Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Defense of "Into the Woods"

I've seen a handful of Christians freaking out about Disney's adaptation of this classic Sondheim musical, from friends in my Facebook News Feed to well-known Catholic apologists whose work and writings I usually admire and wholeheartedly agree with. Since its release, I and anyone else who claims the name Christian have been indirectly advised to avoid "Into the Woods" like it is the plague come upon the 21st Century. People seem to be wary of it because of its strong adult themes -- (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS) like adultery, violence, and unabashed sexual innuendo. And who could forget the great big theme song for relativism at the end? "You decide what's right. You decide what's good."

Now, let me begin by being very clear here: I do not support adultery, violence, or sexual immorality in any of its many forms. But should we avoid a movie solely because it contains these themes? I definitely don't believe so.

In fairness to those warning against taking children to see it, it doesn't take more than a cursory understanding of the original "Into the Woods" upon which the new Disney film is based to know that it isn't for children. Sondheim is known for being dark, and his content for being weighty and at times over-the-top. This is, after all, the same guy whose brain birthed "Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Don't let the "Disney" part about this movie fool you; Sondheim's original is not based on the Disney tellings of Cinderella and Rapunzel, but on the classic Brothers Grimm versions. In fact, "Into the Woods" in its original form contains more adultery, more violence, more death, and way more sexual grossness than the Disney film would ever dream to.

But that is no reason for mature adults capable of discerning right from wrong to avoid "Into the Woods." I mean, let's be real. If mature, discerning adults shouldn't watch movies containing sinful things, why should we read the Bible? You can read that again if you want -- but I did say it. If adult Christians have to avoid a movie because it contains adultery, fornication, rape, murder, violence, and people who are really, really, obviously confused about how morality works -- we should for sure avoid reading the Old Testament, which contains, without fail, all of these things.

"But," you may argue, "the Bible is a book containing a moral code, and any of the things mentioned are only featured to show that they are immoral and we should avoid doing them." Can the same not be said of "Into the Woods," is what I wonder. I, personally, didn't see anything in "Into the Woods" that even hinted that adultery was acceptable, rather the opposite (simply observe the fate of one of the characters who commits it). Nothing implied that stealing was an okay thing to do (again, one need only observe what happens as a result of theft in the story). Violence is portrayed in such a way that it appears foolishly selfish, resulting in no gain at all but rather severe loss for those responsible. And while Disney's version of the Big Bad Wolf encountering Little Red Riding Hood is all but absent of any sexual inclinations, it is followed up in both the original musical and the movie adaptation with a song about avoiding danger and strangers -- summing the whole thing up quite brilliantly with "nice is different than good."

As for the relativism at the end, well, take from it what you will. But, for me at least, it seemed to be almost comical; a desperate attempt by those remaining at the end to justify and explain everything that had happened because they had made bad choices. "Be careful what you wish for" was a tagline Disney used to promote the film, and the story succeeds in providing ample reason. When the remaining characters at the end are faced with all they've lost for their selfishness, they resort to a relativistic perspective, not in a happy-go-lucky way, but in a way that shows despairing desperation to make sense of their failings and the consequences.

All in all, "Into the Woods" is a dark story that offers reasons to avoid selfishness in all its forms, and to not be naive in our pursuing of our dreams. Those are, honestly, very good lessons to take away from it, and while we may not like what those lessons teach, they are true of the real world we live in. Things don't always go the way we want them to, and often trying to force them to results in more damage than it's worth.

So, I'll just wrap this all up by saying, no, absolutely do not take children to see "Into the Woods" unless you're prepared to answer hard questions, but please, please, please, don't avoid it for yourself. If you like musicals, and you like fairytales, and you like comedy, especially dark humor, go see it. If you don't, you're missing out. Terribly.

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