I had planned on analyzing Spider-Man 3 for a chiastic structure before moving on to any other film, but I couldn’t get Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) out of my head, so it looks like this is the one I’m meant to do right now. So be it.
Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s a perfect movie, combining animation and music in a special way no other animated film has managed to achieve. Adding to its greatness, the film’s story is told in the form of a chiasmus. A chiasmus is when the first and second halves mirror each other perfectly, and the main focal point of the story is found at the middle, not the beginning or end.
I’m so excited to show you this chiasmus because it makes this film even more meaningful and beautiful!
Here are Beauty and the Beast’s events listed in order to reveal their chiastic structure:
A. Stained-glass window tells the story of how the Beast and his castle became cursed
B. Belle walks through town while the townsfolk talk about how strange she is for reading fairytale books
C. Belle politely rejects Gaston’s overtures and then hears an explosion at her home
D. Despite her father’s despair, Belle encourages him to keep working on his invention, which finally works
E. Maurice nearly falls off a cliff
F. Maurice gets attacked by wolves before arriving at the Beast’s castle in the rain
G. Maurice enters the castle and is greeted warmly by the servants
H. Gaston gathers the villagers for his wedding, but gets kicked out of Belle’s house
I. Belle yearns for adventure and gets interrupted by Phillipe
J. Belle goes to the Beast’s castle in search of her father
K. Belle surrenders her freedom to free her father
L. The Beast commands Belle to join him for dinner
M. Lefou encourages Gaston to cheer up after being disgraced by Belle
N. Gaston gets his ego stroked by Lefou and his other friends with a song
O. The Beast tells Belle she can starve if she won’t eat with him
P. Lumiere disregards Cogsworth’s warnings not to go overboard with serving dinner to Belle
Q. Cogsworth and Lumiere give Belle a tour of the castle and learn that she likes libraries
R. Belle enters the West Wing, which she knows she’s forbidden to do
S. Belle gets scared away by the Beast
T. Belle runs away from the castle to escape the Beast
U. Wolves chase Belle and are about to kill her
U. The Beast fights the wolves and chases them away
T. Belle slowly returns to the castle with a wounded Beast
S. Belle stands up for herself against the Beast
R. Gaston makes a deal with the asylum caretaker to lock up Maurice, which they know is wrong
Q. The Beast gives Belle the biggest library she’s ever seen
P. The Beast shows a lack of table manners as he eats breakfast with Belle
O. Belle invites the Beast to eat with her in a way that makes them both feel comfortable
N. The Beast befriends Belle by learning to be gentle, kind, and humble over a song
M. Lumiere encourages the Beast to share his true feelings with Belle
L. Belle joins the Beast for dinner and dancing of her own free will
K. The Beast releases Belle to save her father
J. Belle leaves the Beast’s castle in search of her father
I. Belle ruminates on her adventure with the Beast and gets interrupted by Chip
H. Gaston rallies the townsfolk to kill the Beast and locks Belle in her cellar
G. The townsfolk barge into the Beast’s castle and are attacked by the servants
F. Gaston fights the Beast in the rain on the castle roof
E. Gaston falls to his death
D. When all hope is lost, Belle tells the Beast she loves him, which transforms him back into his human form
C. Fireworks erupt and return the castle and its inhabitants to normal as the Prince happily greets his servants
B. Belle dances with the Prince in a scene straight out of a fairytale while all the servants look on
A. Stained-glass window shows the castle and its inhabitants restored to their former beauty
And now we will compare each side of the chiasmus on an individual basis to show even more clearly how they match up.
A. Stained-Glass Storytelling
Beauty and the Beast opens on a slow dolly and long zoom into a castle until we focus in on a stained-glass window. The window shows the story of how the castle and its inhabitants became cursed while a narrator explains it in words. The narration ends with an ominous statement about the Beast’s hopelessness of ever being loved.
The film ends with a quick zoom out from another stained-glass window showing the effects of the lifted curse on the inhabitants under the red rose that once symbolized the Beast’s dwindling amount of time to break the curse. Now it symbolizes the beauty, inside and out, of the castle and its inhabitants, as well as the love shared by Belle and the Prince.
B. Sleeping Beauty and the Beast
In the early morning light, Belle walks through her quiet town to return a fairytale book to the local bookshop. When she gets there, the shop owner is so delighted by her love of reading, he offers her favorite fairytale book Sleeping Beauty as a gift to her. She delightedly reads it, seemingly oblivious to Gaston’s scheme to win her over and the townsfolk’s rude gossip about her.
