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'Maleficent's Black-Metal Roots

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 13, 2014 at 4:09PM

Does "Maleficent" change "Sleeping Beauty's" villain to a wronged woman because we no longer believe in evil?
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Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent"
Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent"

There have already been quite a few attempts to interpret "Maleficent," but writer Greg Burk has found a new one, and it's a doozy. In an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, Burk says that the evil villainess of "Sleeping Beauty" has "morphed into a sympathetic Earth goddess akin to Demeter, cursing yet protecting her Persephone-like surrogate daughter, the sleeping beauty Aurora." 

In endowing the horned Maleficent with motherly love, veteran Disney writer Linda Woolverton takes a stance similar to that of Scandinavian/European black-metal bands such as Immortal, Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth: They embrace darkness in order to align themselves against those who claim to represent the "Light" -- the legions who invoked Christ while destroying primeval cultures and slaughtering the metal folk's tribal forebears. Maleficent's brutish screen opponents, crowned with medieval helmets, lack only crosses on their chests to identify them directly as Crusaders.

(Burk, by the way, is the proprietor of MetalJazz.com, so he knows whereof he speaks, black metal-wise.)

Burk goes on to argue that this narrative inability to believe in good and evil reflects America's uncertainty about its role in the world:

The rebranding of Maleficent is perhaps another sign that Americans have grown uncomfortable with their traditional role as idealistic world-savers; after Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, Iraq and Afghanistan, only the willfully ignorant can ignore the gore on our swords. It's easier to identify with a Maleficent than a messiah.

I can practically see people typing "It's just a movie" in the comments box, but it's worth holding back the knee-jerk response for a minute and considering what Burk's saying: not that "Maleficent" is an intentional (or even unintentional) metaphor for the waning of American exceptionalism -- it does, after all, take place in a world where "America" does not exists -- but that it's the product of a system, and tailored to an audience, that's more predisposed to pop-psychological understanding than moral absolutes, and part of a world in which both pure good and pure evil are difficult to imagine. Chew it over a bit the next time you're watching a superhero movie.


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