Monday, February 10, 2014

Frozen's "Let It Go": Sad Isolation Song or Triumphant Anthem?

Last week I had a fascinating conversation with one of my good friends, Jennie, and wanted to share that conversation here.

It all revolved around the song "Let It Go" from Frozen. If you haven't seen the movie, there are definitely spoilers ahead, and this post also won't make much sense. If you have seen the movie, however, chime in in the comments -- I'd love to hear your take on it!

Jennie's comments are in bold and on the right. Mine are plain and on the left.

I just came across a thing that made me go "wait . . . What?" I saw a comment on someone else's Facebook post that "let it go" is becoming some kind of anthem for people who have left/are leaving the LDS faith, and . . . Is that supposed to be ironic? Did they not watch the movie?

No, it's not ironic at all. It's become kind of anthemic for a lot of things, specifically with the idea of breaking out of things/situations where they felt like they had to hide who they were or keep from showing true emotions, so it's become a leaving faith anthem, a coming out anthem, a leaving-abusive-relationship anthem... all that kind of thing.

I mean, I love the song, but IMO it shouldn't be an anthem for anybody, any more than, say, "on my own" should be. Yes, it sounds all triumphant and liberating, but it's actually so phenomenally sad!

That's interesting that you felt that. It doesn't feel like a sad song to me at all. It feels *very* triumphant to me. Because even though she may be in (self-imposed) isolation now, for the first time in YEARS she actually feels free to be herself, and that's a really positive thought for me.

Yeah, but . . . It's not until the end of the movie, when Elsa reconnects with the people who love her, that she learns she wasn't as restricted ad she thought and only then, back in that place she left, that she reaches her full potential. The sad part is she didn't NEED to be in isolation.

Huh. That's a really interesting reading. I guess to me... her isolation and self-expression is a definite step forward rather than a step backward, although it's not the end of the journey. She still needs to figure out how to express herself AND reconnect with people, but before she was doing neither, and then suddenly she gets to do one

The trolls said fear would be her enemy - and her parents fear is exactly what kept her isolated her whole life.

Exactly, and when she finds a way to live without that fear, it's exhilarating for her, at least short-term.

So she put herself in further isolation, which, yes, felt freeing at first, but she didn't actually heal yet, not until she went back.

I see it as her gladly trading the isolation of her stone castle for the isolation of her ice castle, because at least this way she won't hurt anybody.

Well, yeah - I guess the sad for me is that she has no idea how good she could have it.

That's the thing, I guess, "Let It Go" speaks deeply to me of the moment when you're like, "I JUST FIGURED OUT I DON'T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS ANYMORE" and even though there may be a downside to the new arrangement, even though you may not have healed yet, it's still an incredibly joyous moment to find freedom of any kind.

That's so interesting. It just honestly never occurred to me to see it as a sad song. It feels very... self-empowermenty.

From Elsa's point of view, yes, it's a song about freedom, but from an outside perspective it's a sad song about feeling like you have to leave whatever other good behind to try and find yourself. And you end up locking yourself away in an ice castle, alone.

I don't know how well you know "Defying Gravity" but that's the song it always gets compared to -- do you feel like that one is sad too?

Oh, definitely had the same feel. She's doing what she thinks she needs to do, but she ends up dying alone and unloved. (Haven't seen the whole musical, but nobody seems to mourn her in the original story.) So for me both songs are sad in the long-run context for me.

Huh. This is kinda mind blowing for me.

I mean, can you kind of see what I'm saying, though?

I guess... it just feels weird to me because I feel like that makes *everything* sad. Because if the movie ends happily for someone (like Frozen) the entire beginning is sad because they're not there yet, and if it ends somewhat badly for someone (like Wicked) it's sad because of where they end up. My brain isn't sure how to respond to that.

Oh, no, I made the whole world sad for Hannah, LOL

LOL! No, my emotions are responding to it just fine, it's just really befuddling to me.


OK, so I think we're looking at it from opposite angles.


You're looking at it from the ending and saying, "Elsa doesn't know how good things can/will get, and she's not there yet and she's sad," and I'm looking at it from the beginning, where she came from, and saying, "Elsa has finally found some semblance of happiness, that's awesome, I'm sure she'll figure the rest of it out eventually." (If she didn't, then I could be sad.)

I didn't say SHE was sad, I said the song was.

OK, well, wait, let me ask this question then: Do you think running away WAS a step forward? Or do you think it really was not a positive change at all?Because that makes a difference.

I figured she's not really any MORE isolated than she was in Arendell or whatever the town name is, and at least this way she gets to be free, even if she is lonely. But if it feels like a step... sideways or backward to you, that hugely changes things

(I'm so intrigued by all of this. It's just a POV on the movie I'd never have considered and I'm trying to wrap my brain around it.)

