Following Phoebe

Into the Woods (and Moral Relativity)

Welcome to the first post of this blog!
I wasn't really sure where to start...so in the end I decided to try to start with something a little fun, but hopefully a little thought provoking too.

Fair warning though, this post contains spoilers. (Most of which won't take you by surprise though if you are familiar with most fairy tales.)

I like watching movies, it’s a good way to pass time and relax. I don’t often go into a movie aiming to analyse it, I think it’s good and important to think critically about the things I feed my brain but more often than not I’m watching movies to wind down and put my thoughts on hold in busy seasons. Every now and then though, I see something and it really makes me think.

Into the Woods was one of those movies.

Into the Woods is the movie adaptation of a musical which is a story combining many of the best known fairy tales from any western person’s childhood. It boasts a star studded cast, the most notable include Meryl Streep who plays the witch, a cameo as the wolf from the story of Little Red Riding Hood from Johnny Depp, and James Cordon and Emily Blunt who play the couple around whom the story revolves.

I found most of the story very enjoyable and typically fairy tale-like. The movie seems like all ends well.
I actually thought that it had ended at one point, Cinderella had married Prince Charming, the wolf who ate Grandma and Little Red was killed and then set free (although in this story the baker played by James Cordon is the one who kills the wolf, not a huntsman), it all seemed to be wrapping up nicely.

Then Jack accidently brings a giant down from the clouds where the beanstalk grew up to and all hell breaks loose.

I'll try not to reveal too much of the story for those who haven’t seen it, but this is where the movie actually made me think. I wasn’t expecting to have such a mental workout, but when the giant starts smashing things up because it wants revenge, suddenly all of these fairy tale characters, who are trying to save the land, reveal moral relativity in a way which took me by surprise.

Let me explain. The baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Little Red Riding Hood (who now wears a cape made of wolf skin) are trapped in the forest; the giant is destroying the villages and the castle, disaster! The giant needs to be stopped!
So they plan to kill the giant.

This is where it gets really interesting. The children in this scene have come across some tough moral dilemmas. Little Red tells Cinderella that she thinks that her mother and grandmother would be upset with her because she is about to kill the giant. Jack also finds out that his mother was killed (by an accident) and wants revenge on the person responsible.
The dialogue and song that follows is what made me sit up and take notice.

“Little Red: I think my mother and Granny would be upset with me. Cinderella: Why?
Little Red: They said to always make them proud, but here I am about to kill somebody.
Cinderella: Not somebody, a giant that has done a lot of harm.
Little Red: But a giant’s a person! Aren’t we to show forgiveness?”

Queue song called ‘No-one is alone’ sung by the adults; Cinderella and the baker.

It’s a song about being confused about what is wrong and right, that everyone makes mistakes but you’re not alone. It sounds good at the start, but as it went on I began to feel uneasy. Have a look at some of the lyrics;

“People make mistakes. Fathers, mothers. People make mistakes, holding to their own, thinking they're alone. Honor their mistake, everybody makes. Fight for their mistakes. One another's terrible mistakes. Witches can be right, giants can be good.
You decide what's right, you decide what's good.
Just remember. Someone is on your side. Our side. Someone else is not. While we're seeing our side. Our side. Our side. Maybe we forgot: they are not alone. No one is alone. Hard to see the light now. Just don't let it go. Things will come out right now. We can make it so. Someone is on your side. No one is alone.”

And then * spoiler alert * they kill the giant.

Now I’m not sure what Little Red is thinking at this point, as she joins in making the trap for the giant, but she started with an instinct for compassion. Jack on the other hand had an instinct for revenge.

Then the adults tell them that they decide what is wrong and right, that everyone has someone who is on their side and agrees with them. And somehow this take on morals, that there are no absolutes and everyone has at least someone on their side, justifies killing the giant.

Even though Little Red has just said that she thinks the giant is a person too, which she still says after Cinderella tells her that because the giant has done a lot of harm, it doesn’t count as a somebody.

Am I the only one who is confused by this?

I might be wrong, but it just doesn’t sit right.

I think for me, the idea of moral relativity and the way it is so vividly illustrated in this movie, is a hard thing to swallow. I immediately want to reject the idea, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I believe that there is such a thing as objective morality.
This is because I believe that there is a holy, perfect and just God who made the world and everything in it and as such has the right to demand a moral standard of his created beings.

The second reason is because I believe, as Little Red suggests, that we are to show forgiveness. And that even though someone has done something harmful to others, they are still a person, and still deserve to be forgiven. This idea is found throughout the Bible, in the idea of God’s forgiveness. That even though we have chosen to reject God as the rightful ruler of our world, he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to take the consequences of our rejection of God, so that we can be forgiven. So in this way, I believe that we, like the giant, we need forgiveness. And because God has forgiven us even when we rejected him, we ought to show others forgiveness.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)”

That’s why the idea of moral relativity in Into the Woods makes me uncomfortable. I wonder how it makes you feel? I am incredibly curious to know how this sits with people who do believe there is no objective morality or moral standards.

I’d love to know what you think! Please do leave a comment, I am genuinely interested in hearing other perspectives on this.


*Image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/promotions/11302311/See-a-preview-screening-of-the-new-Disney-movie-Into-The-Woods.html

Laura Haines
Author

Laura Haines

Laura is a Christian, a wife, a daughter. She has a BBehavSci and GradDipCouns. She works as an International Student Worker at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London.