From Cupid & Psyche to Cocteau’s film and finally to Disney’s portrayal of this classic theme, not much has changed in the idea of Beauty and the Beast. All versions of this story have stressed the importance of being good and have even dwelled on the importance of looking behind appearance to see a person’s true nature. In order to convey his ideas and themes, Cocteau uses the beast as a lurking figure whose lack of appearance on the screen ultimately has a great effect on the viewer.
The Beast that Cocteau portrays is a model for modern storytellers and has been vital in stressing the theme of genuine nature versus appearance throughout society. Cocteau portrays the Beast in La Belle et La Bete as a fleeting image, that is, he affects the film without spending too much time on the screen. Rather then physically emerging, the Beast’s effects are psychological as the anguish of Belle and her family helps the audience to form an opinion of the Beast. By creating a dark and mysterious aura around the Beast, Cocteau affectively keeps the watcher enthralled by what he cannot see.
The Beast only visits Beauty once during this day, and the anticipation of his arrival not only affects Beauty but the viewer as well. The audience begins to wonder where the Beast is for most of the day and what he does. Yet unknowingly, the audience falls in love with the character realizing that he may be a Beast on the outside but he is gentle within. Not only does his demeanor captivate Beauty, it also affects the audience. This is important in the development of all versions of the story. Once Beauty looks beyond the grimacing face, she finds a gentle soul.
The lurking figure of the Beast is frequent in society today. Films often portray this figure in order to create suspense, a misunderstood shadow figure in society. Similarly, literature often uses the Beast to play off of other characters similar to the way Cocteau does with Beauty. There are various other instances of the Beast in modern day films. In Rain Man, he takes the role of Raymond Babbit and plays a part in The Elephant Man as John Merrick. Yet the most interesting appearance of the beast is in Schindler’s List of Oskar Schindler.
The Beast in this film is not very different from Cocteau’s, although it may seem so at first. The Beast and Oskar Schindler share a common bond as both fall under stereotypes. While the Beast creates fear because of his appearance, Schindler is at first considered cruel because of his role in the Jewish Holocaust. Through the evolution of the films, the viewer develops a better understanding of these two figures. More so, both the Beast and Schindler affect the viewer mostly by not appearing on the screen. Instead, by seeing the damage done to the Jews, the viewer forms his own opinion on Schindler.
Schindler’s lack of appearance on screen is analogous to the lurking figure of the Beast in Cocteau’s film. Schindler originally has the evil intent to exploit Jewish labor for profit, yet once he sees the atrocities, he changes his mind and in effect saves hundreds of prisoners. The emancipation of the Jews is comparable to the transformation of the Beast to a prince. By the end of the films, society embraces both characters. Interestingly, Cocteau released his film in the 1940s during the time of the Jewish Holocaust. Striking similarities between the two exist because of the motivation and period of the films.
The Nazi attack on the Jews influences both Steven Spielberg as well as Jean Cocteau in the creation of their films. The Beast has been an important part of literature for many years. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and even John Coffey in The Green Mile portray the beast. Yet the most analogous representation of the beast is in To Kill A Mockingbird with Boo Radley. In Harper Lee’s novel, initially Boo Radley is a mysterious figure. His seclusion prompts the children to create reasons for his disappearance and consider his house haunted.
They even speak of how he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors and create many other false rumors as well. Yet as time passes, the reader begins to realize that Boo Radley is not truly a monster but rather a misunderstood individual. Similar to the beast in Cocteau’s film, the reader may at first stereotype Boo Radley, yet as time progresses the audience slowly begins to get a better understanding of him. Boo Radley makes several attempts to befriend Scout Finch. In one situation, he places a blanket on Scout’s shoulders while she stands outside watching Mrs. Maudie’s house burn.
Scout’s reaction shows her feelings toward Boo, as she says her “stomache turned to water and I nearly threw up when Jem handed me the blanket and crept toward me” (Lee 72). At first, she is very apprehensive toward Boo, but as time passes, she realizes that she never took the time to understand him. Similar to the beast, Boo Radley is a lurking figure and appears only at the end of the novel. He affects the reader simply by the accounts of the other characters in the book, comparable to the way that the beast affects the viewer. The Beast is a figure frequent in society today.
Cocteau’s beast in La Belle et la Bete is an archetypal figure seen throughout history as an important character. The shadow figure of the Beast has helped to portray moods of mystery and helps to convey thought even with a lack of monologue. Films and literature use this figure frequently. In the process, not only is the Beast important in character development but he also simplifies the process of conveying morals and themes. Essentially, the Beast is a universal model important in society who has played a role in history and will do so in the future as well.