Perhaps one of the keys to understanding the album as a whole is Del Rey’s cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman” at the end of the album. In many ways Del Rey (either autobiographically or as her persona) views herself as an outsider, an interloper in her various relationships with men. To me that is the connecting thread, how lonely, unsatisfied and powerless one is being in that position of the other woman and the very human ways she tries to find satisfaction and gain power over her situation.
This identity takes various meanings and forms on the album, from actually being the other woman in “Shades of Cool” and “Sad Girl”, conflicted as to who she is in “Ultraviolence” (is she deadly or submissive), one of many women in “Cruel World” or the woman who is other (“I am a dragon, you’re a whore”) because she “passed the test” in “F*cked My Way Up To The Top”.
The album begins with her giving herself up to a man (“Share my body and my mind with you”) but when we come to the end she is alone (“And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone, alone”). The journey from surrendering herself to these relationships to isolation plays out in dichotomies between power/weakness, submissiveness/femme fatale, violence as beauty/using beauty for violence, spiritualizing relationships and self/dismissing God, trusting in money/money doesn’t satisfy, etc. I can relate with Del Rey because I have given all of myself to someone before, felt the multitude of conflicting emotions that Del Rey has and used language about God in the context of that romantic relationship while refusing to seek out God.
I’m not ashamed to admit as a 34-year-old man that I love Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It is beautifully animated, has some fantastic songs and Belle, in my humble opinion, is the best Disney princess. As the beautiful daughter of a eccentric inventor, she is more than a pretty damsel in distress but a strong, independent and intelligent woman. She refuses the advances of Gaston (the prototypical “prince” character, who is actually the villain), self-sacrifices her freedom to save her father, chooses to fall in love with the hideous Beast and in the process she saves him from himself. Disney with this film laid the groundwork to question through creative narratives the tropes of fairy tale romances, a subversive move, I believe, only now coming to fruition with two recent Disney films, Frozen and Maleficent.
However, Beauty and the Beast is not without its flaws, despite the positive trend towards a more complex and assertive female character. For instance, many have suggested that Belle is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with her abusive and violent captor. My own personal issue is that while the film starts to chisel away at the typical fairy tale narrative, in the end it still adheres to the idea that romantic love fixes everything. All one needs is true love’s kiss to live happily ever after. Cue music. Sprinkle pixie dust. Ride off into the sunset with your new found love. The End.
But let’s be honest here, who of us can claim any innocence when it comes to believing that finding “the one” will make our lives more fulfilled, meaningful and plain better? Isn’t that the dream we all secretly hope for? That finding love would be true for me as it was for Belle, Cinderella and Snow White? As Michael Novak, Catholic philosopher and journalist, writes at First Things:
Suddenly the baby stops crying. She looks back to the car seat firmly attached to the backseat of the Suzuki. Screaming out with tears gushing from her eyes, she pleads in painful bewilderment wondering who took her baby. But something more mysterious is occurring here. In the midst of her shrieks, a confused boy calls out for his dad from the sidewalk and then suddenly and violently a car without a driver collides into another. What’s going on here? Where did these people go? Why am I left behind? This is the story of the 98%, those unlucky souls in a now graceless world, questioning how will they rebuild and recover. They are the leftovers.
2014 seems to be the return of that classic of Hollywood film genre, the Biblical epic. From Mark Burnett’s Son of God to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and later this year, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. In a wider purview, films centered on faith pulled in large box office numbers this year such as God’s Not Dead starring Kevin Sorbo ($60M gross is not to shabby for Hercules) and Heaven is for Real ($89M gross). The small screen is seeing similar explorations of biblical themes with Resurrection and now the upcoming HBO series The Leftovers premiering June 29th.
The Leftovers is based on a book by Tom Perrotta and produced by Lost writer Damon Lindelof. After delving into Evangelical sub-culture with his book The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta became fascinated with the Evangelical belief in an event called the rapture. According to those who subscribe to this belief, Christians will be taken away to heaven in an instant, vanishing like a vapor. Those who are left on the earth suffer through the Great Tribulation, a period of time where God pours out his wrath on those who were not chosen to be raptured into heaven.