Author's Side Notes

Connecting the Dots: An analysis of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally watch this film! I wrote a version of the Beauty and the Beast story (Amazon link)–why have I not watched this before? I think I was afraid that, after all the build up I’ve heard, I would be disappointed. I was not.

After watching it, I turned to the internet to try to answer some of my lingering questions, like “Why did the Beast react and run away when he heard Belle name her would-be suitor, Avenant?” I never found the answer to that one. I figure it must be some reaction over the thought of there being another man (though why did he wait until he heard his name to react?), or it was because the name bears some sort of significance to the story (the name holds some meaning in French that Google translate won’t tell me; perhaps it was the Beast’s original name; etc.).

Inevitably, my internet searches led me to read several reviews. One was like, “Yeah, it was ok, but it was no Disney. After all, that one did get an Academy Award.” !? Good grief, woman! I mean, I loved the Disney version, too, but to compare the two in the same realm… Just don’t do it. There was one review that focused only on the costuming, which I found very interesting. Another was pretty in-depth, but it left me a little unsatisfied. In that review (and in others), it said not to try to connect all the dots–that the preface to the film even asks that we accept the magic as a child would.

But I can’t do that. Everything has to fit together. If Jean Cocteau spent so much time slaving over this project, then it has to fit! The (stubborn) child in me demands it!

The following is from notes that I took after another viewing of the film. Note: When I first wrote this, I included a lot of “perhaps” and “maybes,” but since that seemed to weigh down my analysis, I took them out believing that, of course, you would know that these are just my musings and not facts.

