Encanto – Perfectionism

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is a theme Disney has recently called upon in its movies. I’m thinking here about Moana, (“I wish I could be the perfect daughter.”) and Elsa from Frozen (her need for perfect control over her powers). We find it again in Encanto.

Right from the start, Mirabel identifies her older sister, Isabela, as “the perfect, golden child.” On the surface, Isabela’s power seems pretty frivolous. She can make flowers appear at will. That’s it. Just showers of flowers wherever and whenever. Through Mirabel’s eyes, Isabela is also gorgeous, graceful, praised and adored by all, and in a word, perfect.

We all know no one is perfect, not even Disney characters. Today, let’s think about why perfectionism, especially when it’s imposed or expected of us from the outside, is harmful. Also, how can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships.

Quick synopsis. Isabela is planning to become engaged to the local poetry writing hunk, Mariano. I should amend that statement: Abuela is planning to have Isabela engaged to Mariano. We find out in Isabela’s feature song scene, “What Else Can I Do?” that she was only going to marry Mariano because it was what the family wanted, not what she wanted. In her anger and frustration at Mirabel who has drawn this revelation out of her, she creates something new and completely out of her ordinary – a asymmetrical spiked cactus.

Mirabel and Isabela are envious of what the other has. Mirabel wants to be loved and accepted the way she perceives Isabela is. Isabela wishes for nothing more than to be able to be who she truly is without the pressure to be perfect all the time which is how she views Mirabel. The two sisters clash often in the first half of the movie because they haven’t taken the time to understand one another. The “perfect” Isabela cannot tolerate Mirabel’s haphazard and carefree attitude because it isn’t something she’s ever experienced.

In her song, Isabela reflects that she shows the world a perfect facade of herself, but “so much hides behind my smile.” While perfection might seem beautiful on the outside, it sure is up tight on the inside trying to hold everything in place. It is interesting to think back a few scenes in the movie to the song about Bruno. In the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Isabela reveals that Bruno foresaw that she would have the life of her dreams. This has lead her to believe that the current life she has must be the life of her dreams, even if she is actually unhappy. What a distorted understanding of how life ought to be lived!

How many of us fall into this trap? Think about someone you know or know of who leads a “perfect life.” From the outward appearances, perhaps they do have it all together. But do they really, under the surface, have all their ducks in a row? We all know the answer is no, no one is perfect. Yet still we hold people up as somehow better or closer to perfection. When they fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations, their fall is usually more of a crash than a slip or slide.

Perfectionism is a dangerous thing. Perfectionism can hold us back from trying something new because we fear failing or being perceived as less than. Perfectionism forces us to be “on” all the time, constantly vigilant for any small slip that would show something not quite right. Perfectionism sets relationships up for unrealistic expectations that can never be met.

In the end, perfectionism leads to a lot of boredom. Think about Isabela’s flowers. She can make miles and miles of perfectly structured roses but is unable to use her power to express her true emotions. The same flowers over and over again because it’s what is expected, it’s what is perfect. Isabela and the audience learn that beauty doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be authentic.

Jesus, thankfully, didn’t pick disciples who were perfect. Far from it. Whole homilies have been dedicated to the antics of St. Peter. Thomas demanded a sign from someone who had come back from the dead. They were consistently confused, unaware, off fishing or asleep. The disciples were decidedly not model students (or even fishermen!). This doesn’t mean they weren’t well chosen. Jesus selected these men not because they were perfect but because their hearts were ready to receive what He offered. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they were exactly the right men who would carry out the Good News to all people.

Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to be ready to follow Him. Do you think they ever would have been ready? Jesus is calling you just as He called them. He isn’t asking you to be perfect, or even a certain distances along the path toward it. He is asking you to follow Him. The rest, holy perfection included, will come with time as He gifts it to you.

Encanto – Earning vs Receiving

Let’s kick this series off with one of the biggest questions from the film, Encanto: “Do you have to earn gifts that are freely given?” Remember, this post will have spoilers.

The movie begins with a song all about the various gifts the family members have received since the Miracle that created their Encanto. I recapped them last week if you need a refresher. Mirabel identifies her Abuela as the one who “runs the show.” Abuela sets the tone for the whole family and who everyone looks to for guidance. During the song, Abuela adds in these lyrics:

We swear to always

Help those around us

And earn the miracle

That somehow found us

The town keeps growing

The world keeps turning

But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning

And each new generation must keep the miracle burning

Encanto, “The Family Madrigal Lyrics

In the movie, we come to realize the sacrifice that Mirabel’s Abuelo made to save his family. At the cost of his life, Abuelo Pedro slowed down the invaders so that Abuela, their three babies, and the villagers could escape. Out of the river he stood in, a glowing candle appeared at Abuela’s feet. She accepts the candle and the Encanto begins to grow, along with the magical house the family will live in.

So let’s be clear. It was from an act of sacrifice this miracle appeared. It was earned, perhaps one could use the language “bought,” with the cost of Abuelo’s life. Does this sound familiar to our Easter ears? The new life Abuela received came at a price, just as the new life we receive from Christ came at a price.

Here’s where things get messy, and why we have a movie to begin with. Abuela doesn’t go down the path of Scripture, which reinforces our understanding that our redemption, our miracle, isn’t something we can earn. It was and continues to be freely given (see Romans 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9)

Abuela, in her efforts to honor Abuelo, insists that the miracle must continue to be earned. The family must keep proving themselves worthy of the miracle. This means no mistakes are permitted, there isn’t room for complaining or differing opinions. She has painted a facade of perfection and expects everyone to stay within the lines of their gifts and roles.

