Tangled and the Christian Patriarchy Movement

A while back, I saw an interesting review of a new Disney movie Tangled from a radical Patriarchalist named Andrea Reins. After this review, I started hearing from others, including Karen Campbell, that this movie displays the nature of the radical Christian Patriarchy movement well. Now, of course, I, being a poor college student, was not able to go see it, and have had to wait for it, not only to come out on DVD, but also to decrease in price. Now I have had a chance to look at it, and I am wondering if I even watched the same movie that Reins did! However, I can understand why people have said what they have said about this movie and its relationship to the radical Christian Patriarchy movement. To a radical Christian Patriarchalist, this movie would be as offensive as a movie showing Christ as a villain would be to a Christian.

The plot is based upon the famous fairy tale Rapunzel; a king and a queen are about to have a baby, but the queen is very sick. The king sends his men out to find a special flower that came down from the sun, and has the power to heal. However, what they do not know is that an old woman has already found the flower, and has been using it to make herself young again. The woman accidentally uncovers the hiding place for her flower in her effort to hide from the king’s men, and thus, the king’s men find the flower, take it back to the queen, and make a medicine that does, indeed, heal the queen. However, it produces a child whose hair has all of the magical qualities of the flower itself. It can glow like the sun, heal any sickness or injury, and yes, even make the old young again. The old woman finds this out, and kidnaps the child for herself.

Eighteen years pass, and the child has been kept in a tall tower with no door, but has now grown up. Throughout that time every day on her birthday she sees lanterns that she thinks are stars which the king and queen send up into the sky. Although she has been forbidden by the old lady to go outside her whole life, for her eighteenth birthday, the kidnapped princess now named Rapunzel asks the old lady [who she thinks is her mom] if she can go see the stars for her birthday this year. She declines telling her how bad and how wicked the world is, and how she would never be able to fend for herself.

Meanwhile, a thief by the name of Flynn Rider [aka Eugene] and his bandits have just stolen a jewel crown. Eugine ditches the two other bandits with the crown, and the king’s men chase him off into the woods. Maximus, the horse, chases him down, and forces him to hide behind a drapery of verdant foliage. However, this drapery is hiding Rapunzel’s tower from view. In order to escape from Maximus, he climbs the tower. Rapunzel promptly knocks him out with a frying pan, and ends up hiding the bag with the crown. Rapunzel makes a deal with Eugene; if he takes her to see the lights, the she will give him the crown back.

However, on the way the old lady catches up to Rapunzel, and tells her that all Eugine is after is the crown; once he gets that, he will desert her. The old woman then bribes the two bandits, who are now interested in getting revenge against Eugine, to help her stage a scene wherein it appears that Eugine has ditched her with the crown, and left these two bandits to harm her. Of course, “mother” comes to her rescue. However, in reality, what has happened is that the two bandits have knocked Eugine unconscious, tied him in an upright position to the wheel of the boat, and pushed the boat right toward the castle of the royal guard. Hence, he couldn’t answer when Rapunzel called him. The two bandits then feigned being knocked out, in order for her mother to be proven “right.”

So, she returns to the tower with her mother. However, now she realizes that she is the long lost princess. She confronts the old woman on it, and she responds by locking her up in the tower. Eugine escapes from the king’s guards, and goes after Rapunzel back to the tower. He calls for Rapunzel to let down her hair; her hair promptly falls, and he climbs up. However, what he doesn’t know is that this is all a trap; when he gets to the top of the tower, the old woman stabs him in the lungs. Now, Rapunzel offers the old woman a deal; Rapunzel promises that she will go with her if the old woman will only let her heal Eugine. However, Eugine won’t have it; he wants to die, so that she will be free of the slavery of this woman.

