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Disney’s summer blockbuster Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, tells the tale of the witch in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.
This tale of redemption breaks away from the narrative dichotomies of typical fairy tales—and has many parallels to the life of the soul and concept of sacrifice as described in the Baha’i writings:
Ye are even as the bird which soareth, with the full force of its mighty wings and with complete and joyous confidence, through the immensity of the heavens, until, impelled to satisfy its hunger, it turneth longingly to the water and clay of the earth below it, and, having been entrapped in the mesh of its desire, findeth itself impotent to resume its flight to the realms whence it came. Powerless to shake off the burden weighing on its sullied wings, that bird, hitherto an inmate of the heavens, is now forced to seek a dwelling-place upon the dust. Wherefore, O My servants, defile not your wings with the clay of waywardness and vain desires, and suffer them not to be stained with the dust of envy and hate, that ye may not be hindered from soaring in the heavens of My divine knowledge. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 327.
The character of Maleficent, like the “bird” spoken of in the quotation above, symbolizes the human soul. Born with magnificent wings, she loses them in a terrible act of betrayal and becomes “entrapped in the mesh” of her sorrow, anger and pain, all reflected in the decay of her outer environment and interactions with others.
“I used to have wings once…they were strong,” Maleficent laments. But she has no idea how to return to her former noble state. She ends up feeding the hunger of her helplessness by hatching plans to take revenge.
Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self, that the radiance of the living God may then shine forth. The martyr’s field is the place of detachment from self, that the anthems of eternity may be upraised. Do all ye can to become wholly weary of self, and bind yourselves to that Countenance of Splendours; and once ye have reached such heights of servitude, ye will find, gathered within your shadow, all created things. This is boundless grace; this is the highest sovereignty; this is the life that dieth not. All else save this is at the last but manifest perdition and great loss. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 76-77.
She only gains short-term pleasure from her revenge, and in fact, it becomes the source of greater regret. Maleficent’s heart begins to thaw as she experiences love from a most unexpected source–the very person she cursed. This love begins to slowly reshape her existence. As soon as Maleficent decides to sacrifice her life so that her loved one might survive, a process is set in motion that ultimately results in regaining her wings and becoming a stronger version of her former self.
…man must sacrifice the qualities and attributes of the world of nature for the qualities and attributes of the world of God. For instance, consider the substance we call iron. Observe its qualities; it is solid, black, cold. These are the characteristics of iron. When the same iron absorbs heat from the fire, it sacrifices its attribute of solidity for the attribute of fluidity. It sacrifices its attribute of darkness for the attribute of light, which is a quality of the fire. It sacrifices its attribute of coldness to the quality of heat which the fire possesses so that in the iron there remains no solidity, darkness or cold. It becomes illumined and transformed, having sacrificed its qualities to the qualities and attributes of the fire. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 451.
This profound concept of sacrifice holds the key to emotional healing and happiness. Maleficent experiences a positive transformation, or spiritual growth, not by dwelling on her pain and incapacity, but by spending her time ensuring the well-being of another person. Her willingness to sacrifice also results in her becoming the cause of unity and prosperity for two warring nations. This describes the profound impact individual sacrifice can have on a society.
To me, the most powerful image in the film was the last scene: Maleficent soaring “with the full force of [her] mighty wings and with complete and joyous confidence” towards the sun. Her eyes are closed as she basks in the soft sunlight stroking her face. She has finally returned.