Frozen Fatherhood

Frozen funeral

Do you see what’s wrong with the picture above? Keep reading – we’ll come back to it.

The overarching theme of Frozen, my new very favorite movie, is the struggle between love and fear. I’ve already argued that Frozen speaks from a moral worldview that challenges the deepest roots of the cult of self-expression; now I’m going to carry that a little further. I think Frozen responds in a powerful way to the breakdown of the family. (Spoilers below.)

The contrast between love and fear begins right at the start of the movie, with the ice miners:

Cut through the heart, cold and clear!
Strike for love and strike for fear!
There’s beauty and there’s danger here
Split the ice apart!
Beware the frozen heart…

In our broken world, you can’t have love without fear. To be in relationship with people is to make ourselves vulnerable to pain, loss and injustice. “There’s beauty and there’s danger here.” But if we allow our fear to drive us away from loving relationship, we end up with frozen hearts.

C.S. Lewis writes in the conclusion of his masterpiece, The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

This is why the family is dying – people are running away from permanent bonds. People are afraid to treat marriage as what it is – a promise of permanence – because that kind of love leaves no escape hatch. We want to be able to get away if we really have to. And thus we are producing a whole culture of frozen hearts.

The only solution to the pain and injustice love subjects us to is not to run from love, but to face our fears and conquer them with more love, with deeper love, with love that can “cut through the heart” and, as the lyric says elsewhere, “break the frozen heart.”

Do you see now what’s wrong with the picture at the top of the post? Keep looking. It took me three viewings of the movie before I saw it.

 Frozen parents 2

The troll tells the young Elsa, speaking about her powers, “There is beauty in it, but also great danger. Fear will be your enemy.”

But her father responds to this with . . . fear. He teaches Elsa: “Conceal it, don’t feel it.” That’s the fear response – people who are afraid of being hurt by love respond by trying not to feel.

He means well, but he is locking his daughter’s heart in that dark, motionless casket Lewis described. And so his fatherhood ends up looking like this:

elsa_don't touch me

“Don’t touch me!” cries little Elsa. “I don’t want to hurt you!” And he doesn’t. He doesn’t touch her.

The whole plot of the movie unfolds from that one mistake. Little girls need to be held by their dads, especially when they’re afraid. He should have said to himself, damn the danger, I’m going to hold my little girl and make sure she knows that I love her. But he didn’t.

By his example, he taught her that fear is more powerful than love.

Now do you see it? Go back up and look carefully.

Anna Swing_Painting

The entire plot of the movie is explained by this fact: Elsa and Anna were starved for love by their father. Elsa retreats in fear – “don’t let them in, don’t let them see”; “don’t let them in, don’t let them know.” Anna, by contrast, is so desperate for something to fill the void of her father’s love that she rushes into the arms of the first handsome man she (literally) stumbles across.

Elsa’s retreat from the bonds of relationship and obligation doesn’t work. Oh, sure, she has that exuberant power ballad about being alone and free. “The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all!” she claims.

But it’s not true. As soon as Anna shows up and tells her that Arendelle is covered in snow, we see that she never left the fear behind. After she casts Anna out of her castle, we see her pacing back and forth, clenching her fists, scrunching up her brows, chanting: “Don’t feel it, don’t feel it.” Nothing has really changed. And the horrible ice daggers begin to grow out of the walls toward her.

Oh, and she kills her sister.

Anna Frozen_Heart

As for Anna’s way of seeking a male love to replace her father’s, well . . . what needs to be said? Look around you at our culture and ask how many Annas we’ve produced, rushing headlong into “love,” doing tremendous damage to their own hearts because they can’t bear the isolation. The only difference is that they’ve been at it so long and have failed so completely to find anything to fill the holes in their hearts, they’ve now grown content to simply give the Hanses of the world what they want. They don’t think anything better is possible. And thus our men become more and more like Hans, because no higher expectations are set for them.

There’s only one person. In the funeral scene, in the picture above. Standing between the gravestones in the center, there’s only one person. There ought to be two daughters there.

Elsa didn’t go to her father’s funeral.


Kristoff, for all his eccentricities, is a decent and prudent man because he was taken in by the trolls – the love experts. As he explains to Anna, he was on his own until they took him in and raised him. He was raised by a family – a whole family. It’s a family of weird people, which is why Kristoff is a weird man. But who would not rather be him than literally anyone else in this movie? He is, without contest, the only happy and virtuous human being in the story.

Think I’m reading something into the movie that isn’t there? Well, I suppose I wouldn’t be the first, if you look at some of the cockamamie theories that have gained circulation.

But before you dismiss me, consider the final stanza of “Fixer-Upper”:

Everyone’s a bit of a fixer upper
That’s what it’s all about!
Father! Sister! Brother!
We need each other
To raise us up and round us out!

You see what they did there? We need fathers to raise us up.

I’m telling you, these people are playing to win.

4 Thoughts.

  1. Even better, the filmmakers *wanted* you to notice that Elsa wasn’t at the funeral. And for her absence to be uncomfortable.

    Look at all the symmetries in that shot, and how everything leads the eye towards the center — two soldiers on each side, two grave stones, the way the soldiers’ heads face the center, the way the stones ‘lean’ towards the center.

    And then a huge, gaping hole opposite Anna, where Elsa should be standing. It breaks all the symmetries. The asymmetry is going to stand out — but it’s also going to leave the viewer feeling unsettled, like something’s missing. (Because something IS missing!)

    I love it when skilled people tell good stories.

      • The outline of the priest is connected to the outline of the rock, so his asymmetry is muted. Besides, wouldn’t the ‘normal’ place for the priest in this composition be in the middle? Why did they hide him off to the side, except to further emphasize the gaping hole where Elsa should have been?

  2. Pingback: “They’re Kind of the Opposite” | Hang Together

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