As far as the ending goes, I will not tell you how it ends; I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who have not seen it. However, I do want to address Andrea Reins’ review, as I believe it has grossly dissembled and distorted the point of the film. For instance:

As this new-fashioned fairy tale unfolds, we’re treated to an interesting commentary on homemakers and why these captives to domesticity are setting themselves up for eventual disenchantment. In spite of the fact that Rapunzel has been locked away from the world and dominated by a sugary sweet despot, we find her a delightful, adorable girl, with a zest for learning and a creative flair. Eventually, though, she wearies of the monotony. Though it’s a mockery and misrepresentation of homemaking, it holds an interesting element of truth. When life is divorced from a larger dominion purpose, the eventual result will be frustration and misery.

What I don’t think Reins is seeing is that this is *not* divorced from its “dominion purpose.” You see, it is the dominion purpose of Mother Gothel that she stay in that tower. That is the problem. I think this movie accurately describes what happens when the purposes of God are confused with the purposes of men, as is done in the radical Christian Patriarchy movement. Also, I would point out that, as an aside, the radical Christian Patriarchy movement grossly abuses Genesis 1:28 in this regard. Not only is dominion given to both men and women [as I have argued elsewhere], but it ignores the affects of the fall on this dominion. Not only does it ignore the affects of the fall, but it ignores the fact that it is the through God-man Jesus Christ that dominion is restored, not the the vision of an earthly, biological father. When you are constantly trying to help your “father” attain his vision rather then seeking follow Christ and his will for your life, whether it is your father’s will or not, then you are, indeed, doing the very same thing that Rapunzel was doing in that film.

Rapunzel was disheartened because even her more useful skills had no point beyond filling her time and whiling away the hours.4 The real problem here is that, within the world of the film, we’re only given two options, two choices in life- both of which are unsuitable, but one of which is deemed acceptable by its creators. The first, obviously, is for Rapunzel to stay in the tower trapped forever in a life of childish meaninglessness. The second is presented shortly as Rapunzel, in turmoil over her choice to run away, is advised by Flynn,

“Does your mother deserve it? No. Would this break her heart and crush her soul? Of course, but you just got to do it…..This is part of growing up—a little rebellion and a little adventure. This is healthy.”

This is the first major sermon statement of the story, and from here things spring into action as we’re shown, for the remainder of the film, that chronic rebellion is innocent, healthy fun, and disobedience in pursuit of our heart’s wildest desires actually leads to enlightenment and maturity.

I would say that this is a misrepresentation of the film. If I wanted to say how the film should really be taken, I would write it out this way:

Does your mother “deserve” it? No. Would this “break her heart” and “crush her soul?” Of course, but you just got to do it…..This is part of growing up—a little “rebellion” and a little “adventure.” This is healthy.

Note how I have added the quotation marks. This statement follows a lengthy scene in which Rapunzel is fighting with herself over whether or not to leave to go see the lanterns. She has just set foot outside the tower for the first time since she was a baby. However, she has been so manipulated at this point, that she thinks it would be “hurting” her mom to leave. Eugine is using humor in order to mock the silly notions that her mother has been putting into her head. You see, this is why this movie so offends the radical Patriarchalists. The mother’s dominion purpose is being served by her daughter being in that tower, and she has had to manipulate Rapunzel into believing all kinds of absurdities in order for that purpose to be realized. However, according to the radical patriarchalists, she is the head of the home, and this girl has an obligation to obey her, and to bring about her “vision.” The point is that this whole movie points out, at a deeper and more fundamental level, the idolatry of the Christian Patriarchy movement.

Biblically speaking, maturity isn’t defined by the childish assertion of our autonomous wills, but rather by a life lived in terms of God’s Word.6 What Tangled doesn’t tell little boys and girls, is that there is a third option of dealing with the situation in Biblical maturity and wisdom, or that the Bible paints an entirely different picture of the home and its purposes. Instead, Tangled only teaches that behind door number two lies all the adventure we’ve been waiting for.

I had to chuckle at the first statement. Several times Reins mentions the Stay at Home Daughters movement [not merely daughters who want to stay at home, but people who argue that it is God’s given role for them to stay home]; to say that this movement has to engage in the most egregious misuse of scripture is an understatement. As I said, I don’t have any problem with daughters who want to become a wife and a mother; that is a good and noble way to serve God. However, the amount of exegetical gymnastics you have to engage in in order to say that this is something a woman *must* do is incredible.

