“Winter turns to spring / Famine turns to feast / Nature points the way / Nothing left to say / Beauty and the Beast.” -Mrs. Potts
“Sleep is an image of death that is repeated every night. So the morning is the image of the resurrection. So the spring of the year is an image of the resurrection.” –Jonathan Edwards
How will the dark curse be broken? Sacrificial love. In the stunning new remake of Beauty and the Beast, Disney stayed true to this central theme. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s a “tale as old as time.” It’s the epical story of resurrection and the path thereunto. Indeed, the curse being broken by love is the story of all time, true as it can be.
The curse leveled by the beggar-woman in the opening scene is death, but not an immediately obvious sort of death. Those under the curse, while turned to dishware and furniture, can still move, speak, etc. Yet, they are somehow not themselves. The longer they live under the curse, the less themselves they become. It’s hard to hear Mr. Clocksworth lament, “I feel myself becoming less human” without being aware of one’s own inhumanity. Who hasn’t felt like a shadow of who they’re created to be? On a heart level, even if one doesn’t believe in the deep magic found in Scripture, who hasn’t nevertheless longed for the spell under which we live to be broken?
The only path back to life is love, and Belle—the stranger held captive in the castle—is lovely. Naturally, the creatures of the house seek to charm Belle into love. Likewise, the Beast bangs on the door, demanding a romantic dinner. Yet, their salvation can’t be secured by such measures.
Ironically, love comes when Belle is released from captivity, as she runs away from the property back to her father. In a beautiful scene on the castle’s balcony, Belle asks the Beast, “Can anyone truly love who isn’t free?” At that, the Beast turns Belle away. By the end of the movie, the Beast and the entire castle-staff die. And Belle weeps.
While Belle is good, she’s not the Beast’s good, not yet. Taking her life giving kiss—which she only offers at the end of the movie—without first sending her away would have been temporary security, but a final sort of death ultimately. On the balcony, the Beast understands a deep mystery; love will come through loneliness, Spring through Winter, feast through famine. So he sends Belle away and walks into the darkness.
In Scripture, life always comes through first choosing death. The way up is down. Commenting on Revelation, Peter Leithart makes the easily missed point that seal and mark are juxtaposed from one another. Those 144,000 people sealed by God in chapter 7 are set-aside for death. Those with the mark of the beast in chapter 13, however, are free to buy and sell goods—they feast, they live. Says Leithart:
“Those who do not receive the mark of the beast do die, but their death is a passage to renewed life. The unmarked, those sealed for death, rise again and reign with Christ. The mark of the beast rescued from immediate death, but the important things don’t happen at the beginning. We only know what the marks and the seals mean when we get to the end of things.”
It’s obvious why the mark of the beast is so attractive; it offers immediate salvation. That is, it gives one the sustenance and safety needed to see another day. To be clear, the things the mark of the beast allows one to obtain aren’t bad in and of themselves. On the contrary: food, drink, life—these are good, but they are by nature gifts, and gifts aren’t gifts if ripped from the giver’s hand. They must be received, not taken. Love requires as much. In the end, there is a feast for those who refuse the mark of the beast, but only through famine. There is resurrection, but only through death. Seeking the Kingdom apart from the cross is not only counterproductive; it’s satanic (Mat 4:8). So, we seek the seal of God, not the mark of the beast, come what may.
Upon her return, Belle brings more than tears to the ransacked castle; she brings new life. From her lips comes resurrection, breaking the curse once and for all. In a grand celebratory feast, she dances with her lover who is now, at long last, transformed into who he was always supposed to be. When the Beast sent Belle away, he planted the painful seed of death. At the dance, we see the fruit: life.
Beauty and the Beast and Revelation have the same counterintuitive message: if you want to save your life, lose your life. Don’t choose a forced, immediate redemption. Instead, wait for the day the Savior will return from the Father’s house to defeat the persecutors at the door. Because on that day, we will all be raised back to ourselves again—humanity fully restored. At that grand banquette, there will be no doubt: the dark curse is broken under the foot of sacrificial love.