As I’ve mentioned many times before, I spend much of my time watching Frozen. As of a few months ago, my five-year-old’s interest was finally waning, but now the 2-year-old has gotten into it and, well, let’s just say I might never stop watching Frozen. I wonder, honestly, if this is how my parents felt about Star Wars.
Anyway, since I watch the damned movie all the time, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing (over-analyzing, really) the world of Arrendale as portrayed in the film and, at the end, I have come to the following conclusion: The Duke of Weaseltown is not a villain. No, scratch that – the man is actually a courageous patriot and defender of his people and they should make goddamned statues to him, whereas the rest of those diplomats and heads of state are mealy-mouthed cowards who are selling their people’s well-being up the river in exchange for their own safety and comfort.
Now I know what you’re saying: That guy?! He’s an absurd, cowardly, underhanded weasel!
First of all, calling them “weasels” is racist, you Arrendalish bigot, you. Call them Wessels, please. Second of all, the Duke is the only guy in the whole damned movie who seems to understand what is actually going on in Arrendale with the advent of Elsa’s powers and he is the only person who acts to prevent what will, eventually, result in the complete reordering of their world for the worse as a result of Elsa’s sorcery.
I’ve written about this before, but just to reiterate: Have you considered just how terrifyingly powerful Elsa is? If you haven’t, think about it. This is a girl who is able to freeze a salt-water harbor by accident by merely touching it. That is an incredible amount of energy. The number of joules of energy needed to freeze a swimming pool volume of water is about 10.5 Gigajoules. How many swimming pools of water would it take to freeze an entire harbor to the thickness of ice we see in the movie? We are talking atomic bomb levels of power here – all without Elsa even exerting herself overmuch. Terrifying, terrifying, world-unbalancing stuff. For a country that clearly relies on trade as its primary means of prosperity, a super-power Arrendale could spell disaster for Weaseltown and Wessels. Something has to be done, and the Duke is the man to do it.
It is my considered opinion that the Duke’s entire purpose for attending the coronation is to assess the possible threat Elsa poses to his home and to the region in general. The whole “I’m a greedy goofball” act is just that – an act, designed to throw off suspicion from his true purpose and, given Weaseltown’s reputation, one that everybody buys without question. He uses it to get close to the queen, and the queen is his primary objective.
It is clear from the film that this kind of sorcery is not unknown – when the trolls ask Elsa’s father whether she was “born or cursed” with her powers, he immediately answers “born.” He doesn’t need to think about it because he knows. This power is passed down in the blood, clearly. It is rare, of course, but not so rare that the king and queen aren’t aware of it and know where it came from – not a curse, a bloodline.
So, when Weaseltown hears that the King and Queen of Arrendale have shut the gates and kept their eldest daughter in seclusion, the Duke gets suspicious. When the opportunity arises for him to be in the young queen’s presence, he leaps at the chance. It is telling that the Duke is the only guy to bring muscle to the festivities. These goons aren’t armed with swords or overt armaments (as a pair of soldiers might be), but are packing crossbows – assassins’ weapons – for the possibility that they will need to shoot Elsa dead.
Sure, it all sounds very dire and not-very-heroic, but consider what is at stake here. The world of Arrendale shows us a quiet, prosperous, and evidently quite peaceful region (none of the diplomats save the Duke come with bodyguards, remember). This would seem to mean that things are pretty well balanced – each nation has its place in the Big Dance, nobody is capable or inclined to conquer their neighbors, everybody is similarly wealthy and well-off. It is, from what we see, a little slice of utopia just south of the Arctic Circle.
Think of what Elsa being on the world stage does to that little picture. Arrendale becomes inviolate – nobody can invade, nobody can deny, nobody can do anything to Arrendale if Elsa doesn’t wish it. Elsa can, upon a whim, destroy any one of the surrounding kingdoms. No navy and no army could be marshaled against her and live. Basically, an Arrendale with Elsa places the rest of those peaceful, prosperous nations at Elsa’s feet with no prospect of rising again. That is bad for regional stability, bad for the liberty and self-determination of the surrounding nations, bad for trade, bad for everybody. Hell, it’s even bad for Arrendale – Elsa, who is not shown as taking criticism well, can and very well might just kill anyone or any group of someones who defies her.
So, the Duke does his damnedest to nip this in the bud – he stirs up mistrust for the sorceress, dispatches his assassins to kill her, is the first to criticize Prince Hans when he is pro-Elsa, and is the first to back up Prince Hans when he becomes anti-Elsa. He does all of this in the name of peace and regional stability. It may seem cruel, but it is realpolitik at its most basic. Sure, Elsa might seem (or even be) a nice person, but does her life outweigh the thousands of other lives she could ruin on a whim if she is allowed to become a head of state? You’re all pro-Elsa now, but how might your attitude change when her army of snow-monsters marches into downtown Weaseltown and starts slaughtering innocents? Or what about what happens when the Southern Isles pardon Prince Hans for his (stupid) plan and then *poof* – here comes the Snow Queen to lock them in winter until they decide to hang their little brother from the city gates by his thumbs.
