For a lot of people film analysis is boring and I’ll admit I’m in the minority that think it’s not. I am a media student, so I’ll say that studying film, literature, writing and photography is all very exciting to me, and I absolute love procrastinating by watching Lindsay Ellis’s video essays when I’m supposed to writing my own essays.
Her videos recently made me want to revisit some of the movies I grew up with like Beauty and the Beast, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The last one has really stuck with me, again it’s an adaption of a novel by one of my favourite authors, Victor Hugo. Somehow he manages to capture the tragedy and beauty of humanity all at once in his writing and the film adaptation of Hunchback gives new breath to his work.
Movies and their meanings
Hugo’s original novel actually differs greatly from Disney’s adaptation, as do many Disney products, but in this context it’s a good thing. Hugo’s work originally centred around the importance of Notre Dame and historical preservation and how despite the destitute of man, architecture lives on. The movie, however, reminds us of the importance of inner beauty and kindness in and unkind world.
We see this contrasted in the characters of Frollo and Quasimodo. Frollo is the epitome of hypocrisy and reminds me a lot of Jevert in terms of his outlook on faith and religiosity. He seeks perfection in others without recognising what’s going on in his own heart. In his song Hellfire he blames Esmeralda for her beauty and causing him to lust after her, but fails to realise that it is his own heart that is truly at fault.
He continues throughout the story exploiting and persecuting the Romani people living in Paris, he manipulates and belittles Quasimodo and, as a whole, only seeks “justice” that serves him and his agenda all while justifying it through his “faith.” The only reason he takes care of Quasimodo at all is guilt, not compassion. His actions mirror so many leaders today, but I won’t get in to that. His foil is then Quasimodo who‘s feared for being different and perceived as a monster for his physical appearance.
The reality of his character is, however, that he is loving and kind and exemplifies this through his actions. Despite the cruelty of the world, he remains kind, and is able to see the world can be kind in return when people look past the physical and see the heart, which is what Esmeralda does.
Kindness is important
I think it’s an interesting movie. One that is relevant today still. While some parts haven’t aged as well, particularly the depiction of Esmeralda and the Romani, at its core it is a reminder that there is good in the world; that kindness to others is important and difference, physical or otherwise, is not something to fear but embrace and celebrate.
One of my favourite scenes that really shows the core of the film is the song God Help the Outcasts. Esmeralda has just sought sanctuary in Notre Dame and is surrounded by church-goers, asking for things; praying for beauty, wealth, happiness. However, she asks for nothing but for God to help those on the fringe of society, the outcasts, those deemed strange, unclean, less than. It is this song that breaks my heart because it’s still relevant today.
No matter how we may see ourselves as Christians living in Australia or in the western world, one thing is for certain: we have it good. Really good. It can be hard, as life is hard, but sometimes it takes us looking beyond whatever plight we believe we have, and into the life of someone else for us to realise we need to start being kinder. More loving as a whole and as individuals, we are supposed to be the ones bringing people in, not pushing people out. Anyways, it’s an underrated movie in my opinion. Check it out if you have the chance.
Hope Pratt is an American Australian starting my first year at University. My family and I lived in Afghanistan for 6 years before moving to Australia. I am currently living in Sydney, which has been my longest home yet.