Also, I don’t think that what this movie is teaching is that, behind door number 2 [“rebellion”] is where you find adventure. What it is saying, if anything, is that you should not live your life to always do what other people want you to do, and that includes your parents. That is why this strikes at the heart of the radical Christian Patriarchy movement. Karen Campbell is fond of calling this movement “patriocentrism.” That is a very good term; it is, in essence, idolatry of the father, raising there views equal to God’s view. The old woman in the film simply did not have God’s interest in mind; she had her own interests. Now, do I think that the movie, because it was made by a secular company, did not make clear that one needs to obey God rather than men in such circumstances? Absolutely. However, the point is very clear; parents are not God, and yes, they are capable of living for themselves, and seeking their own will rather than God’s will. However, the question is whether we are going to obey God rather than men. In fact, in the admonition that Paul gives for children to obey their parents, Paul adds that they should obey them “in the Lord.” He doesn’t say that they should obey their parents in their parents; he also doesn’t say that they should obey their parents in the father’s dominion purpose. He says that they should obey their parents “in the Lord” [Ephesians 6:1].

Of course, we could overlook this because, after all, Mother Gothel is really just a wicked captor bent on using Rapunzel for her own ends. But, the fact is that Rapunzel’s actions are carried out in the understanding that this is her mother and it’s really not until the last few minutes of the film that she finds out otherwise. Theirs is the relationship which is modeled throughout the film as mother/daughter. Parents are sinners, just like their children, but one person’s sin doesn’t excuse the sin of another.7If we’re prepared to say that Mother Gothel’s sins are inexcusable, we must be prepared to say the same of Rapunzel’s.

I would say that, because Mother Gothel was seeking her own ends, what Rapunzel did was not sin. Reins simply cannot understand that she is putting her parents in the position that only God has the right to hold, and that is a position of unquestioned authority. If, for even one second, the parent’s desires are placed above God’s desires, then it is idolatry. If, for one second, parents are given the same unquestioned authority that the Bible has, it is idolatry. Why? Because our goal is to not be slaves to the desires of other people; we are to be slaves of Christ, and him alone. Therefore, if we want to enjoy looking at God’s creation [remember, at this point in time Rapunzel thinks the lanterns are stars], and we are not breaking any of God’s commands in so doing, who is mere man in any position of authority to bind our conscience as if it came from scripture itself? Who is mere man to impose rules on us that defy all reason and logic, just for their own personal gain?

I think that what has happened is that we do see a lot of disobedience from children today, and, again, in evangelicalism, it seems like, when we seek to solve a problem, we always overreact. We forget about the fact that, in our obedience to our parents, we must obey “in the Lord,” not adding to his commandments, and certainly not contradicting them. When you allow mere men to do this, you are committing idolatry. This should be a wake up call for parents that, when you put restrictions on children, you need to be doing so in order to teach them the principles found in God’s word. When you place a restriction on your children that is based upon your own selfish motives, and not upon a desire to instruct your children in the commandments of God, you are exalting yourself to a position you have no business being in, and the child is not being “rebellious” to contradict you.

But the story marches on, and we find that rebellion has its rewards as romance fills the air. We also find out that children’s movies are a great way to ensure a break down of morality in the future. We see this in a number of ways- running away from home with a complete scoundrel, camping out in the woods with said scoundrel, an unbiblical view of love, emotional enticements (e.g. smolder), and also, within the dialogue.8 In the beginning, Flynn steals the tiara of the missing princess(Rapunzel) in order to fulfill a utopian, childhood dream. The tiara bounces around until it comes into Mother Gothel’s possession and as she confronts Rapunzel, the lines read like a teenage romance about losing one’s purity. Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel that the only thing Flynn is after is the tiara and as soon as he gets it, he’ll leave her. Then later, after they’ve ‘fallen in love’, Rapunzel tells Flynn that she has something to give him(the tiara)- she was scared to give it to him before, but she’s not scared anymore. Though we’re talking about a tiara now, we won’t be in a few years as similar lines are heard in teenybopper films. To a great extent, the things that we watch and listen to as children are the most influential in forming our character and worldview, in defining who we’ll become as adults. It’s those who control the education of children that will control the future of nations.9 But, education isn’t merely academics, all of culture is educating and it, in turn, flows from underlying religious beliefs. Tangled is schooling its viewers in the acceptance of immorality.

