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Film to End Your Week

‘Maleficent,’ dir. Robert Stromberg

Kick off the autumn acceleration toward Halloween with a dark fantasy flick

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Film to end your week

If you’re like me, you remember the angular elegance and icy poise of Maleficent from Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty.” In 1959, she was an antagonist allotted only minimal motive and no backstory, but in 2014, Disney returned to the classic fairytale with a new approach in mind: tell the story of their lethally alluring villain.

With Angelina Jolie in the titular role, “Maleficent” deepens and updates many elements of the original animation, weaving a rich tapestry of entangled backstory. The film follows its eponymous anti-heroine from her beginnings as a winged defender of her fairy homeland and into maturity. Fascinatingly, the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora — who had no adult interaction in the 1959 telling — becomes the linchpin of both characters’ arcs.

While “Maleficent” certainly has enough ravens, black outfits, and haunted ruins to vibe with the Halloween season, it also has truly dark thematic elements. The most haunting moment of the movie comes when Maleficent awakens from a drugged sleep to find that the wings which defined her youth have been forcibly cut from her body. The scene has clear overtones of sexual assault — especially because it occurs when she is unconscious — and the aftershocks of that trauma inform Maleficent’s choices throughout the rest of the film. 

“Maleficent” fights hard for its anti-heroine, infusing her with rich dynamism while also demanding that she face the consequences and collateral damage of her revenge-driven cruelty. She is unabashedly multi-dimensional and brought mesmerizingly to life by Jolie. Her big-screen story shouldn’t be written off as another cookie-cutter blockbuster of Disney’s current “revive and revise” era; it shines both visually and thematically. 

With Halloween approaching, “Maleficent” is a timely watch that helps restore an element of complexity to our mass cultural contemplation of good and evil. And if this flick is to your liking and you find yourself craving more, you’ll be well-equipped to watch the sequel, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which hits theaters Oct. 18.

Reach writer Marissa Gaston at arts@dailyuw.edu.

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