By Raymond Lam
[SPOILERS for Frozen 2 below!!]
Ever since Disney captured lightning in a bottle with Frozen (2013), its protagonists Elsa and Anna have been interpreted as a sisterly Yin and Yang, as opposites of one kind or another. What warms the hearts of children and adults alike is how different Anna and Elsa seem, yet also utterly complementary and completely free from negative relations. Anna is the feisty and loyal crusader with an indomitable heart, and Elsa is the majestic yet ethereally vulnerable queer icon. Gay literature theorists might point to Anna’s loving relationship with Kristof in contrast to Elsa’s lesbian subtext in her songs and her pointedly single status in a Disney sea of heterosexual princesses. Songs like Anna’s “The Next Right Thing,” as well as the sisters’ co-dependent personalities and shared trauma, have made the Frozen franchise a favourite among psychologists and people living with mental conditions. Yet the ending of this year’s Frozen 2 (2019) betrays a potentially religious-political reading of their duality. This reading is, among many, one gleaned from the actions and choices made by Elsa and Anna throughout the film, as well as what they end up becoming by the movie’s end and the ideas their contexts embody.
I propose that Elsa and Anna represent an ideal, “Disneyfied” vision of church and state. The movie can be seen as both a spiritual apologetic and secular propaganda (defined narrowly as a piece of literature supporting a political point of view) of how Arendellian church and state mutually reinforce each other’s legitimate authority and power.
Anna, specifically, represents the secular monarch who is good and just. She is so worthy that she is willing to right serious wrongs, even if they were committed by her own family in a past generation: in this case, by her grandfather Runeard, whose deception of the Northuldra tribespeople (by building a dam to weaken their land) laid the foundation of conflict for Frozen 2’s story. Elsa, meanwhile, blesses and watches over the Arendellian and Northuldra people as the avatar of the natural-sacred world. By meeting and taming the spirits of wind, fire, earth, and water, Elsa discovers that they were angered by the Northuldra-Arendelle battle and cast an enchanted mist over the forest in which the Northuldra people lived for 34 years. Anna’s decision to lure the earth spirit (in the form of stone giants) to destroy her grandfather’s dam earns the spirits’ favor, who lift the mist and help Elsa save Arendelle from the dam waters that would have otherwise destroyed the kingdom.
Both sisters represent an interconnected re-ordering of a world gone awry, politically and spiritually. This is a theme that ran in mythical fables and political treatises around the world for thousands of years. While Anna restores rightness and justice to the relationship between the nations of Arendelle and Northuldra, Elsa rights the cosmic order between the magical world of nature and humanity. Both sisters, as ethnically-mixed progeny of Runeard’s son Agnarr and the Northuldra woman Iduna, serve as physical and spiritual bridges between not just cultures and peoples, but the sacred and mundane.
Yet the sisters’ mediating functions are differentiated very clearly. We can tell who epitomizes church and who embodies state by two events: first, by Elsa’s discovery of herself as the Snow Spirit (and therefore an equal to the other elemental spirits), and secondly, by Elsa’s ceding of the throne to Anna at the movie’s end. As Elsa sung in her songs “Let It Go” in Frozen (2013), and now “Into The Unknown” and “Show Yourself,” in her heart of hearts she knew she was the wrong queen for Arendelle – not because of her shy personality or anything human, but because she is literally not really human. Her coming to terms with her true, otherworldly identity fully is marked at the mysterious location of Ahtohallan when she frees her hair completely and adopts an angelic, gossamer appearance.
Annoyed detractors of Frozen (2013) – perhaps due to listening to too many renditions of a certain song – might complain that Elsa’s magic, from the ability to create icy castles to animating living, breathing snow-creatures like Olaf, is so ill-defined that it resembles omnipotence. Frozen 2 actually goes further and makes Elsa an embodiment of the Frozen universe’s divine-natural will. Yet Elsa acknowledges that it is Anna who understood how correcting the sin of their family would not just save their kingdom but restore the royal house’s relationship with the sacred. This is a deeply theological notion rooted in medieval European sensibilities (despite Arendelle apparently resembling a Scandinavian kingdom in the late 19thcentury).
Elsa’s renunciation of her crown and Anna’s accession is a further righting of the cosmic order. The transfer of queenly authority is reminiscent of how the Pope would anoint the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, which shaped Christendom’s culture and politics for centuries. In return for (at least in principle) spiritual obedience and the promise to shape society according to Christian piety, the Catholic Church would accord to the Holy Roman Emperor God’s authority. This is exactly what Anna and Elsa set out to do. As more mature versions of themselves in this film, they function as a diarchy of secular authority and religious influence. To respect the natural-spiritual world is to guarantee harmonious relations in not just Arendelle but also between Arendelle and Northuldra.
As an unapologetic Frozen fan over the past six years, I have enjoyed viewing many pieces of fan art proliferating over the Internet of the franchise’s characters. Many of them are superbly drawn by professionals. One beautiful piece of fan art, which was drawn by Seoyeon, captures quite accurately this medieval understanding of the relationship between religious authority and secular kingship. Elsa and Anna are both in their updated attire, with Anna in her queen’s robes and Elsa in her spirit gown. The new sovereign looks down lovingly as the former monarch kisses her hand in tender submission. The only difference this visual depiction has from a medieval tapestry of bishops kneeling before a newly crowned king is that it is even more intimate, a sharing between sisters, blood of blood, spirit and flesh as one.