In the progressive features of Frozen, there is a new female anthem of freedom, no longer the silent women, rather one of power, liberty and selfhood. Elsa is willing to tolerate and even endorse isolation, rather than fulfill an insistent need to offer up her independence, and confidence to achieve security under the protection of a husband.
Elsa’s willingness to remove herself from the world is, of course, the opposite of the Little Mermaid who makes a great self-sacrifice to be part of the human world, the goal of which is a significant love relationship.
There are a number of dynamic issues that converge on understanding Elsa’s isolation. Elsa, the older sister, had to tolerate the arrival of her younger sibling. Anna is full of energy and naïve, lighthearted love. She is the direct, impulsive and simpler one, full of frolicking fun and engagement with what she experiences as a loving world. She is not the thoughtful, careful, controlled future queen. When they were younger, Elsa’s ambivalence resulted in severely damaging her sister. It was the temporary enactment of her hostile impulse toward her younger, care-free sister. She punished herself by abandoning all human contact. Her removal to a remote citadel is in part her guilt over the harm she has caused her sister and her need for atonement. Elsa contains strong emotions as reflected in the theme song “Let It Go”. Her song demonstrates a frenzied storm within her; the lyrics reflect her rage-filled embattlement that becomes more intense and gale-like as she proceeds up her ice fortress. The eruption raging within is matched by the ice-cold winter without.
Yet, there is another feature of this isolation. Elsa is an artist, capable of producing sculptures of icy beauty. They are large, magnificent structures, dizzying swirls of curlicues, gorgeous geometric patterns, icicles that float and lift to the sky. She has filled her world and it is a gratifyingly aesthetic one to behold. Like many artists, she needed to remove herself from civilization, to maintain a hermitic existence to produce beauty (Think of Virginia Wolff who needed “A Room of her Own” to depart and be alone to be generative. Elsa’s isolating herself can be thought of as a retribution for her aggression as well as a transformational sublimation for her creative life.
The second important feature of this postmodern fairy tale is the love of two sisters and the enduring trial of Anna to reach and restore their love for one another. This is the unusual point of this tale. The movie also has an unusual ending. Typically, the female protagonist needs the kiss of the strong, handsome prince who loves her and has endured trials which free her from her imprisonment and allows her to marry. True love in Frozen does not come from a man but from a sister who really loves her older sister and wants to restore their loving relationship. The turn is toward another woman rather than a man, a really unusual finality, suggesting all kinds of new partnering which can offer love and caring friendship. I see this as an important revolutionary turn.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.