Completely left out of this whole incredibly ersatz discussion of what actually happened in the film is the fact that the two characters changed at the end of the film. Yes, at the beginning Eugine even admits that he was only seeking his own ends, but that his true dream was Rapunzel. Exactly what is meant by that is further explicated when he is willing to die so that she can be free of the tyranny of the old woman. That sounds an awful lot like the love of Christ to me. Did not Christ die so that we could be freed from the slavery of sin? In fact, I almost got the feeling that Eugine’s life of crime was his “tower” if you will, which kept him in slavery and bondage. It wasn’t until Rapunzel stopped thinking about always trying to please her mother, and Eugine stopped thinking about pleasing himself, and they started caring for one another that things really turned around. Now, I am not arguing that this is necessarily a Christian ending. They may have repented of the idolatry of parents and the idolatry of self respectively, but who knows of other idolatries may have creeped up. Still, the self-sacrifice that these two showed for each other at the end of the film is something that nicely mirrors the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s no surprise then, when we find that our hero is really nothing of the sort. Even among his fellow thieves, he commands no respect. Then again, Rapunzel doesn’t appear to be in much need of rescuing anyway. Their relationship is one of mutual, self-serving interest. He’s a helpless, sensitive, emotional male- an accessory to the capable, brilliant, amazing Rapunzel. And, because she’s an emancipated princess who knows how to get her man, in the spirit of Indiana Jones she wields her 70 foot hair, pulling off all kinds of daring feats and rescues. But, as the film climaxes, we’re assured that this is all okay.

This is simply absurd. They way in which Rapunzel cowered in that tavern is enough to tell you that she is not the “emancipated princess.” She still struggles with her manipulative mother all of the way through the film, and it is Eugine who helps her to break free of her manipulation. So, she helps him with her hair, and he helps her in breaking free from her abusive mother. Sounds like, again, we are using the Biblical terminology of “helper.” Also, to speak of Eugine as “helpless” is absurd in and of itself. Was he not someone who was constantly giving the king’s army the slip? In fact, is that not how he found Rapunzel’s tower in the first place?

As Rapunzel is offering to rescue Flynn one more time and give her life for his, he pulls a clever move- picking up a shard of broken glass, he cuts off her magical hair, sending the wicked Mother Gothel spiraling into old age and oblivion and assuring us that we modern women can have our feminism AND the heroism of men(of course, Rapunzel’s magical tears do have the last word since they’re required to bring the now deceased Flynn back to life.)

I think the point is that their love for one another brought him back to life. Also, notice the use of terms like “feminism.” Of course, to these folks, a girl simply going to college makes her a “feminist.” In other words, if you don’t commit the idolatry of parent worship, then you are a “feminist.” I would like to know, does she really think Rapunzel had this feministic attitude when she was cowering at the tavern, or when she was being manipulated by her mother? Also, is not the whole point that her mother was constantly telling her that she would never survive, and that everything out there is bad? Is not a part of the movie that she is overcoming the manipulation of her mother? How is this “feminism?” I don’t know.

In the end, Rapunzel is finally reunited with the king and queen and as the film closes, we discover some final lessons- that good governments reward sin and indulgent parents are real parents. Flynn is embraced, his thievery ignored, and welcomed, as Rapunzel’s new husband, a prince in their kingdom. His fellow thugs realize their dreams, too, and all of this was achieved, of course, without good character on anyone’s part; by the end of the film, we’re left without a single good role model in sight.

Of course, in the end, Eugine recognizes his own selfishness, and is willing to give his very life so that Rapunzel can live; however, all of that is conveniently ignored by Reins. I would like to suggest that, in this movie which is made by pagans, Rapunzel and Eugine are far closer to an example of the self-sacrifical love of Christ than what Andrea Reins presents in her review. I couldn’t help but think of this passage of scripture the whole time I was watching the movie, and thinking of Rein’s review:

Luke 15:7 “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Also, consider what else Jesus said:

Matthew 21:31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The latter.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you.

