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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Damsel (2024)

At the beginning of March, right after the movie was released, I started coming across clips of it and was intrigued by what else the story would tell. I figured that, maybe, I would watch it, in celebration of spring and fairytales, but my expectations of it were low so I soon forgot about it. However, as clips kept showing up, I eventually caved in and believed I would regret NOT watching it. 'Cause what if it's great? So, I did. And it was! (At least to me.)

Damsel is a Netflix production, a fairytale movie that is not quite a fairytale (unless your concept of fairytales includes the grimmer and darker sort, what's in between, and not just the happily-ever-after kind). And if the story fails to engage you, it'll still indulge your senses with majestic imagery.

If you're into fairytales, especially dragons, and who's been wronged to have their win after all, but tired of Prince Charming and the blind adoration of royalty, this is for you. And you might enjoy it on a fine night when the mood is right.

  SPOILER ALERT!   Keep reading at your own risk. There are spoilers ahead... 

“There are many stories of chivalry where the heroic knight saves the damsel in distress.
This is not one of them.” 

The tale opens up with a warning, one I'd like to always have in my life. But then again, how often would that stop someone who wishes to see and bring out the best in others, even when they show you in numerous ways that they are rotten? You'd have to be quite done with that. Regardless, I love how it isn't pessimistic, but rather, takes into account that, while this particular story can't be expected to go in such a dreamy manner, many stories do - and exist. It isn't so discouraging. It simply points to how not everything is always rainbows and roses.

We are shown a father, that, rightfully so, is immensely concerned for his people. So he is faced with a choice. One that I believe brought him many moral dilemmas to work through and kept him at least somewhat indecisive. I don't think he was indifferent about his daughter and her well-being. I think he saw that she was someone who would fight for and do what's required for their people, too, and aligned with that. But failed to have a due conversation with her. However, when the harsher realities began to kick in, it became more and more difficult to stick with his decision. So at his own risk, he interfered.

As for the stepmother, it seems the movie tried to paint her as vain and shallow at the beginning, just like stepmothers typically are in fairytales. That felt quite off to me. It wasn't until she started being shown as someone who is intuitive and wise about people and how society works, genuinely caring about what was best, that she felt like a more fleshed-out character (the trailer captured her essence). Nonetheless, I appreciated her role in all of it. How inquiring and suspicious she was when things weren't adding up and how readily she was willing to give up such a "generous" offer to keep off a worse fate.

“I just hope he's kind. And well-read.”

It also brought me joy how, before and through it, Elodie could count on a supportive sister who believed in her and could be happy for her. It is such a stark contrast to how the royals viewed and treated her as disposable instead, while pretending otherwise. And it certainly made me happy how such a sister later stepped forward and was counted on to take over responsibilities.

The place, their kingdom, was never quite that evoking of trust, giving off-putting vibes from the get-go, but it was indeed impressively marvelous. You'd like to believe that people with such taste would be tasteful in all dimensions, but they can be gross and disgusting underneath it all. Sometimes you are as above, so below. Sometimes you merely attempt to compensate for your lack.

The prince, especially, could be embarrassingly pathetic. Full of excuses, dodging accountability, and shifting blame. Whether or not he had a conscience nagging at him. As if he had no choice but to let his mother dictate his every move. But he did. Yet, he chose to retain her approval at all costs. As if that justified his actions and lack thereof. He could have broken out of it and done better, but his time ran out and he never redeemed himself.

“I am the sacrifice. I am the sacrifice?”

Watching it all unfold, I'd say that there was too much of Elodie struggling and suffering. But it goes to show how hard betrayal and disillusionment can be. Along with, well, being thrown off a bridge to endure a harmful fall as though you're worthless. Unless it is to be sacrificed. The act of it can be taken not as being food for a dragon, but as engaging in questionable rituals to placate vengeful (and/or justice-seeking) creatures after having angered them. It was what mattered to them most. Not the dragon's satisfaction.

Nevertheless, Elodie was fortunate. Because from way back, her mother's spirit accompanied her. Even if only in memory. And she would draw strength, possibly courage and more, from it. Since, as she put it, there was much that she had learned from her mother.

Then the glowworms. Those wonderful creatures astonished me. Not only could they make an otherwise dark cave illuminate beautifully, able to serve as lanterns going forward, but could also cure and mend wounds miraculously. Elodie was probably too fed up with everything when she hastily tried to brush them off her, but I'm glad that she realized sooner than later what a mistake that would be. And could apologize.

“I’m angry too. We have both been lied to.”

Eventually, Elodie is able to follow the hints and put all the clues together. Having gone from an initial moment of shock and denial to an insatiable desire to know the whole truth, no matter how crude and harsh it was. As it had been discussed previously, she considered her greatest strength to always tell the truth while the queen noted that it could be considered a weakness too (there are, of course, exceptions to rules and always telling the truth doesn't necessarily mean always spilling the beans, but it is implied that the queen took no issue in lying out of convenience). So, that being Elodie's nature, she was compelled to tell the dragon everything she had learned and realized. Seeing how they were wronged too.

It is debatable whether the dragon was too "evil" to be sided with or not. But 1) it's fiction. And 2) do not mess with the offspring of a dragon. I'm completely shameless and guilt-free in this sense. I do not care about being absolutely pure. So yes, let them rage out however they crave because those humans are more monstrous than anything else.

Overall, the concept of good or bad, right or wrong, can be pondered and argued forever. On one hand, yes, they were saving people or bettering their lives. And in some minds, the end justifies the means. But there are, objectively, lines that shouldn't be crossed. If Elodie and all the rest that had been sacrificed had consented to it, and were informed and mature enough for that, I would say that they signed up for it. And while messed up and far from ideal, it was what it was. But there's something deeply twisted about people grabbing and deceiving others, outside of their circles, for their causes, regardless of how noble they are. I do not feel sorry, at all, for what happened to them in the end.

“This is the end of your story.”