Light in Hunchback

Another week, another time I don’t write a post for the blog.  I’m a slacker.

However, we did watch more Disney movies two weekends ago, and that went really well.  We’ve finally watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame (and the less popular Treasure Planet).  Now, Hunchback  is tricky to talk about, at least for me.

According to this poorly designed websiteHunchback did not exactly do well in theaters.  Part of the idea behind this project is to write Disney’s next masterpiece, which sorta kinda implies commercial success.

Despite that, I really like Hunchback.  The movie has a lot going for it– all the characters seem decently fleshed out, the music (for the most part) is fantastic, and the film has quite a few beautiful moments in the art department.

But, I want to talk about something a little more subtle.  Hunchback does a great job of guiding the viewer through it’s story, so that you can get all the subtext as long as you’re paying attention.  One of the more potent threads woven in is the theme of light.  The explicit theme statement comes with the Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sequence.

Anyway, take a listen.  It didn’t hit me until we rewatched it for the project that I realized
A) How different both these songs are
B) How brillant it is that they go back to back

Heaven’s Light is very explicit with its imagery, because there is no reason to hide it– like all Disney protagonists, Quasimodo is looking for love, and despite knowing better, can’t help but have feelings for Esmeralda.  In fact, Esmeralda is the subject of both songs, however, Hellfire puts an entirely different spin on things.  Esmeralda is the subject of Quasimodo’s love, however, she is also the subject of Frollo’s lust.

And Frollo doesn’t fuck around (ha!  I made a pun).  Either Esmeralda will sleep with him, or she will burn alive.  Also, lets set fire to Paris because why not?  So, lets talk light.

When Quasimodo sings about it, he talks about people emitting light, being wrapped up in it.  The light here is gentle, it’s good, it illuminates his dark tower.  Quasimodo calls the light he sings about as a “warm and loving glow”.

To counter this idea, Frollo brings an entire new twist to light– fire.  Literally burning with light, light that scorches, light that destroys.  Light that drives him insane.  Both these characters are using light as a metaphor for how they feel about Esmeralda, both of them identify her as the source of light.

Both of them also want Esmeralda to feel for them how they feel for her.  In movie thematic terms, both characters sing about how they want Esmeralda to feel the light they feel: Quasimodo by association– pairs of people feel the light he feels, Frollo is more explicit about wanting Esmeralda to burn with hellfire.

Pretty brilliant, eh?  Considering that Esmeralda will dump both of them and hook up with someone who’s name means ‘Sun God’,  I think I’m on to something.  However, this isn’t the only time light is used as imagery for love.  It’s actually more general.

Think back on the festival of fools sequence, or go rewatch it.  When do both men fall in love with Esmeralda?  For Frollo, it’s when she’s dancing on the podium, getting her sex appeal on.  For Quasimodo, however, I’d argue that it’s when she rescues him– she is surrounded by light, while the soundtrack plays that really catchy choral line that I can’t find on the Internet because “catchy choral line from Hunchback that plays as the introduction to the thematic element of light as love” doesn’t give any hits from Google.

Or, even if he isn’t aware, Quasimodo has felt heaven’s light.  Sure, it isn’t love how he hopes it is, but Esmeralda does care for him.  That’s the light Quasimodo is chasing after, the light he’s dreaming about– the light of care from a good person.

And it’s obvious who are two good people are– Esmeralda and Phoebus spend a large chunk of the movie dressed in white, which if you haven’t ever looked at a single bit of art ever, is a color of purity.  Also, I think they might be the only two people in the movie that don’t attempt to murder Quasimodo.  They’re both wearing white during the Heaven’s Light reprise, during the climax of the movie, and during the last scene when Quasimodo goes back outside during the day.

To keep pounding this horse into the dust (it isn’t part of the theme unless it’s beaten into your skull), the last scene has Quasimodo coming out of the shadows of the cathedral into the blistering sunlight of the square.  He winces from the light, but as he walks all the way into it… he is embraced by the crowd.  Quasimodo has brought light to the people of Paris, and they accept him rather than throwing perfectly good fruit and vegetables at him.

I could go on, but I think I’ll stop here for now.  There is a ton more to dig into– we could go deeper into the use of fire, or exactly why Guy Like You is bad (because they wrote themselves into a hole), or how the soundtrack is goddamn brilliant and helps enforce these themes, but I gotta save posts for dry weeks.

See you guys next week.



About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

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