I have a confession: I am a Gaston apologist.
If you--like most of the people who saw Beauty & the Beast as kids trooped to the cinemas to see the live-action version starring Emma Watson--enjoyed the film, I can't blame you. I did too. There's much to enjoy seeing something from one's childhood come to life again, like reliving that moment in time when things were less complicated.
However, adulthood gives people a new lens to see things. As we understand life a little bit better, our perspective becomes more mature. We are less gullible to messages that we lapped up in our youth.
For one: I know now that love isn't as easygoing as this fairy tale would like us to believe.
Sure, some people end up together until death even after a whirlwind romance--but they are the exception rather than the rule. (It's not being jaded: a study says that couples who dated three years or more had a 39 percent chance of not splitting up, compared to those who dated less than a year.)
But I digress. I started this to say that I think we might have Gaston all wrong, and that the Enchantress is not exactly an exemplary moral arbiter, as we are led to believe in the story.
At the beginning of the movie, we see that the Prince/Beast is greedy, taxing the poor so he can indulge his luxuries. His act of greed is not enough, however, to earn him condemnation: a single incident of turning away the Enchantress disguised as an old woman is what earns the Prince the curse.
Amusingly, we also see his faithful servants cursed as well, through no fault of their own save for the fact that they happened to reside in the same castle as the Prince.
Why though? What did they do to also earn the ire of the Enchantress and to deserve such punishment?
For the purpose of argument, let's say that they might have had the opportunity to change the Prince for the better, and that they kept their silence despite this opportunity. (Of course, a good counterpoint to that will be that they were mere servants, and that it was the Prince's father the King who was truly responsible with how the Prince should've turned out to be.) Let's say that (like the meek German citizens of the Nazi regime) the servants became willing accomplices to the evils of the Prince.
How come, however, that it still wasn't up to them to redeem themselves? How come their redemption still depended on whether the Prince would eventually love someone and have someone love him back?
Why didn't the Enchantress give them the chance to work for their own redemption without having to rely on someone to have a change of heart?
Which leads me to my other point: why will the Prince's lack of a love life after a prescribed period of time condemn him into a living, breathing Beast for the rest of his life--and yet the servants will end up as inanimate objects?
Let me get this straight: the Beast gets lifetime imprisonment, while the servants get the death penalty? Isn't that a bit harsh, Enchantress?
(Now, if you say that the Enchantress wanted to surround the Beast with good people who might lead him to his redemption, then you deprive the servants of their own agencies to live their lives for their own sake.)
This now brings me to my crucial point.
In the movie, Gaston never gets a backstory. Nor does he get an opportunity to redeem himself. We only see a self-absorbed man who is bent on marrying Belle, by hook or by crook.
Didn't he also deserve that same second chance that the Enchantress gave the Beast?
Come to think of it, wasn't the Beast more evil than Gaston? If the Beast made the people suffer in spite of his privilege and expensive education, then surely he was more accountable for his mistakes--more accountable than the lowly Gaston who we see is not as educated as he was.
We could even say that the villagers were the simpletons that they were because the Beast wasn't benevolent enough to extend the knowledge that he selfishly kept to himself. We could assume that the small-mindedness of the townsfolk was to be blamed on the Beast. He (and his royal family) may have wanted them dumb because they were cheap labor. Through either sin of omission or commission, he failed at teaching the people to extend their understanding: those books he left to gather dust in his library might have even taught the people a little bit about empathy.
(Imagine the wonders education might have provided the people; after all, we see how literature transforms prisoners enough so they don't go back to a life of crime.)
But of course, a lot of us will frame Gaston as a one-dimensional bad guy--not a victim of a system set up by the Beast. To many who've seen the movie, Gaston is nothing but an evil, narcissistic being who did not deserve love or empathy.
Real life though is more complex than Beauty and the Beast. People have more dimensions than these simplistic caricatures. Those who we are quick to frame as evil might have a past that we refuse to assess--quickly condemning them to damnation when, like the Beast, they deserve redemption (and love) too.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.