One thing people also seem to forget is that Belle chose to stay. She was free to move around the castle and didn’t have much interaction with the beast. Something that is necessary for Stockhold Syndrome to manifest itself. Let’s not forget Belle also chose to leave when given the opportunity. She searched her father and chose to live back at home again. The only reason she returned was because she heard Gaston and his gang wanted to kill the beast. She had seen his true nature and knew he would never harm any one. She came back to warn him and not because she was so desperately in love with him at that point.
I think the focus is often too much on Belle and her part in this story, while Belle is not the issue. She is a good character and she has a mind of her own. It is the Beast who has to change throughout the story. He is the one who keeps her captive but decides to set her free. While there is no excuse for his initial treatment of Belle, I don’t think it means Belle is weak for returning. It is Beast who changes his ways. He is the one who chooses to save Belle from the wolves, not because he wants her to break the curse, but because he regrets the way he treated her.
So does that mean it’s all good in the hood?
It’s a complex story to talk about. While most fairy tales are watered down to suit the happy ever after vibe, Beauty and the Beast pretty much remains the same story. The characters have more layers to them than your average Disney film. There is also absolutely no denying that not everything that happens in the story can be excused. This was the case with most Fairy Tales back in the day. Fairy tales were written to warn people and they included many questionable events. I don’t think Beauty & the Beast should be considered as the highlight of romance. I think it should be regarded as the complicated story that it is.
People are quick to judge art and films and scream murder whenever something is not the way they want it to be. The beauty of stories is that they make you think and yes, sometimes they can make you uncomfortable. I still love the story and I am very curious to see the upcoming film.
Emma Watson also shared her thoughts on the matter. Check it out: