What could an innocent Disney movie, with a happy ending, have in common with an overtly sexualized Netflix drama? On the surface, nothing. Belle, in Beauty and the Beast, is the naïve bookworm who charmingly paves her way into the Beast’s cold heart, rescuing him from an evil curse, reinforcing the idea of not judging a book by its cover. In 365 Days, Massimo, with his outstanding Greek godlike features, “rescues” a woman named Laura, marking the beginning of a liaison filled with love and hate.
The target audience is different, so is the plot. There is but one intangible link between these two; they glorify something as disturbing as Stockholm Syndrome, without any regard for the kind of effect it may have on survivors. The bizarre hostage crisis in the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery led to the coinage of the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ which, by simpler terms, refers to the captive falling in love or striking a bond of innate trust and friendship with their captor.
It may seem too astonishing as to why someone would fall in love with the perpetrator. However, it is not a mental illness, nor does it have an official diagnosis. This counterintuitive behaviour on the captive’s behalf is seen as a defence/coping mechanism adopted by the victim to adapt to the hostile and abusive environment in which they are placed. This attachment is inalienable, unhealthy, and beyond comprehension; they feel the safest when kept in close contact with the captor, grateful to have come in contact with his/her/their hallowed existence.
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The Beast, a conglomeration of various animals, including the bull, gorilla, lion, etc., is grotesque, “racially ambiguous” figure. If we choose to remain ignorant of Belle’s zoophilic tendencies event though she falls in love with the Beast, our childhood favourite is further ruined when we delve deep into the Beast’s motives. The Beast needed to find true love to restore his original human appearance. He “grooms” Belle to grow to love him while keeping her captive in his castle.
The Beast is not vile enough to rape/ sexually abuse her; he is gentle on the surface. However, the 2017 adaptation showcases his ill-temper and disgruntled nature. He is often enraged by the smallest of things. If we look further into the original story, which inspired the Disney adaptation, Villeneuve’s La Belle et La Bête is extremely disturbing. The Beast tries to kiss her on multiple occasions, proposing marriage more frequently than ever.
In the Disney adaptation, the Beast is apparently quite kind, letting Belle access the massive library; yet, he is quite rude initially and scares Belle off in the snowstorm, later rescuing her. The Beast prevents any human contact as he knows that is the only way in which Belle will fall for him.
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Emma Watson defended the movie saying Belle was not held captive as she was quite headstrong and did everything according to her fancies. However, it is, in my opinion, too paltry a defence in favour of a film that hides these disturbing truths beneath a child-friendly exterior.
Belle is a beautiful and virtuous woman, an exemplary role model for young girls because of her sweet nature and dutifulness; she turns herself in to save her father. She is like a commodity, being passed on from her father to the Beast. The Beast, possessive as he is, forces her to stay with him to satiate his interests, often manipulating her with her father’s death and later his, lest she leaves.
It is often said that the story was also a metaphor for arranged marriages where young maidens were imprisoned within conjugal bars, married off to wealthy, ugly suitors, with whom they later fell in love. Can that, too, be considered Stockholm Syndrome? Debatable.
However, Belle is a victim of circumstance who falls in love with her gentle captor — one who has nothing but best intentions for her (read: himself) on his mind.
365 Days. A titillating view of a hunk biting his lip and gazing at the camera sultrily. A beautiful woman sunbathing atop a deck. Picturesque sceneries. Expensive yacht rides. Wild parties and unlimited alcohol. What could go wrong in a bourgeoise mafia romance drama, right? One would expect a Godfather-esque movie. However, it is disturbing and emotionally scarring.
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A heavily accented, seemingly lust-filled “Are you lost baby girl?” would make one’s skin crawl in disgust. Having “rescued” Laura, Massimo, obsessed with her, promises not to touch her without her consent, but keep her captive for 365 days to fall for him. If not, he would let her go. Yet, he touches her multiple times, without her consent, tying her up in an airplane, forcibly spreading her legs with leg-spreading bars, handcuffing her, etc.
I half expected Laura to retaliate or recoil in disgust; she has a different reaction altogether. Her hitched breath and heaving chest show how she seemingly enjoys it. He “loves” her enough to threaten to kill her dare she leaves. This movie is on an online streaming platform that can be viewed by absolutely anyone. Although it has been argued that 365 Days was created with an intent to expose the evils of sex trafficking and kidnapping, it subverts the idea in itself.
Not only does it make kidnapping and abuse seem ‘sexy’ and ‘appealing’, it also normalises the idea of submitting to a physically dominant and emotionally controlling male partner — something familiar between both the subjects in question. Laura doesn’t flinch at his touch; she enjoys it. She loves spurring him on by behaving like a seductive minx flirting with his rival.
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The act of “saving” is fundamental as well. Just as the Beast saves Belle from freezing in the snowstorm while trying to run away, Massimo saves Laura from drowning when she falls off the yacht. Notably, an argument precedes both the scenes, where the women have been in violent verbal fights with their respective counterparts.
The portrayal of a kidnapped woman engaging in rough, wild sex with her kidnapper, and enjoying it, is extremely disturbing for survivors of kidnapping to watch. Not only does it, besides portraying a sick representation of Stockholm Syndrome, glorify kidnapping, abuse, and non-consensual groping, it has also led the Gen-Z to indulge in creating quite disturbing videos.
While Beauty and the Beast is a lot tamer in comparison, its only fault is the weird portrayal of zoophilia and chaste representation of Stockholm Syndrome. 365 Days, is much worse.
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By attributing a glossy exterior to kidnapping and glamorizing sex trafficking and abuse, encouraging the survivor to embrace her abuser and internalise rough, (non)consensual sex makes the entire experience unsettling. The movie’s popularity and the number of defensive comments made me realise how attractive such politically incorrect films are.
As a childhood role model, Belle’s predicament is of no significance. Instead, her ability to look beyond the exterior is praised; her trauma and loneliness are invalidated. Laura’s picture-perfect life at Massimo’s is oh-so-desirable because we choose to remain indifferent to how pop culture continually romanticises rape and abuse culture.
Internalising violence and deriving pleasure from being subjugated, developing feelings for the perpetrator, etc. are certain sick, twisted anti-feminist plot tools adopted by pop culture to invalidate the survivors’ sufferings.
They, quite disturbingly, not only glorify kidnapping culture and Stockholm Syndrome but propagate subjugation of women’s rights by male dominance and abuse culture.
By Debadrita Sur
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