Shrek Forever After – A Movie Review from a Not-So-Feminist Perspective
Shrek Forever After – A Movie Review from a Not-So-Feminist Perspective
By: Stacey Tuttle
“Where were you when I needed you?” – Fiona
The final Shrek installment follows a familiar story line, one that we’ve seen before in films like It’s a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart) and The Family Man (Nicolas Cage). A man gets to see what his life would have been like if he had taken a different path. He gets to experience an alternate reality and then realizes that while family life can be demanding and may not seem as glorious as bachelorhood, it is really more rewarding. What struck me about this film was not Shrek’s journey (honestly, we’ve kind of seen it before), but Fiona’s.
Fiona spent much of her alternate life trapped in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince who would, naturally, be her true love. The Prince, her rescuer, never came. Fiona did what many women do; she gave up waiting for Prince Charming, strapped some pants on and rescued herself. This was empowering. Fiona didn’t need a man, or should I say ogre, to rescue her. Not only could she rescue herself, but she went on to rescue others. Fiona, the respected and admired leader of all the ogre men, led a rebellion against the foul ruler of the day, Rumpelstiltskin. The ogres admired her, but none dared try to woo her.
Enter Shrek. Remember, Shrek is living in an alternate reality, but retains memory of his previous reality. Shrek still remembers Fiona, his wife. Fiona the warrior princess is a bit new to him. He tries reminding her that he is her true love. But, she retorts, “Then where were you when I needed you?” True love shouldn’t have abandoned her. True love should have been there when she needed saving. She says, “True love didn’t get me out of that tower. I saved myself.” Hear the pain? Hear the disappointment? While she says she doesn’t need a man, while she puts any man in his place who tries to woo her, the truth is that she is bitterly disappointment that no man has really risen to the occasion.
Shrek does win her back. How? He rescues her, of course. Fiona thought she could do it alone, thought she didn’t need any help, thought she didn’t need rescuing. But Fiona was wrong. First off, Fiona wasn’t completely honest with herself: she still wanted a man to rescue her—she just didn’t trust that anyone would. Second, she couldn’t do it all on her own. And finally, she did need rescuing—not only from the scrape she got into with Rumpelstiltskin, but more importantly from the tower of isolation she had put herself in.
You see, Fiona rescued herself from a physical tower only to put herself in an emotional tower. She lived in a tower of isolation that was made from bricks of loneliness, held together with the mortar of pain, surrounded by a moat of despair and guarded by a dragon of bitterness. She had put herself in a formidable castle—the kind of castle which makes men who would normally face any physical, mortal danger with astounding bravado retreat with hardly a second thought.
Does this sound like anyone you know? Do you know any women who have had to face bitter disappointment, who have struggled with never a rescue in sight, who have waited for years for prince charming and finally given up? As a single woman in her mid thirties, I can speak from first hand experience. It is only too easy to retreat into a self-made, proud tower of isolated disappointment. It is easy to guard ourselves from future hurt and suffering with a dragon of bitterness. It is easy to put up walls made of loneliness and pain. We wait and wait, and then we finally decide that we have waited enough and life isn’t waiting on us. So, we put the pants on, take matters into our own hands and do it ourselves. We become our own rescue. And then, not only do we stop waiting and move on with our lives, but we become distinguished in our careers and begin to lead everyone around us. And that’s when we find out how easy it is to become proud and abrasive because “I did it myself. I didn’t need a man.” If we are honest, we find ourselves echoing Fiona’s words, “I saved myself.”
What is the result of Fiona’s proud self-empowerment? If you ask me, the men around her look like buffoons. Many had some physical strength and size, but none had any heart. They were cowards around her. The truth is, they were rather belittled around her. She didn’t encourage them to be more manly—not in a true sense of manliness which involves strength of heart and character. In retrospect, I think it was quite the opposite. Fiona didn’t value the men, she used them. She needed their brawn; she needed masses, sheer numbers of warriors. But beyond using them for their brute strength, she never once leaned on them for support, for stability, for real insight. She didn’t trust them, couldn’t lean on them. She never let them into the tower where she protected her heart and emotions and vulnerabilities. They could not be trusted with that. And sadly, until Shrek, not one of the ogres was man enough to even try to be more than a brute. While they were willing to face physical death in a fight against Rumpel’s forces, they weren’t willing to face the emotional perils they were sure to encounter in the journey to Fiona’s heart.
