I was watching Beastly the other day when it appeared to me that there may be a message underneath the message that is used to sell the movie. The story appears to be a loose reworking of Beauty and the Beast, a classic tale, but it is also a rewrite of the 2007 novel by Alex Flinn of the same name. The initial themes in the novel are too dark for the target audience, which appears to be young adult, so the movie parades itself as a very light interpretation of the film. Critics may not have liked the film because it does not approach the book and leaves a lot of loose ends for the audience to figure out (such as why the witch puts the curse on the protagonist in the beginning or why she is even in the high school).
There are different components to the movie that are worth looking at. The witch, of which it is not clear why the protagonist even deals with her in the movie (though very clear in the book), the protagonist himself, the news anchor that is the father of the protagonist, and the love interest of the protagonist. I haven’t read the book so I will just stick with the movie and some observations I have taken away from it. The protagonist, Kylie, is into himself and is vain. He wants to win a seat on an environmental committee to further his own agenda and make himself look good to the school of his choice once he applies for college but tells people that he should win because he is beautiful. Predictably, the people do vote for him and he does win the seat.
A lot can be taken away from everything that happens in the movie up until this point. Now I am not intimately familiar with upper crust high schools in New York City that the rich attend but I was always under the impression that high schools in New York City were exactly like every other high school you would find in the Northeast or the Midwest; staid, bland, anywhere from 3 to 6 floors and long, wide aisles to go into neverland. The schools are just like anything else you would find in a highly populated area, such as hospitals. The school in this movie is beautiful, post-modern, and could even pass for a newly constructed museum. To me the school is a representation of a New Age approach to education, a paradigm shift in what we have come to expect from institutions.
Kylie’s obsession with beauty was part of the obsession that the school had with beauty and in part, the school was a representation of what everyone seems to hate about the new New York; out with everything that is real, true, authentic and down to earth about the city and in with everything that is hipster-ish, plastic, artificial, pretentious, and vain about the city. The witch is seen as a means through which the rich were able to obtain everything; sort of like those secret societies and back doors that everyone talks about but no one has enough evidence to truly prove. It is like the witch is the dirty secret that is in control over everything.
Take a look at Kylie’s father, the top news anchor in the city. He is a representation of the media’s obsession with beauty and vanity, as well as a representation of how the media presents everything that is negative and wrong with the world as okay; like there is something wrong with you or you are out of touch if you are not in touch with the direction that the world is moving in, which is evil. He wants to have his son operated on so that he is acceptable to him and to society, because society is not ugly, and does not have any room for anyone that is. Since his son refuses beauty, and wants to be himself, he punishes his son and relocates to him to another part of the city.
If you look at New York City today, the beautiful people live in Manhattan and the ugly people, well they are somewhere else. I think getting the son another apartment (although it felt as though that apartment was still in Manhattan somewhere) is a representation of the gentrification that is taking over New York City today. The poor, and thus ugly (or not as beautiful) people are being forced out to the outer boroughs and in time, will be completely removed from the city so that the rich and beautiful can live in peace. If you look at the businesses that were around the school; Duane Reade, Foot Locker, it is clear that in the future commercialized businesses will be in and around residential neighborhoods, instead of merely being off of arterial roads that run through the city. The commercialism approached the school, and it would appear as though the look and feel of the school had changed as a reaction to it.
Many colleges today have fast food restaurants and many high schools are in part funded by large corporations (when tax dollars alone cannot accomplish everything that the school board would like to do), so you see advertisements for businesses within the walls of the school. At the end of the movie, the witch moves on from Kylie to work for his father, the top anchorman in the city. So the witch is a mover and shaker, even though the form she takes is that of a high school student it is obvious that she is anything but a gothic high school student.
The girl that Kylie falls in love with is not even ugly. The movie may have worked better if they found someone who truly was not attractive, as opposed to Vanessa Hudgens, who is a very cute, very beautiful young woman. Yet she felt ugly next to Kylie. Even the witch herself, played by Mary-Kate Olsen, is not ugly, and it isn’t clear why he would not go out with her. The site that Lindy Taylor was going to go to on a field trip, Machu Picchu, is considered to be a sacred religious site. It is interesting that Kylie encourages her to go to Machu Picchu when she wanted to stay there to be with him. Could it be that he wanted her to go because of the spiritual significance of the site? It is also interesting that he is not just ugly, but is adorned with tattoos of which the significance of is never defined in the movie. If it were just about him being grotesque, they could have made him grotesque, but instead they adorned him with these tattoos.
It seems as though the movie used a number of devices to emphasize the importance of beauty in a vain society and the importance of beauty as a way to get ahead in life. Kylie had to embrace his ugliness in order to come into who he was truly called to be, but the mechanism in which he did it was spiritual (as opposed to the mechanisms in which he embraced vanity, in which he was not spiritually aware of his surroundings). The witch was sent to spy on him, but she also gave him an assignment, which he completed; in the book, he approaches the witch with a deal, which she honors. What transpired between him and the witch was just a mechanism for him to complete his assignment which never would have happened otherwise. At the end of the day, had he not offended the witch, and had he not completed his assignment, he never would have come into the realization of his future with Lindy, who he was already attracted to, but simply would have used for his own gain, if none of this ever would have happened. In doing so his caretaker is able to see her sons again and his tutor’s sight is restored; it is almost as if it was his prayer that those things would come to pass but he had to do what he needed to do in order to be of any help to them. Remember that he wanted to use his father’s money to find a specialist that could have worked on his tutor’s sight but those efforts were insufficient; he needed to tap into the resources that he had available to him in the spirit in order to get this done. In the beginning he was indifferent towards the fate of his caretaker’s kids, but once he became spiritual, under the spell that was put upon him, all of the sudden he had concern. He came to know them while he was in service, just like any prayer warrior or intercessor would when they are on their post.