Let it Go: Cathartic, but no place to live

Like many households with young children, ours has been filled with the music of Frozen. My daughter seems to be constantly singing “Fixer Upper”, “For the First Time in Forever” and, of course, everybody’s favorite, “Let it Go.”

“Let it Go” is by far the most famous song of the movie as evidenced by cover after cover after cover on YouTube and Facebook. Yes, it’s an extremely catchy tune, but I think it’s so popular because it strikes a deep emotional chord with so many people.

We’ve all been there. Having tried and tried to meet other peoples’ expectations, or hide a deep desire, or conceal a thought, we finally blow up. “Let it go, let it go” the song encourages and we say “Yes.” “I don’t care what they’re going to say” Elsa sings and we say “Preach it!” We want to break free! Elsa imagines that in fleeing to the mountains to live in isolation she is freeing herself from the rules that contained her and filled her with dread. Her fantasy is ours: “It’s time to see what I can do // To test the limits and breakthrough // No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free.” Oh, in those moments of frustration it seems so good.

But it’s just a fantasy. It’s not real.

This is clear in the arc of the movie. Elsa believed that because she had isolated herself from others that she was free. She was so worried about hurting others that she thought her only recourse was to get away, to live alone, to be the queen of her own existence.

But that’s not how it worked. While she thought her decisions didn’t impact anybody else, the reality was that she had thrown the whole country into a state of perpetual winter. She thought she was less destructive than before but in fact her isolation and self-determination was more destructive than she could ever imagine.

For the story to work “Let it Go” had to happen, but it couldn’t end there. If it had ended at “Let it Go” the movie would have ultimately been a tragedy. Elsa would have been living out her existence in isolation and the country would have been stuck in a state of perpetual winter. Her escape was cathartic, maybe even necessary, but it was no place to stay.

So what freed her and those around her? Love.

The genius of Frozen is that its main themes are broad enough to be interpreted differently by so many people. I don’t the intentions of the writers, but if I didn’t know better I would say that Frozen has an extremely Christian perspective on love. In Frozen romantic love takes a back seat to love understood more abstractly. At one point Anna says “I don’t even know what love is” to which her snowman (hey, it’s a kids movie) says, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”

I couldn’t have hardly put it better myself, or in more biblical terms.

What ultimately saves the day is an act of “true love.” But that act of true love isn’t a kiss; it’s an act of sacrifice. Anna ends up saving her sister by jumping between a sword and Elsa. This sacrificial act saved both Anna, who had been turned to ice, and Elsa who was transformed by seeing her sister’s act of love.

The end game for Elsa wasn’t “Let it Go.” She had to throw off both fear-driven isolation and autonomy-driven isolation in order to finally find true freedom. In her new found freedom she was finally able to direct her actions toward the good of others.

We live in a “Let it Go” kind of world, clinging to the fantasy that “no rules for me” can somehow be achieved without isolating ourselves and destroying the world around us. This new dawn, this throwing off of rules, is tempting. It’s also destructive. It’s cathartic, but it’s no place to live.

The answer to our fear isn’t autonomy. It’s love. It’s sacrificial love. And that sacrificial love is what truly frees us.