We can point to a number of places where the pressure of perfection is beginning to make the characters crack. While we will talk more specifically about the effects of perfection in a later post, this is a good place to begin looking at the theme.

  • Tia Pepa’s high anxiety levels and inability to control her gift for any length of time.
  • Luisa’s apparent weakness as illustrated by donkeys feeling heavy
  • Isabela’s willingness to marry someone for the sake of the family
  • Camilo erratically shape shifts
  • Bruno’s disappearance yet Dolores still can hear him

Mirabel sees the cracks physically appear in the Casita, the family’s home. As the viewer, it becomes quickly apparent that the cracks in the Casita are representative of the cracks between the characters and with their relationships. It becomes Mirabel’s mission to expose those cracks so that healing can happen. Unfortunately, it takes the whole house coming down before Abuela is able to see that she was the cause of the damaged relationships.

The sacrifice of Abuelo is huge. Abuela carries the weight of his loss the heaviest and it is from a place of love that she acts. However, her obsession with keeping the miracle alive caused her to prioritize the gift over the people. At the end of the movie, listen to how her view has been changed:

And I’m sorry I held on too tight

Just so afraid I’d lose you too

The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got

The miracle is you, not some gift, just you

The miracle is you

All of you, all of you

Encanto “All of You” lyrics

Ok, life application. Hopefully it’s been made clear that when someone freely gives you something, you shouldn’t need to retroactively earn it. This is most especially true in our faith, where Jesus’ gift of Himself isn’t something we could ever earn. It also has implications on our every day gift-giving experiences. When we choose to give, it should be without strings attached or expectations of reciprocity. And when we receive, we should be humbly thankful instead of keeping score.

Next week, more talk about perfectionism, why we push it on ourselves and others, and why it’s not great for relationships.

Encanto – A Series

I hope you all enjoyed having regular posts throughout Lent. I enjoyed writing within a larger theme for a series of posts, rather than a more popcorn-style posting method. I think I’m going to roll with it for a little while and see how it continues to work with the Holy Spirit’s inspirations. So, for the Easter Season, I give you – Encanto!

For those without children or grandchildren under age 12, Encanto is one of Disney’s newest films. Set in rural Columbia, Encanto follows the story of the Madrigal family, specifically the character Mirabel. I’d like to say up front that this series of posts WILL include spoilers for the film. I’ll try to avoid them for this post, so you’ll have at least one week to watch the film if that interests you before we crack more deeply into the story.

The story begins by introducing the audience to the family Madrigal. The family was fleeing from what appears to be Spanish conquistadors. At the last moment, when hope seemed lost, Abuelo Pedro (Grandfather Pedro), while standing in a river, turns and sacrifices himself in an attempt to slow down the horses to allow his wife, three infants, and the rest of their village, escape to safety. From his sacrifice, a magical candle appears and creates an enclosed valley, an Encanto, that protects the villagers from harm. It also creates an anthropomorphic house and bestows gifts on the family members. A quick run down of the characters and their gifts:

  • Abuela Alma (Grandmother Alma) – The miracle of the Encanto and the safety of her family
  • Tia Pepa (Aunt Pepa) – Mood controls/affects the weather – one of Abuela’s children
  • Julieta – Can heal you with food, especially arepas – Mirabel’s mother and one of Abuela’s children
  • Tio Bruno (Uncle Bruno) – Can tell the future – one of Abuela’s children
  • Camillo – Can shapeshift into other people – son of Pepa
  • Dolores – Can hear the smallest sounds from a distance – daughter of Pepa
  • Antonio – Receives his gift at the start of the movie – son of Pepa
  • Luisa – Super strength – daughter of Julieta
  • Isabela – Can make flowers out of nothing – daughter of Julieta
  • Mirabel – Does not appear to have a gift. During the ceremony when she was supposed to receive it, nothing seemed to be bestowed. She has not displayed any particular gift aside from being able to communicate extremely well with the house.

There are some major themes to be discussed from this movie. Ben and I keep circling back to it, partly because we cannot escape the soundtrack which plays at least twice a day in our home presently. But also because there are some rather convicting messages to spend time with. Here’s a preview of what’s to come in this series. I plan to tackle one theme each week:

When a gift is freely given, does it need to be earned after the fact? Or, to put it another way, do you need to prove yourself worthy after receiving a blessing?

What are the dangers of perfectionism, especially when it is imposed from others? How can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships?

To quote a line from Luisa’s main song, “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” How many of us resonate with this feeling? What sort of pressure do we put on ourselves that is unrealistic or unhealthy?

What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? How can being told your life is perfect affect your understanding of happiness?

The elephant in the room that everyone is talking about but no one has authentic conversations about.

What is Mirabel’s gift? What can we learn from it?

I hope you are excited about the series. I promise that for those of you unfamiliar with the story, I’ll try to make things as clear as possible so that you can also glean some wisdom and insights from this film. For this week, if you really want to dig into this series with me, think about the questions above. Even without previously seeing the movie, they ought to have sparked some kind of response or emotion from you. I’m looking forward to sharing the movie’s perspective, my own, and hopefully hearing yours.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com