Brave – Movie Review

I went into the movie theater with mixed feelings when I went to see Brave.  On the one hand, I couldn’t wait.  It looked like it would be a fun movie to watch, and, to be honest, I saw a lot of myself in Merida…and even in her relationship with her mom.  On the other hand, however, I was wary.  The preview showed a fiercely independent young girl who was blatantly defying her mother.  Worse, I felt like I sympathized with her reasons for doing so.  My concern was that the movie would lead viewers, as so many movies have before, to so sympathize with the characters’ motivations for bad behavior that we excuse the bad behavior as justifiable.  I was concerned that, in the end, the kids (in this case, Merida) would be the heroes for their defiant behavior.

I see it all the time in movies—a kid rebels and does something normally dangerous, like runs away with a cute but utterly unknown boy in a foreign city (like Paris, in one instance).  They have a fabulous time together, completely safe and innocent—so the parents realize that they were just too protective and cautious and apologize to the all-wise and all-knowing teens.  In other words, kid rebels and gets rewarded; parents are weak and succumb.

Now, I am not saying that a parent shouldn’t apologize when they are wrong.  Being human, they will be wrong, and good parenting surely involves admitting when you are wrong and asking for forgiveness.  What bothers me in so many of the movies, though, is not that the parents do some growing and repenting, but that the children rarely come to terms with the wrongs they do.  No matter how wrong a child may think his/her parent is, they are still called to honor and obey that parent.  There is a way to disagree and even challenge authority that is honoring and fruitful, and then there’s the way it’s usually done: the wrong way, the defiant, rebellious, dishonoring way.

The previews show Merida clearly going about her disagreement with her mother the wrong way.  She is openly defiant and blatantly, publically disobedient.  Then she runs away and asks a witch to cast a spell on her mother that will change her.

What could be so bad that a girl would ask a witch to change her mother?  It wasn’t that her mother was a bad person, but that her mother was a different person.  She was…queenly.  She was gracious and poised with a quiet air about her that commanded respect.  Merida, on the other hand, was a daring, adventurous, spunky, strong, and independent young girl.  Her personality was as large and fiery as her curly red hair. Naturally, the two misunderstood each other and clashed.

In a rather symbolic scene, the Queen proudly helps her daughter into a more proper princess dress complete with corset and head covering.  Merida’s unwieldy, rogue red curls keep spilling out of the head covering, as discontented with their newfound confinement as she is.  She finds the dress stiff and restrictive—it’s not flexible or large enough for her and she literally bursts the seams.  She’s not embarrassed or sad about this, only relieved to finally be able to be herself—in dress as well as life.

The queen felt it was her job to prepare Merida to take the throne, and therefore to be as queenly as she was.  To heighten the conflict, a matter of arranged marriage was being forced upon Merida.  Ultimately, they both felt that the heart of the conflict they were having was that the other wasn’t listening.  “You could see…you could understand… if you would just listen!” they both said in frustration.

It’s true, Queen Elinor had become so focused on her agenda she was guilty of not truly listening to her daughter.  This is where the movie surprised me though.  I was sympathetic to Merida.  I had been in her shoes.  Who of us hasn’t felt at some point or other than someone was trying to force them into a mold that was too small or too big or just didn’t fit for some reason or other?  It’s so easy to sympathize with Merida that the temptation is to be supportive of her rebellion…but the movie didn’t do that.

Surprisingly, in the end, it’s Merida who apologizes—wholeheartedly and absolutely.  There are no “buts.”   She doesn’t say her mother drove her to it, or blame circumstances or the arranged marriage tradition, or her red hair…she simply takes responsibility, for everything.  Here is what she says:  “I’ve been selfish.  I tore a great rift in our kingdom.  There is no one to blame but me.”  And later, “Mom, I’m sorry.  This is all my fault.  I did this to you…to us.  You’ve always been there for me and you’ve never given up on me.”  Wow.  Merida is repentant.

As I mentioned, I went into the movie with some apprehension as to the direction of the moral character of the movie.  What qualities would be exalted?  Independence?  Defiance?  Rebellion?  Free spiritedness?  I have to admit, I never suspected it would be repentance.  In our culture of psychology and counseling, we are tempted to find not only the reasons for our behaviors, but in them excuses.  The easy response would be for Merida to say, “I did it, but you drove me to it, mom.  We are both to blame…”  It’s not to say that Elinor acted without fault, but Merida realizes that her actions were her own and she takes full responsibility for them.

It reminds me of David after he is confronted by the prophet about his sin with Bathsheba.  His response is like Merida’s.  He doesn’t blame circumstances or Bathsheba or God or his human nature.  In brokenness and humility he accepts total responsibility for his wrongs.  “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”[1]

Not only did it show true repentance, but in doing so, it honored parents.  Merida (not her mother) was the one we see taking responsibility.  It was her rebellion that caused the problem.  The movie could easily have portrayed Elinor and her formalities as the root of the problem, but it didn’t.  Elinor does grow too, as any good parent should, but the overwhelming message was that Merida was fully to blame.  Merida ends up realizing that her mother was and always had been on her side and that no matter how wrong her mother may have been, she was still wrong to respond as she did.

Obeying and honoring parents is a pretty important message, and one that is grossly overlooked and undervalued in contemporary entertainment for children.  It’s important because it’s Biblical, it’s a command, and it’s the first command with a promise: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”[2]

The movie arguably had some errors in judgment—I mean, come on…mooning, in a kids’ movie?  And that bosomy lady…and the kids getting the key she hid in her ample bosom?  In a kids’ movie?  That doesn’t seem like great judgment to me, though it was, arguably, great for laughs.  That aside, however, Brave did do a pretty good job (refreshingly so) with its overall messages of repentance, accepting responsibility vs. blaming others, honoring your parents, and treasuring (and trusting) their role in your life and their love for you.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How could you relate to Merida?  Have you ever felt that someone was trying to squeeze you into a mold that is too small for you?  Have you ever felt criticized for being too much or not enough in some way?
  • Did you sympathize with Merida or her mother more in the beginning?
  • Did it surprise you that Merida took full responsibility and repented like she did?  Do you think her mother should have taken some of the blame?
  • Have you ever rebelled against authorities in your life?  Did it cause any obvious, bad consequences, or did it seem like no big deal?
  • Have you ever had to really repent of something you’ve done like Merida or David did?
  • Have you ever had to honor your parents, even when you felt they were wrong?  Did you choose to honor them or not?  What were the consequences?
  • If you took God’s command and promise seriously, if you really believed there would be a promised blessing (that it would go well with you and you would enjoy long life on the earth) for those who honored their parents, would it change the way you treated your parents?
  • How can you show (more) honor to your parents?


Click here to read a collection of quotes from Brave.

-by Stacey Tuttle-

[1] Psalm 51:4

[2] Ephesians 6:1-3