In the morning light, Belle dances with the Prince in his castle in a scene that’s straight out of a fairytale. In fact, the final shot of her dancing with the Prince is an homage to the final shot of Sleeping Beauty (1959) in its framing and composition. Belle’s attention is solely fixed on the Prince, making her oblivious to the servants who reverently look at her and their master with great love and admiration.
Gaston approaches Belle and rudely demands her attention while strongly implying she should love him. Trying to be as polite as she can, Belle excuses herself from Gaston by telling him she needs to go to her father. She hurries away from him after she hears what sounds like a firework explode in her home while Gaston laughs maliciously at her trouble.
Trying to understand what she just witnessed, Belle recognizes the Prince’s eyes as the same ones she fell in love with when he was the Beast. They passionately kiss, which launches a magical firework that sounds just like the explosion at her father’s house and restores the castle to normal. The Prince’s servants run to him, and he laughs joyfully as he greets them all in turn.
D. Hope in the Face of Despair
Belle’s father Maurice despairs at ever making his invention work. But Belle tells him that she believes he will be a world-class inventor, and her love and faith in him is what snaps him out of his gloom and hopelessness. He slides under the machine and gets to work fixing it while she talks to him about not fitting in and not finding anyone to relate to in town. He finally finishes his work, and they are both stunned when the invention functions perfectly.
Belle kneels over the Beast as he lies dying and despairing at ever being loved. Belle assures him he’s going to be all right, but it doesn’t work this time. He takes solace in just being able to see her one last time and then dies. She pleads for him not to leave her, and it’s only then that she discovers she loves him and says it aloud. Before long, the Beast rises into the air and magically transforms back into his human form. He and Belle are both stunned by this sudden change.
E. The Cliff
Maurice leaves Belle and gets lost on his way to the fair to show off his invention. His horse Phillipe gets spooked and nearly carries him off a huge cliff.
The Beast turns his back on a defeated Gaston and climbs up to Belle on a balcony. Gaston stabs him in the back and then falls off a huge cliff to his death.
F. Rainy Struggle on Castle Grounds
Maurice gets stranded when Phillipe runs off. A pack of wolves menaces him as he stumbles toward the foot of a giant castle in the rain. He doesn’t know yet that it’s the Beast’s castle.
The Beast regains his will to live when he sees Belle returning, and he fights Gaston atop his castle in the rain. The Beast manages to gain the upper hand and tells Gaston to get out.
G. Welcome to the Castle
Maurice timidly enters the castle and is shocked when he picks up a candelabra and it turns out to be a servant named Lumiere who greets him warmly. Many other servants follow suit, making him feel at home. A clock named Cogsworth is the only holdout until the Beast arrives and angrily demands to know why Maurice came here when he isn’t welcome. Maurice is too terrified to fight back as the Beast grabs him and carries him away to a tower.
Gaston and his fellow townsfolk smash their way into the castle and are shocked when one of them picks up a candelabra that again happens to be Lumiere, and he shouts “Now!” Every servant in the castle begins fighting the townsfolk in a successful attempt to repel them. As the men retreat, Cogsworth tells them to stay out. However, Gaston slipped through during the confusion, and he finds the Beast in the West Wing. The Beast has lost the will to live, so he doesn’t object or fight back as Gaston shoots him with an arrow and kicks him out of a window onto the roof.
H. Locked Out and In
Gaston gathers a large crowd of people from the town to watch as he marries Belle. She’s the last to know about it, though, because it’s only then that he goes into her home to propose to her. He does his best to manipulate her into marrying him, but she sees through his obviously sinister intentions and says no. She then kicks him out of the house and locks the door behind him. He is humiliated in front of the whole town and has to walk away in anger.
Belle is shocked to find a large crowd of townsfolk again gathered around her house. Gaston has manipulated them into coming to witness as Maurice is hauled off to an insane asylum. He tries to use this as leverage to get Belle to marry him, but she again refuses and then proves that her father isn’t crazy by showing them the Beast in a magic mirror. Gaston locks her and Maurice in their cellar and rallies the men to follow him to the Beast’s castle to kill him.
I. Belle Can’t Find the Words
Belle is relieved when Gaston and everyone else leaves her home. She furiously feeds the chickens as she tries and fails to put into words the yearning she feels to go on an adventure and have someone who could understand what she wants out of life. Her reverie is interrupted when Phillipe, the horse that was bringing Maurice to the fair, arrives unexpectedly without his rider. She demands he take her to Maurice.
