6 Ways 'Frozen' Teaches You What Depression Is Like
In 2013, the world went completely apeshit for Frozen. But every time I read something about how great Elsa and Anna are, or heard my sister request that we name our dog after the film's sarcastic reindeer, I would glance at the empty bottle of Zoloft I keep on my desk as motivation and sigh a little bit.
Throughout the movie, Elsa is dealing with some major clinical depression, and frankly, that hasn't gotten the coverage it deserves. Since superhero movies have us convinced that powers are cool, it was shockingly easy for us to not even notice that Elsa's cryokinetic abilities are a symbol of serious underlying issues. And it all starts with ...
Parents Place Massive, Undue Stress On Their Firstborn
Admittedly, it's hard at first to relate to the problems of Queen Elsa. We come from entirely different worlds (spoiler alert: Hers is animated), but she has something in common with a lot of us: She's the eldest child. There are definitely some perks to that, but being the oldest is also a pretty harsh gig, and Elsa had it particularly bad, even ignoring the part when she almost accidentally kills her younger sister when they are children.
"Finally, I'll have my old room back."
There are parts of the world where people probably think primogeniture is a fancy way of grilling sausage (or that it's a word I just made up to sound fancy), but for Elsa, it was a career and a lifestyle all wrapped up into one and thrust into her lap within seconds of her royal mother making the king's icicle start to drip, if you catch my (snow)drift. I do not apologize for either of those puns (because I'm cold-hearted ... BAM!). Elsa had no brothers, so as the eldest, she would one day rule the kingdom of Arendelle.
Thus becoming part of the ice-tablishment. (Sorry. last one, I swear.)
That is an excessive amount of pressure to place on a child who's barely old enough to color inside the lines, but she could at least hope for a baby brother to inherit the pressure ... right up until her parents' sudden deaths. Basically, she becomes an orphan and has her entire life decided for her, all while she's still a teenager. It's actually shocking that her powers didn't manifest as goth poetry.
Once she grows up, Elsa has no real positive memories of her parents, and for good reason. Her ice powers / depression freaked them right the hell out, so they locked her away. Now she has to follow in their footsteps, put on a happy face for the people who admired and respected those parents she barely knew, and rule a damned country when she hasn't left her bedroom in years.
The heater broke a while back.
A lot of people (read: children) who saw this movie probably wondered why it was so hard for Elsa to just put on a happy face the way Anna could, and science has an answer. See, parents tend to expect their firstborn children to succeed more in school, life, and everything else more than the younger ones. While the eldest tend to get better care at a young age, they're often way less happy, and more likely to deal with anxiety and depression.
Elsa's Gloves Are "Masking The Problem"
I'll just cut right to the quick here: Elsa's gloves are a symbol for her dependence on antidepressants.
She's been wearing gloves since she was a small child, primarily as a means of stopping the ice powers she has from affecting anyone else. Her parents literally use the phrase "Conceal, don't feel," as if her suffering is some kind of twisted Mother Goose rhyme. It's like trying to prevent suicide by chanting "Fun, not gun." However, she's still been locked up in the palace for forever, so it's not like the gloves/antidepressants were paired up with anything useful, like positive social interaction. In fact, the sister who loves her unconditionally is running around, baffled as to why Elsa can't come out and play (more on that in a minute).
"Do you wanna build a constructive support system?"
We've told you before how bad it is to prolong treatment with antidepressants, and Elsa lines right up with every ill effect of extended use. She has been using her gloves since she was a small child, and now as a young woman she can't function without them. She has to spend a frankly alarming amount of time practicing holding a scepter without her gloves, which doesn't exactly bode well for the future of the kingdom. Or for Freudian psychologists.
Now with a cool, tingling sensation for her pleasure.
But here's where the symbolism is even weirder and more precise: Prolonged use of antidepressants can cause "involuntary tics," such as the ones that Elsa experienced when she shot ice everywhere at her coronation.
"Umm ... ah-choo?"
Those icy tics made a whole bunch of foreign dignitaries get panicky, with one creepy old dude thinking that this terrified-looking princess was actually trying to kill him. This extreme level of social scrutiny caused Elsa to flee, all the while belting out the movie's main song, and, well ...
Let It Go Is A Blatant Suicide Note
This has less to do with the storyline and more to do with the movie's background. I know it's hard to believe that the song your six-year-old niece has been belting nonstop for three years might be the sing-along suicide note of the main character, but not if you know the background of the composers for the movie.
Composer Robert Lopez's previous credits include the Broadway smash hit show The Book Of Mormon, which famously features incredibly catchy songs about teenagers who are trained to hide their deepest and darkest feelings, and a main character who comes to think that Jesus hates him a little more than halfway through the show. Jesus literally calls him a dick, and that's not easy to recover from.
"Seriously, have you considered converting to Buddhism?"
With that in mind, it's pretty obvious that Lopez is good at making dark subject matter sound really happy. Ignore the top-notch soprano coming from Idina Menzel, and let's look at the lyrics a bit.
