Magical, ethereal, and haunting Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of Mme Leprince de Beaumont’s The Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful and poetic film.
Cocteau’s vision of the Beast’s castle is both otherworldly and horrifying. The entryway to the castle reveals arms holding candelabra extending out of the wall; in the dining room, a single hand mounted to the table serves wine. Throughout the castle, watchful statues maintain a watchful eye. If fantasy is an extension of reality, the Beast’s surrealistic castle serves as a bridge to the outside world.
Cocteau illustrates the intimacy and affection between Belle and the Beast through clever Freudian symbolism. When Belle waits for the Beast to dine with her, there’s both an element of fright and a pique of interest in her body language. When the Beast quietly approaches Belle, her body language becomes sensual in its movement. There’s an unforgettable scene where Belle asks the Beast to drink out of her hand; the Beast happily obliges.
However, the heart of the film goes far beyond imagery and symbolism. After the Beast has transformed into a handsome prince, Belle is asked if she misses the Beast. She responds that she does. As to why this is the case, I leave that for you to figure out. At its core, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast shatters the illusion many may have of this particular fairy tale and reveals a world of fantastic surrealism. Its poetic substance and narrative takes us to the depths of our own desires and demons…our own Beast.