Belle and Maurice are relieved to be reunited in their home. He’s amazed that she found a way to escape, but she tells him the Beast actually let her go. She gets a thoughtful look on her face as she stares off and says he’s changed in a way she can’t describe. This reverie is interrupted when Chip, a little cup from the castle, pops out of her bag unexpectedly. He’ll prove instrumental in helping her return to the castle.
J. Belle Searches for Maurice
The music swells as Belle rides Phillipe to the castle in search of Maurice. It doesn’t take her long to find his hat inside the gate. She then searches the castle until she finds him locked in a tower.
The Beast howls in pain as he watches Belle ride Phillipe away from the castle in search of Maurice. It doesn’t take her long to find him passed out on the snowy ground in the woods.
K. Sacrifices for Love
Belle tells the Beast that her father may be dying from the extreme cold in the tower. The Beast won’t let him go, that is until she comes up with an idea. She promises to stay forever as his prisoner because she loves her father. It breaks her heart when the Beast drags Maurice away from her. Lumiere encourages the Beast to make her more comfortable and is frightened by his response.
Belle looks into the magic mirror and sees her father suffering in the freezing woods. She tells the Beast he may be dying, and the Beast has compassion on her and releases her from her promise. He knows he is dooming himself, but he does it because he loves her. It breaks his heart as she hurries away. Cogsworth and the other servants are shocked by this turn of events.
L. Dinner Demand and Request
The Beast tells Belle to come down from the tower to a more comfortable room, and she fearfully and tearfully follows him down the dark corridors of the castle. On the way, he forbids her from ever entering the West Wing. Before he closes her into her room, he demands she join him for dinner with such great force that it drives her to sob with her face on a nearby bed as she fully realizes she has no freedom anymore.
Belle, clothed in a beautiful gown, walks down a well-lit stairway to meet the Beast for dinner. She is all smiles as she hears music playing and invites the Beast to join her for a dance. It’s the Beast’s turn to look fearful as he tries to keep up with her, but he soon gains confidence, and it becomes clear she has forgotten all about being a prisoner as she contentedly rests her face against his chest. He even takes her to the West Wing after their dance.
M. Moment of Weakness
Gaston gloomily sits in the local tavern, licking his wounds over his public humiliation at the hands of Belle. He feels disgraced and totally down in the dumps, even as Lefou tries to cheer him up.
The Beast gloomily sits in a bathtub in preparation for his big date. He fears suffering humiliation when he confesses his feelings for Belle, but Lumiere tries to inspire confidence in him.
N. Gaston’s Pride and the Beast’s Humility
Lefou and everyone else in the tavern praises Gaston in song, and he eventually joins in and boasts about his many achievements and trophies until he is consumed by pride. When they’re done, Gaston comes up with a dastardly plan, which he whispers to Lefou so no one else will hear.
Over a song, the Beast learns to be humble and get rid of his old anger and pride as he feeds birds and plays with Belle in the snow. The servants join in on the song and they knowingly wink to each other about how “there may be something there that wasn’t there before.” Chip doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, and Mrs. Potts shushes him and tells him he’s not ready to hear it.
O. Eating Together
The Beast tries to prepare for dinner with Belle, but he comes off as hopelessly awkward. When he learns that Belle has refused to join him for dinner, he tells her she can go ahead and starve because she won’t eat at all if it’s not with him. Then he runs away, checks on Belle in the magic mirror and gives in to despair at the prospect of ever getting her to see him as anything but a monster.
Just as the Beast despairs at being able to eat breakfast in an un-Beast-like way, Belle raises her bowl of porridge to her lips and invites the Beast to do the same. Neither has to go hungry because she has found a way for them to both eat comfortably together. She’s also shown that she doesn’t see him as a monster at all, but as an equal who’s trying to change for the better.
P. Table Manners
Lumiere violates the Beast’s order not to feed Belle when he prepares a massive feast for her. Cogsworth keeps trying to shush his fellow servants as they sing and dance all through the dinner, but it doesn’t work because they just keep going unabated until the end.
The Beast violates social etiquette when he proceeds to devour his breakfast like a wild animal pouncing on a fresh kill in the presence of Belle. She’s clearly uncomfortable, so Chip encourages the Beast to use a spoon to eat his porridge. But he can’t even get that right because he still makes wild-animal sounds as he pours food into his mouth.
Q. The Library
Cogsworth and Lumiere take Belle on a guided tour of the castle, during which Belle wanders up toward the West Wing. To quell her curiosity about the one place she’s forbidden to go in the castle, Lumiere invites her to check out the library instead. She’s instantly enthralled by that idea, and the servants happily march before her in the direction of the library. However, she sneaks back up the staircase while they’re looking the other way.
