The Imperial and Extinguished Free Will

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The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. –C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I have posted here and here on free will, and these thoughts have brought to culmination some thoughts on the movie Brave that have been simmering in the back of my mind ever since I saw the movie. This movie has so much to do with free will, but in two different aspects. [Spoilers ahead]

The Imperial Free Will

In the movie, the fiery red-headed Merida is forced into an arranged marriage which she doesn’t want. In fact, she shows up at the archery contest to win her own hand, and aptly out-performs her competition. Her mother, though, who has always tried to mold and shape her into a proper princess, insists she marry for the good of the kingdom. Merida desperately tries to take control of her destiny, and this is where we see what I am calling the Imperial Will. She escapes the castle to change her Fate and…

  1. She follows a will o’ the wisp trail for what seems miles. Ok, now when I was a kid, rolling dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons ( Nerd Alert!), I would NEVER have followed a will o’ wisp. You are just asking for a Hobgoblin ambush or something, just sayin’. Legend has it, these lights lured travelers from safe paths. We, the audience, also know there is a huge terrible bear on the loose somewhere. When I saw her do this, I was alarmed!
  2. She finds a witch who will give her a spell to change her fate. Ok, a witch. She knows nothing about this woman and doesn’t think to ask.
  3. The witch makes her a cake that she must feed to her mother Elinor. Merida knows nothing about its effects. No, “Um, what is in this? or “What will this do to my mother?”
  4. She brings the cake back and actually gives it to her mother to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention, Merida knows nothing about its effects.

There is an ignorance streaming right through the life of Merida that is simply terrifying and a parent’s worst nightmare. It is as C.S. Lewis stated above—she set her free will up as what she had to have at all costs, and it made her so incredibly foolish. She did not consider the consequences for her actions, and the movie explores her attempt to make them right. I hope and pray that those young people who are coming into their self-awareness will see and learn from this lesson.

The movie shows the typical fight between parent and child, where the parent tries to fit the kid into their mold. I am not advocating that, but jeez, these kids accepted so little responsibility! The good part of the royal marriage is just that—they are married! And they love each other! The dysfunction, however, lies with squarely on the huge shoulders of King Fergus. Although very funny, he is a completely useless adolescent man (all the men were depicted this way, really) that left the real leadership to his wife. [Pet Peeve: It is annoying and offensive to think of men during that time period as so goofy (I’m thinking of William Wallace, Rob Roy, etc), but this is a kids movie and so I let it go.] This dysfunction, however, strains the parenting and leaves all the hard work to the mother. Sadly, this does reflect our society. Men, we need to step up and lead our families!

The Extinguished Free Will

The other instance of free will I saw in this movie was the use of bears. Once transformed into a bear, Merida’s mother started to become the bear and take on the animal nature. There was a moment when Elinor turned and attacked Merida. We see her come to her senses, her alarm and shame, and we sense the peril her mother is in.

This transition is key in understanding the pantheistic worldview underlying this movie. The villain of the movie, the huge vicious bear that took the leg of Fergus, is none other than the Mor’du.

Mor’du was not always a bear; he was a human prince, who wanted to take over the kingdom he shared with his three brothers, and went to the witch to gain “the strength of ten men”, paying with the ring of his house, which bears two crossed axes. The spell he received eventually transformed him into a bear, soon leading to the fall of the kingdom, as on the dawn of the second day, the spell became permanent and the bear side of him overtook his humanity, making him a monstrous beast.

In the end Mor’du is crushed and killed, and we see his human spirit rise up out of the carcass. He looks intently at Merida, nods, and then dissipates to become a will o’ wisp. At this point, I was tempted to think that this was a positive thing. Poor guy, made a huge life changing mistake, and he got released. Happy ending for him. I do wonder about the countless unhappy endings of those that lived and died when destroyed the kingdom. And I do wonder if this movie is telling me Mor’du is not responsible, after all, the animal “overtook his humanity.” An animal, of course, has no free will…therefore, Mor’du is not accountable for the crimes he has committed.

I thought I would be clever and call it Extinguished Free Will, and it raises a lot of questions. If Neo-Darwinian evolution is true, aren’t we all just higher animals? If that is the case, what are we really to be held accountable for? Aren’t we lucky if we manage to do a little bit of good? Does Hitler or Stalin just rise up out of their graves, give a nice little nod and go on into the universe? Is there no ultimate justice? Perhaps it is comforting to think that after all the bad we do, we still get to go surf the universe?

One reason why many people find [Life-Force] so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? -C.S. Lewis in Mere Chrisitanity

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