The thing that really clinches the Duke’s status for me is at the end. Prince Hans on the frozen fjord, standing over a prone Queen Elsa, sword in hand. On the battlements of Arrendale Castle are all the foreign dignitaries, the Duke excepted, watching the drama unfold. They are too far away to hear what is said, so all they know is that Prince Hans is there to kill Queen Elsa like he is supposed to, as she was responsible for her sister’s death. Now, granted, it seems as though Anna is actually alive, but she is clearly freezing to death and, in actual fact, does become an ice-person. Hans seems to have lied from their perspective, but doesn’t seem to have lied that much. So, what happens when Hans is kept from doing the duty that all those guys agreed to? They cheer. Why? Because they have just switched sides to the side of the winner – the side of Elsa, their new Empress, whether they realize it or not.
Only the Duke has the integrity to stay just as anti-Elsa as he always was. He never applauds the new Queen. He never says he’s sorry for trying to have her killed. He says he was a victim of fear, sure, but that’s true. What he doesn’t add is that his fear is entirely justified and wise. What pleading he does at the end is to attempt to salvage a trade deal with Arrendale, which he does not secure. This, of course, is devastating news for the Duke, and not because he loves money, but rather because he loves peace. If the new superpower in the region won’t deal with Weaseltown, war is coming to Arrendale. A war they can’t win, know they can’t win, but will have to fight anyway. Thousands will die. Weaseltown will become a starving shadow of its former self.
If only the Duke had acted more quickly or, perhaps, even more ruthlessly, all of that could have been avoided. Alas.
I have been watching Frozen on loop now for the past several months. I have listened the soundtrack a million times. My daughter insists we sing “Love is an Open Door” as a duet, making sure I don’t edge in on the Anna part, since I’m supposed to just sing the Hans part.
The movie has been on my mind a lot.
Among the many, many things to say about this movie (and it is a great Disney movie, mind you), one comes to mind: How screwed is everybody else in the Frozen universe? I mean, seriously, Queen Elsa has just thrown down the geopolitical gauntlet. Think about it – this is a young woman who dropped her entire country into the depth of winter in the middle of the summer and she did this by accident. Holy shit.
Here’s how every negotiation with Arrendale goes from here on out:
Ambassador: Your Highness, we think these trade agreements are unfair.
Elsa: Oh, really? Because I think it’s rather nice of me to let your country have any liquid water at all. You know, if you catch my meaning.
Ambassador: These trade agreements look great! Boy, howdy, what a deal!
If Elsa learns to control her powers (which she seems to at the end), this is going to be great for Arrendale in the short term, sure. What appears to be a rather small, isolated country now needn’t fear foreign invasion and stands to have a lot of political weight to throw around if another country decides to play dirty.
Of course, as any historian can tell you, having some kind of overwhelming power while everyone else lacks it might be a recipe for regional hegemony, it also often leads to military conflict. One can see a group of nations banding together to take down the Witch of Arrendale if for no other reason than they are tired of living in terror of Queen Elsa’s foul moods. I mean, just how many ambassadors can you have shipped back to you in a block of ice with a note reading “sorry, he was rude.”
This could be avoided by Elsa not using her powers, naturally, or sharply curtailing their use. However, since she spent most of her youth being forbidden to ‘be herself’, now that she can use them (and her people love her for it), how can she not? If Weaseltown makes a shady move to box Arrendale out of some kind of trade market, hurting her citizens, do you think Elsa isn’t going to send a blizzard to make those Weasels rethink their decision? Not likely.
War is certainly coming, one way or another, or, to borrow the Starks words, Winter is Coming. For Arrendale and everybody else in the region, it’s likely to be a long one, too. No one can put up with one country having a weapon of mass destruction and not having one themselves unless those nations are willing to play second fiddle to Arrendale’s new superpower status. Sure, they may do this for a while, but not forever. And what happens, then, when Elsa dies? Do the vultures come to feed then? Do old scores get settled? Even worse to consider is this: what happens if Elsa’s gift propagates to her offspring? Now Arrendale controls a bloodline of super-weapons, and now it becomes a geopolitical struggle to control and contain them. This means dead and kidnapped babies, everybody – dead and kidnapped babies.
One can scarcely blame the Lord of Weaseltown, then, from looking to eliminate Elsa immediately. He’s an old guy and, despite his goofy appearance, he clearly knows his diplomatic business. He doesn’t just want Elsa dead because she’s scary, but also because her very existence will destabilize a region that, up until then, seems to be fairly peaceful and prosperous. Killing Elsa is the best thing not only for Weaseltown, but arguably for Arrendale, as well. Heck, even if he doesn’t manage killing her, demonizing her as a monster will keep her off the throne, and that’s enough to keep the world on an even keel. What he’s doing, while underhanded and reactionary, could very likely avoid generations of terror and violence in the land. He, in a certain sense, is doing us all a favor.
Then again, who knows? Maybe Elsa is wise enough to use her power sparingly, to keep it out of the geopolitical spectrum, and to control it carefully and conscientiously for the good of all. Then again, you know what they always say about absolute power, too. I’m not so sure Elsa is going to beat the odds there. If you live in one of Arrendale’s neighboring countries, I’d start stocking up on firewood and, for God’s sake, get the hell out of the ice business.