The Beast wants to do something for Belle, and Cogsworth struggles to think of anything special until Lumiere suddenly remembers what sparked Belle’s interest earlier. The Beast guides Belle to a large door and asks her to close her eyes before she enters to make the surprise even sweeter. He guides her to the middle of the room and then tells her to open her eyes, at which point she is stunned to discover the biggest library she’s ever seen.
R. Wrong Choices
Belle makes her way through a dark hallway before coming to an ominous door, which is the entrance to the West Wing. She hesitates, knowing that the Beast explicitly forbade her from entering, but then she opens the door anyway and stumbles past broken furniture until she sees the magical red rose. She’s just about to touch it when the Beast appears out of nowhere and stops her.
Gaston meets with an asylum caretaker in a dark room and offers him money to lock up Maurice in the asylum. The caretaker knows Maurice isn’t crazy and voices that concern, but he agrees to do it anyway. Meanwhile, Maurice hastily prepares to find Belle and leaves his house, disappearing from sight just in the nick of time before Gaston arrives and kicks open his door to capture him.
S. Belle Runs and Stands Her Ground
The Beast demands to know why Belle came to the West Wing, and she immediately apologizes. He starts roaring at her to get out, and she backs up in fear and then runs away because he’s so intimidating and prepared to cause her serious physical harm. After she leaves in a hurry, he buries his face in his hand, ashamed that he has once again lost his temper and driven her away.
Belle tells the Beast to hold still as she applies a hot damp cloth to his wound, and he roars in pain when she hits the mark. The servants cower in fear as the Beast yells at Belle that it hurts, but she doesn’t back down this time. They go back and forth blaming each other for the injury, and she even leaves him speechless at one point. He again tells her she shouldn’t have been in the West Wing, but she counters that he should learn to control his temper. She then causes him more pain as she cleans his wound, but this time she thanks him for saving her life, and he is able to smile and humbly say, “You’re welcome.”
T. Belle Leaves and Returns
Belle runs out of the castle to escape the Beast, telling the servants who try to stop her that she can’t stay there, even though she had promised she would.
Knowing she could easily leave the exhausted Beast to die in the snow, Belle instead remembers her responsibility and carries the wounded Beast back to his castle to repay him for risking his life for her sake.
U. Wolf Attack
The turning point of Beauty and the Beast comes when the Beast finally begins to show his true colors. Belle rides Phillipe at top speed through the snowy woods and is soon chased by wolves. She and Phillipe fall into an icy body of water and climb out. They again run until they are stopped by more wolves. Belle is thrown off her horse and does her best to beat them away from Phillipe, but one of the wolves grabs her coat and pulls her to the ground where another one is poised to strike.
Just as the wolf leaps at Belle, a powerful hand grabs it out of midair, and we see that the Beast has come to Belle’s rescue. He roars at the wolf and tosses it aside. He is all that stands between the hungry wolves and Belle, and he leaps at them without hesitation, taking all of the vicious bites they had wanted to sink into Belle and her horse. He fiercely throws them against trees until they finally retreat. Wounded, the Beast collapses on the snowy ground.
Up until this point, the Beast has done nothing but wallow in self-pity and fail to control his outbursts of anger aimed at the ones closest to him. But now we get to see his anger used for good as he directs it at wild animals seeking to harm the one he cares for the most. He must have run at breakneck speed to catch up with Belle, so he couldn’t have waited for long in his castle feeling ashamed of his mistake or wishing for Belle to come back. He took decisive action to help someone besides himself, showing that he’s much more than a mindless beast. He’s able to be a noble Prince and act in a manner worthy of respect and love, as both he and Belle later discover. That’s why this is the turning point of the chiasmus. It’s planting the seed that will eventually grow into something beautiful by the end of the film.
A Special Experience
I hope you enjoy discovering these examples of chiasmus in films as much as I do. This is a special one to me. Oftentimes, I get a feeling about a movie being a chiasmus, and I have no idea how it’s going to work. That was certainly the case with The Sixth Sense and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In those and many other cases, I didn’t know what the turning point would be or how the events in the films would match up. With Beauty and the Beast, I felt like it took no effort at all to put the pieces together. They just kept falling into place so naturally that I felt like someone had deliberately marked a perfect trail for me to follow, and all I had to do was walk down it. What an extraordinary feeling that was.
I don’t know if any future chiasmus will be as easy as this one has proven to be. But I think there is something more at work here. Something I can’t see. I don’t know why it’s important to discover chiasmus in films, but I love doing it and I can’t seem to turn it off, so I’ll just keep moving forward exploring this beautiful way of telling stories.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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