"Into the Woods" We Go!
In a land far away, this musical unfolds where all the characters desire more from life. This desire for more is a shared concept as Jack, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, the princes, the witch, the baker and his wife also want more.
The triumph of goodness over evil is a theme that unfolds in the musical. The bad giants are dead and the good people are saved, but the musical also shows us a powerful point that being nice does not mean being good. It is not enough to not be bad or good. Just being “nice” doesn’t suffice. The characters have to pick a side and put aside their own interests to re-evaluate their own morals. In a world of deception, jealousy of beauty and an obsession with prosperity, innocence and true love is a rare and valuable gift. So innocence, kindness and goodness are coveted through the story line. Red Riding Hood’s innocence is greatly attractive and desired by the big bad wolf and he wishes to consume her to satisfy his own craving. This scene rings close to the feminine desire to be taken care of and be told that we are beautiful, desirable and wanted. The need for affirmation from men is also seen in other female characters.
Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) meets the prince at the 3 day festival but runs away each night and the prince pursues her each time. Same dress, same shoes, same time, same woods. The pursuit is attractive and is a manly characteristic but the musical later shows us that the prince loves the thrill of the chase, not Cinderella herself. Once Cinderella and the prince are married and the honeymoon phase has passed, the prince confesses that being charming doesn’t mean being sincere. His smoothness and good manners did not equate to morality and good judgment. Cinderella gets swept away with the prince’s handsome demeanor and chivalry but she does not get to witness his capacity for true love, to be courageous and to be noble.
The musical teaches us the lesson that true love is not always “charming” and does not always feel good. Love is desired by all the characters in the movie and we see the heartbreak that straying love brings when one begins to pursue others because the feelings have faded away. When love becomes about the “faraway prince” seeking the heart of “the maiden who ran away”, it becomes overly idyllic and seeped with unrealistic expectations that eventually causes heart break and sorrow. These beautiful, romanticized concepts of story tale endings get fantasized about but then get perpetuated onto reality which causes the great shift because idealized princesses and princes don’t exist. It was refreshing to see Cinderella lose her cool and get angry at times and to see the prince be overly vain and pompous because their humanness reveals the fact that they also have flaws and also make mistakes. It is easier to love labels and to love “charm” than to love flaws in people.
It is interesting to draw parallels between the prince and the wolf as they both use persistence, smooth words and charm to sway Cinderella and Red Riding Hood but the two young women know better in the end and pursue independence. Words are dangerous and life is unfortunately not like a fairy tale where everything is neatly concluded and all is right with the world. We are not shielded from the world like Rapunzel, but we are of the world, it’s a scary place and we need to be brave and on guard.
The musical teaches us that true love is a choice and that working together will always get one further rather than going it alone. We are also told in the song that no one is alone and that we are called to take care of each other. A sense of solidarity and sacrifice is shown through the musical as Jack, Cinderella and Red Riding Hood all help the baker raise the baby. Love is not just about ceasing the moment; it’s about making a life with someone that is full of beautiful, dull, tedious, angry and anxious moments. We see this concept most prevalently when the prince romantically pursues the baker’s wife even though he is married and she is wooed, confused and unsure of what to do next. She wants to have it all, the husband, family, baby, and security but she slowly realizes that life is more than just the good moments. Being fully alive is realizing the suffering and making it a meaningful and beautiful process. People are not just bakers or princes or princesses, they are not meant to be labelled or used for a function and I personally think the musical did a good job of showing us the layers of the character’s thoughts and desires. Like us, the characters want so much from life. They want answers, love, security, truth, goodness and the list goes on.
The story starts with the retelling of a curse that must be reversed and only then can the baker and his wife have a baby. I could empathize with the baker as he and his wife did things they were not proud of to remove the curse and for a greater good. They had to resort to lying, thieving and manipulating to attain the items to remove the curse. All the characters worked with each other based on agreements to receive something in return. Beans for a cow, a baby for youth, a gold shoe for comfortable shoes. Sometimes we too get blinded by our own wants and forget that we crush others in the process when we take them down to raise ourselves up. In a way, we are all liars and thieves. We all are given the free choice to do the less honorable thing and work for own gain but we are also given the choice to be honorable and noble. The baker suffered with an absent father and carries this wound through the story by showing his wife that he is afraid to be a bad father. He fears that he will be just like his father and will not be able to be responsible and rise to the occasion. But when his wife dies, the baker decides to man up and be better than his father and his father’s mistakes. Even though he was not taught to be a father, the baker decides to teach his son what he knows and to love him the best way he can. Children are impacted by what we do as adults. They hear what we say even when we think they are not listening, so please be careful and be kind. This part of the story rings true with some of our own situations. Many of us may not have grown up with the best parents or role models, we might have been brought up in domestic abuse or our parents might have suffered with addiction or depression. Your parents’ story is not your own. You are capable of healing, restoration and freedom from the past. You can write your own story. You can begin again!
The woods seem to be a metaphor for the unknown that seeks to entice, astonish and scare us. The woods are a place of wonder, temptation, decisions, ideas, choices and moments of bravery and kindness. If life is only a series of moments, it would not be life. Life is comprised of the memorable AND the mundane and true love involves sharing the beauty and the pain with someone you love. Be careful what you wish for because your desires become what you are and they can become reality and may wind up to be something you didn’t actually anticipate or desire. Sometimes we desire the idea of something but not the actual concept. So be courageous, be kind and don’t grow up so fast. Spend a couple hours and rekindle the happy, idyllic moments of your favorite childhood stories and go see the movie for some great harmonies and for Meryl Streep because she is wonderful