Brave by: Jeff Jordan

Posted: September 7, 2012 by jperritt in Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Have you got a serious family problem?  Your brothers won’t do what you want them to do? Or your mom refuses to see your point of view?  During a conflict with a sibling or with us, our oldest son has gotten into the sad but honest habit of bemoaning, “It’s just so hard to live with other people!”  Does that ring true for you?  Good news!  There is a witch in Pixar’s most recent movie, “Brave,” who can help you.  Her strategy: Turn you, or that person you want to change, into a bear.

Sounds funny, doesn’t it?  We may think this witch is shortchanging her clients, but there is wisdom here.   This story, and its resolution, reflect this Biblical truth: often our interpersonal struggles come from treating others as less than human in a desire for ourselves to be more than human.  In other words, we want to have a God-like control and power over the people around us.  I believe the witch’s spell gives the characters exactly what they want, in turn causing them to see their folly and to change the person who actually needed changing – themselves.

Set in Medieval Scotland, “Brave” tells the story of a princess named Merida whose mother believes she is old enough now that she must marry a husband.  In Merida’s culture, this husband is not chosen by her; he must be the oldest successor of one of the Scottish clans which are ruled by her father the king.  And of the eligible suitors, the one who wins a contest for her hand is to marry the princess.  Merida does, however, get to choose the contest by which she will be won.  So, she shrewdly chooses archery, planning to win her own hand (and her freedom), for she is unparalleled in her ability with a bow and arrow.  Her plan works, and yet it only produces the anger of the other tribes, and, more importantly, the wrath of her mother, the queen.

The drama centers on her relationship with her mother – and their anger and bitterness towards one another as Merida has grown into a teenager.  Neither is willing to listen to the other one’s point of view or compromise her own desires.  In the heat of one of their arguments, the queen throws her daughter’s prized bow into the fire.  Merida rashly retaliates by cutting her mother’s beloved, handmade tapestry-portrait of the family, which happens to sever where the two of them were holding hands in the picture.

At this point, Merida runs away from the castle, and decides to seek help from a witch.  She wants the witch to magically change her mother’s mind regarding the arranged marriage and all the pressure she has put on her daughter to behave a certain way.  This is where Merida’s story becomes part of a bigger story.  We were told earlier in the movie that the four clans started years ago by four brothers, and that one of those brothers wanted more power than the other three.  As the story unfolds, we realize that this brother’s desire for power and control led him to seek the very same witch.  And this witch, it appears, has one solution to all who come to her seeking a magic spell to solve an interpersonal struggle: to turn that person, or the person they’re seeking to control, into a bear.

In the past, the historic clan-leading brother had requested the strength of 10 men, and was himself turned into a powerful bear.  Consequently this powerful beast terrorized the country for years, with strength over all of its pursuers, including the king.  In Merida’s case, the witch creates a cake for her to give to the queen, which when eaten is to affect the change desired.  The selfish, upset young princess had naively requested of this eccentric stranger, “I want my mom to change.”  Change certainly happens, but it’s the witch’s design that Merida see her own folly in the way she is treating her mother.  By eating the cake, Merida’s mother becomes a bear, which puts her life in great danger due to the context of the broader story and the people’s attitude towards the bear that roams their country.  The only way to the reverse the spell is in the form of a riddle – “Mend the bond torn by pride.”  The Tapestry!  So Merida tries to mend the tapestry by sundown before the spell is permanent.  Yet, even when she has met this deadline, nothing happens.  Her mother is still a bear, and still seen as a threat and being hunted by her father and others.  And, in remorse for her action, she finally says, “I’m sorry, Mother. It’s my fault. Forgive me.”  This change of heart was the real tear to be mended, and it causes the queen to change back to her her normal, human self.

So again, we have the moral: You, or the person you wish would change, must become a bear in order for your struggle to be solved.  In Genesis 1-2, we see that humans were created in God’s image.  However, in Genesis 3, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God with the promise to become like Him, to become “more-than-human.”  But as you know, in an effort to become more than human, they became less than human.  They defaced God’s image in themselves, and compromised their dominion over the earth that He had given them.  In “Brave,” the historic clan-leading brother wanted to be more than human so that he could control his other brothers, but he became less than human by becoming a bear through the witch’s spell.  Merida, in simply seeing her mother as someone to be manipulated by a magic spell, received the consequence for this pride and stubbornness when she accidentally turned her into a bear.  The witch’s spell produced remorse in both of its recipients.  They get what they wanted, but then realized it wasn’t what they truly wanted.  The good news is, humility was the result, and relationships can only exist by humility.  We can define humility this way: humility is confident and patient living in the boundaries of our ability, knowledge, and resources that God has given you in relationship to others.  When we assert inappropriate authority over others, we are acting out of pride, not humility.

And yet the gospel goes even further than the witch’s spell.  The witch’s spell is the natural consequence of  pride.  But the story of the gospel is, “Someone must become human for us, and suffer the penalty for our becoming less-than-human, so that we may become human again.”  There must be a substitute for us on our behalf, and there is only One whose perfect record can be an adequate substitute.  In other words, “God must become human in order for you to change.”  The story of the gospel is that Jesus, the Son of God, becomes human, receives our judgment for being law-breakers before God, and then re-instates us as true image-bearers of God.  This is the only way we can change how we relate to God and to the people around us.  This is the only way we can be reconciled to God and to others.  This is the fountain of true humility and love.  This is why Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Submit to to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Ephesians 2:13, 18- “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace… for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”


Rev. Jeff Jordan is the campus minister for RUF at Mississippi College.  He has previously served RUF at the University of Texas at Tyler (UTT) and Tyler Junior College (TJC).  Jeff grew up in Jackson, MS, and recieved his undergraduate degree in English from Mississippi State University. Jeff married Dominique, a native Texan, in June 2002, and then attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS till he graduated with an M.Div. in May ’06.  Dominique Jordan graduated from Southern Methodist University and worked with RUF at Mississippi State University for 3 years as an intern, and currently has her hands full with their three boys, Jeffrey, Wells, Henry, and a fourth baby due Sept. 30th


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