Encanto – Beauty

Got a little mixed up with my timing folks, it’s been a week! Here’s what ought to have posted Sunday. More Encanto, on time, this coming Sunday. Thanks for your grace and patience.

Last week, I almost got ahead of myself and into today’s topic, Beauty. What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? We are sticking with Isabela again as we contemplate these questions.

As mentioned, Isabela appears to hold the gold standard on beauty in the Encanto-verse. She has lovely looks, perfect clothes, a sparkling smile, and what’s more, her gift seems to have something to do with beauty. Isabela can make flowers shower from nothing, beautifying the town with the mere thought of a rose. I’ll admit, the first time I watched Encanto I wondered about the superfluous gift Isabela had. What’s the point of being able to toss flowers around except to spread pollen dust and dried petals?

I had to dig deeper, which we will get to. But first, let’s look at Isabela’s relationship with her gift. At the start, Isabela only made what others had told her was perfect, just like her. Her understanding of beauty was limited by the perceptions of others. It’s only after her moment of self knowledge that she begins to be creative with her gift. She experiments with color, plant variety and size. We can tell she is embracing this new and broadened understanding of her powers in her clothing at the of the movie. Instead of returning to her old lavender dress, she has a darker indigo one with a few of the colorful paint splotches still on it. She also has incorporated some of the color into her hair.

To the audience, Isabela was beautiful before her transformation. She is beautiful after. So, what’s up with this whole Beauty thing. If we look into Isabela’s head, I think we would find she finds herself much more beautiful at the end of the movie. This is because it is beauty she has chosen, not beauty that has been composed for her.

Bishop Barron, who I talk about fairly frequently, loves to bring up the importance of Beauty, capital “B.” Beauty is one of the three transcendentals, the other two being Goodness and Truth. In a society that continues to be highly polarized, beginning conversations about religion, or frankly, many topics, with what is ultimately Good or True can be non-starters. We are divided on what is Good for all people, what is True for all people. What is Good to me might not be from where you sit. Same with Truth. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but being sorry doesn’t mean we give up hope. There’s one transcendental left. Beauty. (If you want to read more, here’s the first part of a multi-article conversation about Beauty)

Beauty has many shapes and sizes. It could be something as grand as the Sistine Chapel or something as simple as the first tulips bursting forth to claim spring’s arrival. It is something that draws you in, the causes you to pause and say, “Wow.” It could be a hard thing, like watching an older couple struggle up the street but still holding hands. It could be a challenging thing, like a poem that calls out social injustice or stigma. It could be simple, complicated, made by a master or a child. Beauty surrounds is, just like Isabela’s flowers surrounded her and her town.

Here is the difference between Isabela’s initial beauty and what is becomes. At first, her beauty was skin deep. We see that in how she treats Mirabel and how she values her own happiness. Her beauty didn’t lead anyone anywhere. But at the end, she is discovering that authentic Beauty causes someone to pause, to ponder and perhaps even to change. Her expression of true Beauty at the end of her song forced Abuela to stop. While Abuela’s first reaction was anger, she quickly comes to realize that each member of her family is Good, just as they are. Again, movie magic quickly, Abuela then recognizes that each person is a gift unto themselves. The gift bestowed by the miracle can never and should never outshine the person.

What is Beautiful around you today? What is making you pause and say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” As Christians, we believe that God can be found within each of those beautiful things, moments or ideas. How is He speaking to you through them? What Goodness is He drawing you toward? What Truth could you learn?

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.