  • Arrows: The movie starts and ends with a flying arrow. Avenant and Ludovic are key characters in both scenes involving the arrows (Ludovic causes Avenant to miss the target and the arrow lands on the floor of the house; Ludovic causes Avenant to fall to the floor of Diana’s Pavilion after he is shot by an arrow). Some foreshadowing is seen when Avenant retrieves the arrow from the floor in the house–notice how he points it at himself as he speaks to Belle (his death) and then uses it to trap Belle against him (portends his lust for her and the reason for his demise).
  • Entrapment, as a Theme:  While Beast is more overt in his entrapment efforts (e.g., a trade of life must be made; Belle is trapped in his castle; he must give Belle permission before she can leave to be with her family for a specified time), Avenant is more covert (or is he?) in his attempts to entrap her (e.g., he openly plans to take her away from her family, despite her objections not to leave her father; doesn’t listen when she asks that he leave and let her go–she has to do all these things by force, which, if this is any hint as to how their marriage might have been, then good riddance). When the beast transforms into Prince Charming, remember that he offers to have her father with them in their kingdom (and the terrible sisters, too!). When they fly away at the end, they are truly free from all prisons. I’ve read some reviews suggesting that the castle inhabitants (the moving statues, door, candelabras) are cursed individuals related in some way to the Beast. I disagree. Since Prince Charming states that his kingdom is far away, this castle should be viewed more as a holding place for whomever the spirits choose to curse for their disbelief (as was the case for the beast’s parents), or other offense. Could the statues, et al. be cursed individuals from some other story? The thought intrigues me…
  • Touch and What Makes a Beast: Beast begs Belle to leave him when he is at her door smoking and bloodied from his latest kill. He does this not to exercise his control, but because he can sense that she is in danger (i.e., he is afraid he might ravage her in his beastly state and, in recognizing his desire, begs her to retreat). Contrast that behavior to Avenant who is very hands-on, and tries to force himself on her (e.g., early floor mopping scene; his monologue near the end). Avenant’s answer to the beast dilemma is to kill him (first after the father comes home, then again when Belle comes home). In my viewing, I don’t recall a single instance when the beast touches Belle first (aside from when she fainted and he carries her to her room). You see him reach out a hand as if to touch her, but he retracts before making contact (first dinner scene). When Beast asks for her hand in marriage at that time, instead of becoming physical (as Avenant had done when refused), he backs away from her (though the tension we see in his hands when he lets go of the back of her chair suggests that it took him effort to do so; Cocteau is teaching us here that restraint is not a natural trait, but a practiced skill–another line in the sand between what makes a man and a beast). When Beast and Belle do first touch, notice that they meet halfway with hands held pointed upwards (and this, after Belle notes that his voice seems gentler). In the next scene, he lets go of her hand to which she comes back to him offering a drink of water from her hands (an action that is neither passionate nor violent, but made in peace and service). From here on out, they are much more comfortable touching each other (e.g., they touch as she begs to see her father; he guides her to a chair).
  • Love vs. Lust: I explore this theme a bit in my novel, but I see it here as well. Avenant is generally good on the surface, and his intentions appear true towards Belle, but his desire blinds him to see only what is best for himself and not what Belle wants/needs. If he had loved Belle–truly loved her–would he had advised Ludovic to go ahead and sign the deal with the money-collector, even though by doing so they knowingly put Belle’s father at a financial risk? I believe Belle is thinking of Avenant when she tells the beast that, while he may appear to be a monster, “There are many men more monstrous than you, but they hide it.” Note: To have a female lead that, while being beautiful and humble–traits that are heavily favored in the usual cinematic/literary heroine, I am thrilled to see that Belle is also wise, having discerned for herself why Avenant would not make a good companion. At the first dinner, Beast reveals a great truth. He says his heart is good, but he is a monster. We know Avenant is handsome (Belle admits her attraction to him), but his actions show a beast hidden within. It then seems fitting that by combining the better halves of two men (Beast and Avenant), you form Prince Charming, or the ultimate man. Belle tells her father when she comes to his bedside that the beast seems to struggle between two halves (“One half of him is in constant struggle with the other”).
  • Ludovic Doesn’t Want Avenant to Marry Belle: Remember when Ludovic didn’t like the idea of Avenant (a “scoundrel”) marrying his sister? At one point in the film, he doesn’t seem to mind as much, especially when the prospect of the Beast’s riches are involved. When Avenant transforms into the beast while hanging off the roof, it’s like the spirits are purposely dealing a blow to Ludovic, reminding him bluntly that the idea of Avenant with Belle should repel him. And of course, suddenly holding hands with a beast was enough to drop the transformed Avenant into the pavilion.
  • Numerology: For those who love numbers, the beast has 3 daughters and 3 days to decide who will pay the price for the stolen rose; dinner is at 7p each night.
  • Monkey Business: Did you notice that the same sister that asks for a monkey from her father is the same one that sees herself as a monkey in the reflection of the beast’s magic mirror? I didn’t catch that the first viewing. Classic!
  • The Five Secrets of the Beast’s Power: He lists the rose, his right glove, a horse, a golden key, and a mirror as his 5 secrets of power. But how and why are these important parts of his power? Note: In this bullet point is where you might say I really force some connections, but I don’t care! It works for me and now I can sleep at night after having seen this film.
    • The rose is a symbol of sacrifice. It’s power served to draw in Belle, one who was always at the service of others. She desired a rose because it was something that didn’t grow in her area (this could allude to the selfish characters surrounding her–they certainly lacked an attitude of sacrifice). Note: For those who have read my book, when my “Belle” character (named Eden) tells the creature that “Purity seeks Purity,” I believe that this is what Cocteau’s Belle is also saying–she longs for something/someone that can relate to her on her level.  Why don’t we see the same rose later? While we do see rose vines sprawled across her bedroom, the original rose is left at home, where like many cut roses before it, it is left to die (another sacrifice).
      • Side note: I’ve noticed that many of the important decisions made in the film are done in her bedroom (whether at home with Avenant nearby or her castle bedroom with the beast). Could these be allusions to the marriage bed and the choices made leading up to it?
    • The mirror is desire. Makes sense, right? You see in your reflection what you want to see. Belle saw her father then later the beast, Beast saw Belle, the sister saw a monkey (see “Monkey Business”), and the other sister saw herself as an old maid.  Wait… this doesn’t fit! The sisters, while funny, would not want to see those images reflected in the mirror, so what gives? That’s because the mirror has two faces, so the expression goes. In other words, the mirror can choose to allow the viewer’s desire to be reflected (as it did for Belle and Beast) or show something that reflects the inner self of the viewer (the sisters). It seems to choose how to reflect by first making a decision about the viewer. So, instead of saying the mirror is desire, it might be more accurate to say that it is judgement of desire.
    • The glove and the horse represent one’s agency or freedom of choice, but from two perspectives–the glove is an individual’s agency from their own perspective; the horse is the relationship one’s agency or will has over another. We only ever see Belle use the glove for its magical properties and she uses it to enable her desires after they’ve been reflected by the mirror. In this, we can see that the glove is specifically referring to Belle’s actions. The horse cannot jump from place to place, as does the glove. Instead, it boomerangs–it stays for a while in Belle’s family stable, but then always returns to Beast and his enchanted castle. This is the beast’s will reaching out and invoking action from others. Through the horse, the beast makes the deal of trade with the father and sends him away on the horse; the beast enables a way for Belle to take her father’s place without needing much more than a spoken phrase in an animal’s ear; the beast shows his will and desire for her to come back to him (sending the horse alone with the mirror); and more nefariously, the beast provides the means for the key to make its way back (see the “key” section). The glove and the horse represent one’s actions and the impact they have on oneself and others.
    • The beast and the two men, Ludovic and Avenant, made such a big deal about the key that it seemed strange that it was never actually used to unlock the pavilion door. This has led me to waver between the key either representing opportunity or temptation. At any rate, the key provided both the men and Belle with an invitation to riches. But it was a “monkey’s paw” of an invitation, because to make good on it meant to be cursed (Avenant’s death was Ludovic’s bad–not Diana’s). I’m becoming more and more convinced that this was a deliberate trick of the beast–to purposely give Belle the key while knowing full-well that it would be stolen by other, less-than-worthy people. If it was stolen, that would mean that individuals would be attempting to enter Diana’s Pavilion, giving an opportunity for the beast’s curse to be reassigned to another because of the offense on a sacred space. The beast said at one point during dinner that he was not as clever as others, though I would wager that he was more clever than he let on. I can see now how the key would absolutely be a secret of his power–he used it to surreptitiously draw in a replacement. In this sense, the key was used, but symbolically. It unlocked his prison door.
  • The Smoking Beast and the Master: After killing to eat, the beast looks at his hand as if it is a new phenomenon to see it smoke. He then turns dramatically to Belle’s bedroom, in some sort of sudden realization. I believe he understands at that moment that he is connected to Belle–that she really is the master of the castle now (as he had previously stated at dinner) and, daresay, himself. Think about it: his body smokes when he kills for food when she is around (which we know from the prologue reflects the shame he feels for his, albeit necessary, actions), he needs her help to remain focused on his human side (note their exchange when the deer came near them during their walk together; she chides him for hanging around outside her door), and if he is without her for long he risks death (this isn’t just “dying of a broken heart”).
  • The Pool of Water: My creative juices are running low and I’m anxious to finally post this, but here is one last thought for your consideration. We see a certain pool of water at various points throughout the film. We see it first when Belle spies the beast slurping its contents, but we almost saw it before then–the father almost stumbles across it when he explores the area just before plucking the fated rose. Why did Cocteau think the pool was significant enough to tease us in the beginning with its reveal? What could the pool represent in the story? Here are a few things I know: the pool is enclosed with a single gate, Belle enters while her father does not (though it looks like he could have, if wanted to), we see the beast drink from it (from leaning over the pool and also from Belle’s hands), and it is where the beast chooses to lay down in death. The only thing my tired mind can think of is that the pool of water represents renewal or rebirth. Let’s review: the pool is enclosed with a single gate (the story presents only one way for the beast to become reborn; it requires one to be put in place for the other, much like Belle was in place for her father’s offense, the beast in place for his parents’ offense to the spirits, and Avenant’s altered appearance in place for the beast), Belle enters while her father does not (this is Belle’s story of renewal, not her father’s; while the father could’ve been the one to live with the beast, it was Belle that filled that position; it was Belle’s destiny to enter), we see the beast drink from it (when he is drinking from the pool unaided, he seems more animal than man and his thirst runs deeper; when he drinks from Belle’s hands, he is more man than animal and he seems satisfied with only a little water; the part of him that remains man is renewed), and it is where the beast chooses to lay down in death (this is also the place where he is reborn with Avenant’s body).