The point is that, even in a movie made by pagans there is still more repentance of idolatry than in the branch of the Christian Patriarchy movement that Reins is a part of. It is amazing to me to see pagans more capable of understanding repentance and true love than a Christian who has the very example of Christ! However, that is the blinding nature of idolatry, and we should all be wary of falling into that trap. Notice the following paragraph:

While the intellect may recognize danger, a film that appears as innocent and adorable as this delights the emotions. We exit the theater and, as our bodies go back to the real world, our minds are still in false one. In this make believe world, freedom is equated to license and duty to bondage. But, this so called freedom is nothing more than bondage to sin. The reality is that we live in a world governed by a sovereign Creator and only a life lived on his terms leads to blessing and freedom.11 Tangled is aptly called a fairy tale, because in the real world sins have their rewards and a life of unmitigated bliss is not one of them. Packaging all of this in a humorous, expertly crafted children’s film is ingenious, really. As such, it is heedlessly given the stamp of ‘wholesome entertainment’ and we, leaving our discernment at the door , imbibe the beliefs of a culture that is at war with God. Among children, though, one brilliant exhibition isn’t enough. They’ll consume it, again and again, until, through sheer repetition, their souls are imbued with depravity.

Notice the way in which she writes this. Notice how she uses the terms “duty,” “bondage to sin,” “a world governed by a sovereign Creator,” “a life lived on his terms” and “sin.” Notice what is missing? Yes, proof that her assessment of what is going on is correct from the scriptures. As I have said, the radical Christian Patriarchy movement is not real big on defending their interpretations of scripture. Most of their interpretations are just simply assumed. The way Reins is trying to get us to see the world is that the radical Christian Patriarchy movement is “God’s way,” ironically echoing the methods of the old lady in the tower. Of course, that would require exegetical proof, and, since none is given, I think it is only fair to conclude that it is simply rhetoric.

Also, another interesting parallel to this film is the phrase “imbibe the beliefs of a culture that is at war with God.” It is difficult to know how to interpret that, but, as I see it, the logical conclusion of radical Christian Patriarchy, especially with its dualism [the culture is bad, and you need our secret knowledge in order to be good], is something like the tower out in the middle of nowhere. Notice how, in the movie, even when Rapunzel got out of the tower, her mother was still manipulating her. Hence, any contact with the world must be filtered through the parents. That is why I would say that it would have been absolutely impossible to make this movie unless it hit the radical Christian Patriarchy movement right between the eyes.

As a Christian, I have a foundation to answer this problem. I can go back to the scriptures, and not only assert that God has said something, but actually defend *from the text* the fact that God has said something, because I believe that God has spoken in normal human language. As most of you can tell, I am not afraid of exegetical interaction. God has spoken freely in this world so that anyone can pick up a Bible and test whether or not God has really said something by listening to him speak in the text. However, the problem is, when you don’t have good exegesis and hermeneutics, you have to become the old lady in the tower. You need an authoritarian elite, whether it be popular authors, parents, or both. That is why hermeneutics and proper interpretation of scripture are infinitely important.

I realize that I have been very hard on the radical Christian Patriarchalists, and, imparticular Andrea Reins in this post. However, my concern is that, when the authority of scripture is usurped by the authority of man, either to bind to people’s conscience things that aren’t found in God’s word or to contradict God’s word, it will lead to a dangerous authoritarianism.

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One Response to “Tangled and the Christian Patriarchy Movement”

  1. thatmom Says:

    Absolutely excellent review, Adam. I especially appreciated this:

    “The point is that, even in a movie made by pagans there is still more repentance of idolatry than in the branch of the Christian Patriarchy movement that Reins is a part of. It is amazing to me to see pagans more capable of understanding repentance and true love than a Christian who has the very example of Christ! However, that is the blinding nature of idolatry, and we should all be wary of falling into that trap”

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