As a psychologist, I have to be perceptive. Having worked with abused women for five years, I look for the unspoken words and hidden gestures that speak to the truth behind their narratives. Recently, I’ve found myself doing the same thing with movie characters. While characters in movies are supposed to be fictional, they often point us toward real human experiences. These characters can teach us, inspire us, infuriate us, and they can also mirror us, and the lessons God is trying to solidify in our hearts.
I watched the new non-animated Cinderella movie with bated breath. I was quite familiar with the story, but I confess, I hardly expected to be impressed, either by the plot or the characters, or to see any nuance or complexity in the film's interpretation. I have since watched it over and over again and I am haunted, in a good way, by the character of Kit, Cinderella’s love interest. His character reflects many traits that our culture teaches us that “maleness” is not. He is vulnerable, kind, gentle, teachable—a man with deep feeling and sense, and he is open and fathered.
From history, we learn that princesses were “bred” to be wed. Loveless and silenced, they were often used as pawns in a wicked game of alliances and treaties. Yet in this movie, Kit is a pawn in a game played by older men, and he brings with him nothing but a modest dowry. Yet he follows his heart, defying even his royal father with his declaration that he won’t marry without love, a trait commonly associated with female sentimentality and romanticism (think Guinevere or Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). Kit possesses strength and gentleness at the same time, and he is willing to follow love wherever it may take him, even when it leads him to a modest “country girl” named Ella.
In South Africa, we are a country and a people marred by cultural practices that break down instead of build up. One of these cultural issues is the absence of fathers. Fatherlessness grips the throats of many men and women the world over. Fatherlessness buries the tears and emotions we wish and need to shed. Fatherlessness pushes men to forget emotion, to bury hurt, and to vow against weakness and tears.
But in this rendition of Cinderella, Kit is deeply fathered. Even my husband commented on the depth of the scene where Kit’s father passes away. It is an honest scene—and a rare cinematic example of deep and vulnerable love between a father and a son. Kit curls up in an infant-pose beside his father. They hold hands in a moment of grief, loss, and separation. Vulnerability and innocence bind them together. Kit is a child again, comfortable with pain and open to the vulnerability that many men are taught is a feminine trait. His position next to his father reminds us that fathers are also a “womb” of sorts from which their children are born.
In addition to Kit’s openness to emotion, intimacy, and vulnerability, he also possesses a deeply teachable spirit. Kit demonstrates a willingness to learn from women. On two occasions, Kit quotes Ella’s words—even before he discovers her true identity. Her words have clearly become a part of him. His mind is changed and tested by her ideas. She is a teacher, reminiscent of Priscilla, the wise instructor who taught the great preacher Apollos.
One of the most telling moments in the story takes place at the end of the film. Kit, the newly-crowned king, clutches the lonely glass slipper, the only piece of evidence he has to help him find the woman who holds his heart. Ella appears after a long imprisonment by her stepmother with nothing but a dirty face, matted hair, and a faded blue dress. The narrator’s words declare, “To be seen as we truly are, is the biggest risk we will ever take. Will we be enough as we really are?”
I have consistently observed an assumption about women in Christian books: all women want to know that they are beautiful and that they are enough. I love how this movie turns that notion on its head, because again, Kit is the one who asks this question of Ella.
“Who are you?” he asks.
“I have nothing. I am nothing, but who I am. Will you take me as I am?” she replies.
“Of course, I will,” he declares. “But only if you will take me as I am, as an apprentice monarch learning his trade.”
Ella is bold and courageous enough to tell Kit that she is who she is. She is not afraid to embrace her identity. Kit receives and loves her as she is, but he does even more than that. He is emotionally transparent in his response to her question, “will you take me as I am?” There is no pride—none of the ego this world has come to associate with maleness. Here, Kit shows surprising weakness and vulnerability. There’s no power trip—he shares Cinderella’s fears and he too asks the very human question, “am I enough?”
Of course, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Society has conditioned us to believe that “cowboys” don’t cry—and that power can protect men from vulnerability. Yet, God longs for men to be real, to be transparent, to be comfortable with crying (John 11:35), to be moved with compassion (Matthew 14:14) and to be deeply fathered (Romans 8: 14 – 16). In light of this, I call my brothers forward. I want them to know that they are deeply loved, they have value, and they are enough as they are. They need not rely on strength or dominance as false assurances of their masculinity. They are free to show weakness and pain, make mistakes, and love fiercely beside their sisters in Christ. So let us, men and women, be vulnerable before God together.