The most-repeated line in the song (other than the titular "Let it go") is "The cold never bothered me anyway," which on the surface is a reference to her ice powers, but is also a description of how depression can make someone nothing but numb all the time. They have difficulty feeling much of anything, and it can be really hard to regain "warmth" at all. Or if you're less subtle, she's talking about corpses. The cold, dead corpses of her dead-ass parents, as well as the thought of her own dead-ass deadness.
Sweet, sweet release.
It could also be argued that by running away from the whole life she'd known, Elsa was committing a sort of "social suicide." But if that sounds too far-fetched, we can move right along into ...
Self-Imposed Isolation Hurts Everyone Around Her
By running away into the mountains by herself, Elsa is engaging in behavior that's very common for people who are depressed. She just wants to be left alone, but that can be hurtful to more than just the depressed person, and Frozen does a good job of showing that.
Come to think of it, this guy seems to have his own issues going on.
Don't get me wrong; isolation can be helpful for things like letting loose creatively. Despite never having left her castle before, Elsa manages to create an entire ice palace on the side of a mountain in a couple of minutes. And let's face it, that shit looks awesome ... though I worry about the bathrooms, because GAH!
To be fair, your pee would probably freeze before it hit the ground.
Elsa says a couple of times that she doesn't want to hurt anyone else as her primary reason to be alone, but that isolation is only hurting everyone even more. People are not only worried about Elsa, but everything is also now covered in snow, with no end in sight. Granted, this is nothing new for Scandinavian countries, but the pain the people of Arendelle are facing is pretty directly comparable to how family and friends feel around a depressed person.
We can't really speak for the majority of the no-name people in the movie, but the one person we really can speak for is Elsa's sister, Anna. The poor kid has been begging Elsa to come out and build a snowman for years, and wishes there were some way she could fix the problem. She even contemplates whether it's because of something she did. But that's the problem -- there's no easy "fix," and it's nobody's fault, either.
Okay, maybe it's a little this guy's fault.
Finally, Anna makes it up to Elsa's ice palace in the mountains, only to get hurt by an errant ice tic, and that's it, plain as day: a physical manifestation of depression hurting a loved one. That's got to be the part that hurts the most -- knowing it was an accident. Or not knowing, and thinking that your sibling is just an emo piece of shit with anger issues.
This is where things get hard, and the movie does a great job of showing how ...
Elsa Doesn't Know How to "Get Better"
One of the first major problems with someone who has depression is that they can't explain what's going on to anybody, and for Elsa, that begins as a child. She believes that she can never let Anna know the truth about why she stays locked up, because there's serious potential for fracturing their relationship if Anna knew that Elsa almost accidentally killed her. That's kind of a lot to process.
Let alone twice.
Despite Anna's best attempts to get her sister out, what Anna didn't know was that she was really doing just about the best thing for someone who has depression, and that's simply being there and being patient. And of course, not asking them every five minutes, "Hey, see what happens when you freeze this thing! I bet it explodes!"
But where "not being able to figure this bullshit out" gets really bad is when Elsa realizes that she can't just bring the good weather back to the kingdom. Unfortunately, this ties back into hurting other people, because the general public is not going to be able to operate their farms and businesses if this winter of Elsa's discontent keeps up. To make matters worse, Arendelle trades primarily through being a port town, and if that ocean is frozen up, nobody can get in (or out).
And these guys would be out of a job entirely.
The symbolism is pretty straightforward: As long as the queen remains depressed, the city cannot function. And that's true with any job. The last time I showed up depressed to my job as a corporate male stripper, I was tipped in leftover hot wings. That doesn't feel good in the ol' thong.
At the end of the day, because there's no real straight-up "cure" for depression, this is something Elsa's going to have to handle for the rest of her life. Heck, Disney made an animated short that showed how Elsa struggled to handle herself at a birthday party. I know that in that short, she's really just got an exaggerated case of the sniffles, but she's still going to struggle internally (with things like overcompensation) forever.
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Others Really Do Love And Care About Her
I won't claim to speak for everyone with depression, but most people have someone who would happily look out for them if he or she thought their friend was struggling. For Elsa, that's Anna. For many other people, it could be a parent or an aunt or a girlfriend or The Rock.
Just don't look to Olaf for a shoulder to cry on.
Anna was willing to sacrifice tremendously for her sister, and that's apparently what it took to get Elsa on a path to real recovery. Other people might simply see a kernel of corn under the fridge and suddenly start feeling again. No, seriously.
Don't get me wrong; Elsa had to have been scared out of her mind that the very thing she'd been trying to prevent (Anna getting hurt) had actually happened. But that's the thing -- that fear meant that Elsa was having real feelings again, rather than just trying to brush everything back. It was all a shock, but something big was happening inside of her.
Get your mind out of the gutter.
Luckily for Elsa, she had a bunch of Disney magic on her side, but many of us aren't that fortunate. If you're out there and struggling with depression, or in any way feel like you need some help, here's a link to a bunch of Suicide Hotlines. Or if it's not as severe as that, start talking. To anyone. Just make sure you're wearing your gloves.
See how the original Frozen included plenty of animal abuse in 5 Beloved Disney Movies Based On R-Rated Stories and find out that, while Frozen may be grim, it won't rip apart your marriage in 6 B.S. Viral Stories: 'Frozen' Isn't Causing Divorces.
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