That's a complicated question, really. Imagine if she'd been up there alone and nobody had come to find her? What if it was years instead of only a couple days? What if she finally got lonely and bored of making beautiful ice things for herself, and she finally came back to see if her sister wanted to build a snowman - and found the ice age she'd created by leaving had left the land she grew up in desolate?

Now, maybe it was the step she personally needed to get past the fear her parents had instilled in her, but she never would have gotten over it alone, so was it a positive step in itself? I think I'd say no.

I think the only part that makes that hypothetical scenario any sadder than living isolated in Arendell her whole life is that she'd have desolated the town. If the town had found a way to survive and she had ever chosen to come back (which I doubt she would have), I feel like AT WORST she'd be no worse off than she was living in fear at Arendell. Because living *just* in loneliness seems better to me than living in loneliness *and* fear.

Sometimes loneliness IS fear.

But her fear was that she was going to hurt someone else, and she couldn't if she was alone.

Imagine instead if instead of suppressing her powers she'd used them carefully, learned how to control them better, and stayed close to her sister. Then maybe the ice age never would have happened, and she would never have felt the need to isolate herself

I agree all those good things *could* have happened, but I don't see any way they would have if she hadn't left. Not the way her parents entrenched her in fear. She was never going to break out of it if something drastic didn't happen. At least I don't think so. I mean, obviously it's not ideal. The actual ending is the best one, but I think getting a taste of living without fear ultimately strengthened her. And that never would have happened at Arendell.

But the whole "I'm never going back, the past is in the past" - well, as Rafiki said, you can either run from it, or learn from it."

I agree she maybe shouldn't refuse to look back and learn from it.

Yes, exactly.

But the feeling of knowing you never HAVE to go back to something is immensely freeing. I feel like that's an emotional statement of joy more than anything else.

My argument isn't that it isn't freeing, or wouldn't be a necessary step. It's that it probably shouldn't necessarily be aspired to. Just like Elsa had no idea her full potential could be reached with her sister's help, I sometimes wonder if people understand what they are really giving up.

I don't know that the song is meant to be prescriptive, though. It's just an expression of excitement and joy of a burden being lifted off of you.

And you get in an "I'm free I'm free - dang it" situation.

But even "I'm free I'm free - dang it" is better than constant aching misery, and I don't feel that makes the initial freedom any less joyful and exciting just because she hasn't figured out the balance yet. At least for me.

Oh, not for me either. People learn things in their own time, and they need to make mistakes to do it.

But I think maybe for me that's because I feel like I've occasionally DONE this. Like, honestly, my decision to not go to church was like that. And my decision to be a crazy introvert hermit once I finally figured out it was OK to not want to be social all the time was like that.

I don't know if I've told you about that - when I finally started figuring out it was OK to want to be alone, I withdrew like CRAZY. Even though ultimately I was like, "Yeah, this isn't as fun anymore, I want to find a better balance," the initial feeling of "I NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN" was freaking. Amazing.

So I guess I connect to it on that level. There can be something so liberating about leaving certain things behind FOREVER -- even if it turns out later you can't leave them forever and you need them back in your life -- but at the time it feels like FOREVER and it feels awesome.

No, I get that, it's actually why I love the song. It isn't sad that Elsa needed to leave, and it isn't sad that Elsa potentially didn't need to leave, it's sad that she didn't know there might be other options. I love that Anna never stopped reaching out to her sister EVER. It's sad because Elsa was too afraid to try anything else BUT run away. Does that make it a bit clearer? I guess it's a very specific kind of sad for me. She had no idea how much she was loved and needed.

Hmm. OK. I guess I get that. I think it is sad that she didn't know there were other options, but I also think whatever she had to do to break through the fear was a positive thing and a triumphant thing, even if it couldn't last. There was no way she was going to just suddenly not be afraid and reach out to her sister, something big had to happen to push her to do that, something had to FORCE her to break through it. And so I guess that doesn't make me sad for her during Let It Go, because, hey, breaking through fear is a triumphant moment, but it definitely makes me HECKA sad for everything up until that point.

I think I see your point, it just feels weird for "Let It Go" to be included in the sadness because it feels like a positive high point for me, even though not THE positive high point.

Hehe. My brain works in strange ways, I guess.

But I think I understand it intellectually even if I can't grasp it emotionally.

Ok, cool.

I am really intrigued by that. Like I wonder what it says about our personalities that that's how we view it. It probably means I'm flighty and love to abandon things.

