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Kingdom Of Isolation
Posted by dirkgently1066
5th Oct 2014

Frozen has become the best selling animated feature of all time. The story of Anna and Elsa with the catchy songs, lovable characters and, well, princesses, capturing the hearts of little girls all over the world.

But to my surprise, quite apart from being a fun film for children, Frozen is also a very effective allegory for mental health.

***Warning - spoilers***

Do you want to build a snowman?

As the film opens, we are introduced to Anna and Elsa. Whilst playing, Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her ice powers, resulting in her parents deciding to hide her in the castle and lock her away from the world. Anna meanwhile loses all memory of her sister's powers.

What we learn

Elsa's ice powers here represent mental illness. As we see, it first manifests when she is very young, too young to be able to handle it. Her parents, scared and confused, lock her away so that she cannot harm herself or others. Elsa thus learns the shameful stigma of mental illness, no one must ever learn of her terrible secret.



For The First Time In Forever

After the death of their parents, Elsa becomes Queen. The gates are opened for the first time since her self imposed exile for Elsa's coronation. Meanwhile Anna meets a handsome prince, Hans, and the two of them seek Elsa's blessing for marriage. When she refuses, Anna presses Elsa to explain herself, who eventually loses her temper and unleashes a blast of icy shards.

Her terrible secret out, Elsa tries to run away but in her panicked state, she accidentally sets off an eternal winter in the kingdom. She flees, with Anna soon setting off in pursuit.

What we learn

Elsa tries to fit in, to hide her true self. But pushed into an environment and set of circumstances she is ill prepared for, her illness inevitably comes out for all to see. Her worst fears are realised. No one else can possibly understand what it is like to live with mental illness. She will never fit in, never be accepted.



Let it go

Fleeing to the North Mountain, Elsa shrugs of the shackles of her past, letting her powers loose. She builds an ice palace, slamming the door on her past.

What we learn

With the acceptance of her illness, Elsa is able to find some peace. For the first time, we get a hint of her potential, locked away for so long by the shame brought on by the stigma of mental illness. Here she is free and unencumbered. But this happiness is fleeting. The ice palace she has built for herself is just another manifestation of a prison of the mind, a way of keeping others out, both literally and figuratively. Once again, she has once isolated herself, convincing herself that the shame of her burden is one that she must carry alone.



Reprise

With the help of Kristoff, Sven and Olaf, Anna makes her way to the North Mountain to face her sister and tries to persuade her to come home and reverse the winter. Elsa is adamant that she can't reverse it and when she lashes out in frustration, she sends a shard of ice into Anna's heart before driving her off.

What we learn

The facade of being cured is smashed in brutal fashion. If the root causes are not properly tackled, mental illness can rear its head at the slightest provocation, causing us to harm those we love the most. Once again, the negative thoughts are reinforced and the stigma remains. No one else understands. No one else can help.



Fixer Upper

Elsa is captured by Hans and his men and returned to the kingdom, where Hans confesses his plan to marry Anna just so that he can seize control of the throne. After she escapes, Hans lies to Elsa that she killed Anna. In her grief, the storm stops. Anna stops Hans from killing Elsa, an act of true love that mends her frozen heart. The winter ends and Elsa learns to embrace her power, vowing never to close the gates to her people again.

What we learn

Having reached the depths, Elsa is forced to accept help and in so doing, finally comes to terms with her illness.

Elsa will never be 'cured', in the same way that you can never be cured of mental illness. But with patience, support and understanding, you can learn to control it, it does not have to control you. The Black Dog can be brought to heel. It is a daily struggle.

But then, hey, everyone's a bit of a fixer upper.

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