Well, I watched the new Disney animated film Encanto last weekend. I can’t say that I really wanted to, but the Angel did, and I very much like the Angel and she watches A LOT of superhero movies with me, so I watched Encanto. (Also, I usually cry while these new Disney/Pixar movies take me apart – let’s not even talk about Up or Inside Out.)
So anyway, it was very good. It wasn’t Frozen good, but it was very good. What I found exceptional was how open & honest it was about difficult emotions, struggles, image-making, expectations, inadequacy, and insecurity. I know, I know, these subjects are often there, but they’re hidden a little, like Easter eggs for parents, so when we’re crying, the kids aren’t sure exactly why.
In Encanto, there’s an older sister whose gift is physical strength. She sings a song called “Surface Pressure” that we need to talk about.
“I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous. I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is. I move mountains, I move churches. And I glow ’cause I know what my worth is. I don’t ask how hard the work is. Got a rough indestructible surface. Diamonds and platinum, I find ’em, I flatten ’em. I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanding.” This is the first verse and it’s as disingenuous as we are. It’s full of posturing. It’s full of the biggest mountain of lies. It’s you & me and everyone we see. Is Encanto a documentary?
It’s not, because she continues, “But Under the surface. I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus. Under the surface. Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”? Under the surface. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service. A flaw or a crack. The straw in the stack That breaks the camel’s back. What breaks the camel’s back? It’s Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa. Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’till you just go pop, whoa.” Wow, right? If I told you how many times I have felt exactly this way. I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service? This was supposed to be a kids movie with singing and dancing about a house that’s alive. Drip, drip, drip.
Listen to these questions, through the song: “Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?…Who am I if I can’t carry it all?…I think about my purpose, can I somehow preserve this?…If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations, Would that free some room up for joy Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?…Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?”
Who am I? Am I more than my performance, more than these expectations? What if I can’t carry it all? I think about all of the men I know, the dads, husbands, threatening to buckle under all of this weight. (I know it’s the women, too, I just happen to relate to the men because I’m, you know, a man. I see the women. I see the pressure to be everything to everyone, gorgeous, fit, smart, independent, strong, funny, perfect moms and CEOs and lovers and yogis, to shoulder more and more responsibility, more and more stress, more and more and more.)
Of course it’s too much. This is a kids movie, so I think of the children in schools, saddled with the same amount of uncontrollable, overwhelming pressure. I picture the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, ever contracting to smush the heroes, but this isn’t a movie and R2-D2 isn’t going to stop it just in time. I think we have to stop this, to bring this hamster wheel to a screeching halt.
Who am I if I can’t carry it all? Maybe I was never supposed to carry it all in the first place. Maybe we weren’t supposed to run with the ball. Maybe what we think it “takes” was a red herring all along and it doesn’t and never did matter if we have it.
Encanto was very good, but it hit a little too close to home. I guess it needs to, right? Otherwise we will keep on ignoring the rising heat, like lobsters in a pot. It’s a good thing the songs were so catchy.