What do you guys think? Do you see both sides of this? Were you as taken aback as either one of us at hearing the other view?


  1. Well, I haven't seen Frozen, but I have had a sort-of similar experience of seeing a fictional occurrence as not sad when other people are seeing it as sad.

    There's a bit of fanfiction that I've read about the death of a main character in the series, but because of what happens in it, it doesn't read as sad to me. Come to think of it, in that respect, it reminds me of the end of C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, which isn't sad to me except insofar as Susan quite possibly won't be joining them ever, even though it's the other main characters who died.


  2. I've always felt that this song was sad. I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

    Elsa nearly killed her sister when they were kids. From that point on she was in a self imposed isolation, living in constant fear that she might hurt her family but with the hope of one day being able to control it. She then lost her parents, the only two people that knew about her powers and were trying to help her figure out ways of dealing with them, and yet Elsa carried on as she felt it was her responsibility.

    All of this built up to the moment when everyone found out about Elsa's powers and were terrified of her, so she ran, Out in the wilderness scared and alone Elsa finally snapped, giving up all hope of being able to control her powers and reunite with the sister she loves so dearly. As Elsa embraces her power, she isn't celebrating, she is simply trying to find a bright side to her acceptance that she will be alone for the rest of her life.

    Elsa is truly a broken spirit at that point.

    1. See, the more I think about it, the more I just don't see it. But maybe that's because I strongly identify with Elsa and think she would see things as I see things -- and I would choose every time to be alone forever and truly myself than with companionship but hiding who I am. BOTH are forms of isolation, since companionship (to me) doesn't really count if they don't know the real you... but the first is infinitely, forever and always preferable to me.

  3. I guess how sad it is depends on how closely you look at it. I think she's at her weakest here and many of the lyrics are indications of her lying to herself due to her fear, while I have family members who say the song is empowering as she's stopped trying to hide who she is.

    She came out to be crowned thinking just possibly that she would be safe and be able to spend some time with others, and the believed reality of the situation slams her against the wall, saying "No, I showed you all this because this is what you will never have." It's heart-breaking in a way. She runs, while letting her power out, not giving much consideration to what might happen, running away from it all, closing herself off once again from everybody around her in fear that she'll hurt somebody yet again. That said, she's busy telling herself she's not afraid, that the cold never bothered her anyway (when she's got such a tremendous heart, and was totally afraid for her sister when she was getting frozen). She basically just got hope back, and just a tiny bit later gets that hope torn to pieces. I don't find this too happy of a song even if others may say she's starting to accept herself in the middle of the song. I don't really think she was accepting herself, but rather putting up loads of icy barriers around her heart so that it would never be torn apart so violently again.

    1. Huh. That's interesting. I still don't think I buy it, but that's an intriguing take on it. It's just hard for me to see that song as anything other than a step forward for Elsa. Sure, it's not the full story, and she ends up significantly happier at the end than she was there, but it's so much better than where she had been. I still wholeheartedly believe that she was no MORE isolated than she had been before, but this time she has no pressure to hide herself. I do believe that song is a celebration of that -- maybe the audience is meant to see the irony of her self-imposed isolation, but I think it's entirely sincere on Elsa's part. She doesn't even really have a concept anymore of being whole and loved, so I believe this moment of freedom, however short-lived, is genuine for her.

    2. And it may be just me and the fact I've never seen Wicked, but it seems to have a totally different feel to it than the song you compared it to. It sounds to me like you have a girl who is feeling more honestly empowered and accepting of who she has to be in Wicked than here in Frozen. It actually seems like a more uplifting song in Wicked, and I still know what happens to said character.

    3. Interesting. I definitely think those have the same feel, and my friend who disagreed with me in the post thought so too, but on the other side (feeling that they both were sad). But now we know that for at least one person they don't feel the same!

  4. Saying that "Let it go" was a happy song is the same as being happy for a person who commited suicide, because they got they wanted.

    1. Whoa! No, because where "Let It Go" lands is obviously not the end goal. If that was where the movie ended, then yes, it WOULD be a sad song. She SHOULDN'T live in isolation forever. But letting go of the pressure is a step forward, and that's a positive change, even if more still needs to be done.

      Suicide is a definite end to the story. There's no step forward after that. It's not at all the same.

    2. (I think my response didn't get through)

      I made the comparison because Elsa at the time did want to permanently be by herself, to liberate the world from her pressence and vice versa. I wouldn't consider it a step forward, because like you said, it wasn't necessary.

      Only at the end where she began using her powers for beautiful things did I think she -really- let go of the pressure and fear. When she isolated herself it was just running away.

      I think in many aspects this is similar to what I compared it to.