Sometime last year, I watched an animated film called Encanto. I’m mostly a lover of the old classics: the stories that never go out of style, like The Lion King. But as humans change, our stories have to change along with our traditions, our cultures and our societies. We can’t just keep retelling the old stories and believing that it applies to people who were systematically excluded from those structures and faulty beliefs which we thought we had erected in stone.
Intergenerational conflict is not just a conflict between two different age groups. It is a conflict between two different passages of time and two different ways of being and existing. We speak of epochs, eras and ages as a continuous stream where one carries forward what one’s predecessors have done; but this ideology doesn’t always work.
It seems that the more we try to cling onto the past, the more we end up isolating ourselves from each other.
The animation Encanto follows the tale of a young girl who is ostracised and excluded by her family because she is different. It is a tale of tradition and the problems it creates for everyone when the tradition stops working. This happens. Long held belief systems, customs, civilisations; these things can and do collapse. Something changes and it all falls apart.
No matter how much we try to hang on, there are wolves at the door. And they’re coming to tear us apart.
In Encanto, the head of the multigenerational family household is a Matriarch. Her children and grandchildren—except for Mirabel—receive magical gifts from a miracle that helps them serve the people in their community. When Mirabel doesn’t receive a magical gift, it is believed that she is cursed, is a bearer of bad luck and so on. Superstitions such as these persisted in traditional societies. We came up with illogical explanations for explainable phenomena and believed in them.
We thought that since our traditions had guided our path for such a long time, we were bound to them. When really, these very traditions that guided our path had become a prison for those who could not belong, could not fit in and would never be accepted. All the while, the people who were rejected by those traditions were seeking to find their home there.
And no matter how hard they tried, they remained as strangers who were standing on the outside and looking in.
It was a difficult story for me to watch. Mirabel longs for the love and approval of the Matriarch and her peers and never receives it. Why? It is believed that she doesn’t have ‘a gift’, unlike the others who received theirs at their coming-of-age ceremony.
When we look at family portraits such as this, we think it’s a happy family. But who knows what’s really going on? The quest to be a valuable and treasured family member is a quest for those who never had a family and who never had a true home. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere. We all want to find a place that we can call our own. No one wants to live a life where they are systematically excluded.
In the end, the protagonist Mirabel–the only one in her family without any magical abilities–turns out to be the heroine who saves the day as the family goes through a terrible tragedy. Although Mirabel does not possess an obvious gift like the others, it seems that she does possess a gift, but it was a gift that no one around her was able to see, perceive or appreciate.
There are people like this who exist. People whose gifts never get to see the light of day. Their gifts remain hidden and dormant. But they are still there. If anything, this story reminds us not to lose hope; for when the time comes to shine–shine you will.