It’s easy at this point to find fault, with Fiona or with the ogres, or in the case of real life, with men or with women. The truth is both are at fault. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible… In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” I don’t know which is the chicken or the egg. Women are hurt that men don’t rise up and be manly. Maybe their hurt is justified, maybe their expectations are ridiculous. In either case, the tendency is to then turn around and in bitterness, without even knowing it, belittle the guys around us. We (and I include myself in this) effectually castrate men and then complain because they appear to be missing something. Maybe if we didn’t treat them thus, maybe if we didn’t live in our isolated tower with our bitter-dragon guardian, we might find they were more manly. Then again, maybe if there were more Shrek’s in the world who saw past that and were willing to swim the moat of our despair, maybe we wouldn’t be so inclined to treat them thus. You will notice, Fiona softened and was more gracious once love found her.
So, what is the solution? Fiona was rescued by Shrek. What do you do when your Shrek hasn’t come? What are you to do if you, like Fiona, have had to provide your own rescue and now find yourself leading a horde of ogres in your workplace? Let me provide a couple of suggestions, coming from a place of much humility, from someone who, admittedly, usually gets this wrong.
- You DO have a rescuer. Fiona softened when she finally knew she had a rescuer and was loved. There is a rescuer and a lover for your soul as well. It’s Jesus Christ. Psalm 40:1-2 (NLT) says, “I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Not only does he rescue you, but he is faithful to you. You can trust him. Joshua 1:5 says, “I will not fail you or abandon you.” Not only will he never fail you or abandon you, but he will go so far as to die for you—in fact he DID die for you, and then rose again that you might have eternal life with him (John 3:16). You need not become hardened with disappointment, loneliness, bitterness. You ARE loved, sought after, rescued. You don’t have to face the world alone. Take heart, find your heart, risk your heart…it is loved by one who can be trusted.
- When you find yourself tempted to, in one subtle way or another, emasculate the men around you, please don’t. We treat the men around us with contempt, feeling they have somehow failed us. But what if we could change the way we saw them? What if, instead of seeing them as the symbol of our disappointment, we saw them as our brothers, our beloved friends, as someone’s son or future mate… what if we saw them as imperfect, broken beings who, like ourselves, need help and encouragement to become the people they are supposed to become? If we can see them as someone’s future hope and not our past disappointment, then we can find a purpose in helping them become, rather than scolding them for what they have (or more likely have not) been.
- Women have the joyous role of helping inspire men to be more than they currently are. However, when that role is twisted, we can do horrible damage and keep a man forever stagnated from future growth. He can become so discouraged that he never wants to risk again. And then, we criticize. What a horrible thing, but we do it—I know; I speak from experience. We are so often guilty of criticizing the very thing we helped to create. This isn’t how it was meant to be.
Women do have a remarkable power and influence with men. When used poorly, it cripples, it even castrates the soul. But when used well it inspires and ennobles. Think of Athena whose encouragement inspired Telemachus to get off his duff and become a man, going off to sea to find his father who had been long absent. Or what about John Tyree who becomes a better man because of the gentle influence of the servant-hearted Savannah in the movie Dear John—even sacrificing his own inheritance and his future happiness with her to do what was best for her present need. She had so inspired him, he was willing to be her rescuer even when it benefitted him nothing and cost him everything. I could go on, but you get my point.
If I can give my fellow females one thing to take away, it would be this, a vision to be the kind of woman who helps men to become men, a woman who longs not to criticize, but to encourage. A woman whose strength, nobility, purity, kindness…whose very femininity is such that the men around her are inspired to be better men for the simple hope of being worthy of her. But I caution you, that no woman who lives with bitterness, who resides in an isolated tower of lonely pain can be that woman. You must first turn to Jesus, let him rescue you. Let him love you. Let him heal your bitter wounds. You are not without a savior. You are not without a lover. Once you have known his rescue, you can extend his grace to others. Once you have known his love, you can be patient, encouraging and even inspiring to the men around you and the journey they are on.
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you been disappointed and possibly even become bitter because true love let you down in some way or another?
- Do you know any women who have had to face bitter disappointment, who have struggled with never a rescue in sight, who have waited for years for prince charming and finally given up?
- What do you think are some of the good and bad effects of the feminist movement? Both on women and on men?
- Do you know the true Rescuer of your soul? Do you believe Jesus loves you and wants to woo you?
- Do you tend to belittle the people around you because your disappointment fills you with scorn? (This isn’t something that only women do to men, it is universal.)
- What do you think about the idea that, “women do have a remarkable power and influence with men. When used poorly, it cripples, it even castrates the soul. But when used well it inspires and ennobles”? Do you think you use your power for good?
- Read Proverbs 31: 10-31 about the Noble Wife. How do you think this woman would respond to our feminist ideas?
Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1947. 35.