It is a rare film that moves me so deeply that I leave the theater resolved to change my fate.
Let me tell you the real reason I LOVE Pixar’s Brave. [Warning: plot spoilers if you have not seen Brave.]
There are the obvious 21st century, empowered female reasons (skilled in archery, fiercely committed to her goals, and shapely in a “I could crush your skull between my thighs” kind of way).
But it is Merida’s emotional journey and growth that resounds so deeply with me. The genius of Pixar’s storytelling is rooted in their decision to frame each story around a conflict that is not a simple “good guy vs. bad guy” struggle. Yes, Pixar has crafted some memorable villans, but more often than not these villans serve only to throw roadblocks in front of our heros as they deal with the core conflict of their story—their own internal fears, insecurities, hubris, and biases.
For Woody it was fear of abandonment and self-esteem. For Mr. Incredible, it was learning to appreciate living in the present [with his family] rather than dwell on the glory days of youth. For Marlin, it was learning to trust his son and let him learn from his own experiences. For Remy, it was fighting against the world’s expectations [for a rat] to pursue his dream of cooking.
Merida’s biggest conflict is her relationship with her mother, specifically concerning who exerts control over her fate. Merida’s conflict is one situation most girls (most children) go through. I know I saw parallels to my relationship with my own mother. How many other girls and women saw their arguments with their mothers in a new light? Yeah, there is an evil demon bear named Mordu, but he is an obstacle designed to challenge the mother-daughter relationship.
When Merida is ranting to her horse and Elinor is simultaneously talking to her husband (who is pretending he is Merida) I almost cried. The things Merida and Elinor needed to say to each other were very similar to the things I am sure my own mother and I need to say to each other. I did not have a teenage rebellious phase. It was not until I left for college and then even later in graduate school that I started to push back at what I perceived as my mom’s overprotectiveness and controlling nature. I grew snippy and dismissive during phone calls, ignoring (or blind to the fact) that my mom’s concerns, reminders, and warnings came from love. And I do not think I ever found a way to tactfully articulate the source of my frustrations, so all my mom saw was the dismissive wall I put up.
Mending One Stitch at a Time
Any woman who has had an argument with her mother or mother-figure knew immediately what the witch meant when she said “mend the bond.” Of course it wasn’t the tapestry. We all knew it was the relationship between mother and daughter. I completely lost all composure during the sunrise scene (heck, I am losing composure now as I recall that scene) and bawled at the prospect of losing my mom without being able to tell her how much I love her and clear the air over our disagreements. If you watch the Blu-ray special features, the creators will refer to Merida (at the start of the film) as fearless, tough, smart, and stubborn…but not brave. Merida does not show bravery until the end, when she confronts the possibility she will lose her mother and apologizes.
I love Brave, because at nearly-30 (and my mom at 60) this film helped me realize that I only have so many years left to “mend the bond” with my mom. I left the theatre, resolved to listen more, react less severely, and try to understand better where she is coming from when we disagree because without a doubt she is coming from a place of love.