There are several other things that I haven’t explored (e.g., crying diamonds, a smoking glove, flying royalty), but perhaps I’ll save that for another time… or maybe not. The stubborn child in me now seems pretty content to let it alone. Thank you, Cocteau. It was a stretch for me, but also fun.

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Author's Side Notes

The Journey of an Idea

My son had an idea for a skin pack for Minecraft.

“I want to write them a letter!” he exclaimed, and so he did.

2017-02-09-17-13-48-copy

In case you can’t decipher his handwriting, it reads:

Dear MinecrAaft x box 1 edition

Can you please please please make an Undertale skin pack.

P.S. make sure to get every character except omega flowy. and the goat kid.

from Donovan

Since we live in the digital age, I took a picture of his letter and sent it via email through Mojang support. I didn’t expect to receive a response so soon the next day. Here is their reply:

Hi Donovan,

This is so adorable. Thank you for the cool idea/suggestion. However, If you’d like to submit a suggestion for Minecraft for PC or Minecraft: Pocket Edition, please visit https://www.reddit.com/r/MinecraftSuggestions.

To give feedback on Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition, visit https://minecraft.uservoice.com.

For general feedback and suggestions to Minecraft, visit https://feedback.minecraft.net/.

Other editions of the game are developed by 4J Studios, and generally follow the development of the PC edition of Minecraft.

Best regards,
E****
Mojang Support

Awesome, right?! I mean, I know it’s more informative than anything else, but I like to think that his letter made someone’s day, especially when you know that person’s job usually involves some difficult issues/people.

I’ve now sent his idea through Reddit, so we’ll see if anything further comes from it.

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The Beast (ebook trailer)

From Revolutionary War to Civil War, THE BEAST utilizes the familiar elements of a classic fairytale as man is separated from beast one layer at a time.

To purchase:
Copy or click on the following amazon link:
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Public Domain Footage provided by “The American Revolution” 1953 Encyclopedia Britannica Films and a clip from Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations. Created using iMovie’s “supernatural” trailer theme.