An Unsuspected Heroic Rebel
Every movie is created for a purpose. For some films, the purpose may be to inform an audience about a certain social issue, some movies are created purely to entertain, and some movies have an underlying theme or moral that it tries to convey. More often than not films will contain a thesis, although more often than not it is implied as opposed to explicit. As Giannetti says, “Cinema can be a powerful source of moral persuasion” (Giannetti 4). Children’s movies are generally known for their thesis. Mulan is a children’s movie that contains both positive and negative implied theses.
The underlying positive message in Mulan is the theme of gender equality. Mulan’s father is required to serve in the war, yet he is elderly and in no condition to fight. Against Mulan’s will, the Imperial General refuses to let her serve in place of her father because she is a woman. Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands, and dresses as a man to take her father’s duty in the war.
From the beginning of the film, Mulan is treated as inferior because she is a woman. She is expected to be the stereotypical Chinese woman of the time- to stay home and support her husband as her main duties. For example, when she goes to the “matchmaker” of the time, she is described as “too skinny” which is “not good for bearing sons.” Mulan is quickly portrayed as unique, as she fails to pass the test as an adequate woman. When Mulan tries to stop her father from serving in the war, she is told to “hold her tongue in the presence of a man” and that she “is a dishonor to her family.” Despite the continual oppression, Mulan refuses to let the feudalistic ideation dissuade her from helping her father. When Mulan sneaks out in the middle of the storm to go to war for her father, the theme of gender equality begins to reveal itself.
The power and determination of women becomes very obvious theme after Mulan is shown training at the army camp. She fails continuously but refuses to give up until she succeeds. Eventually, Mulan is able to complete the tasks, and even exceed the performance of all of the male soldiers. This creates an argument of ethos, as it creates emotions of empowerment within the female audience.
The movie continues to show scenes where Mulan succeeds and outperforms her male counterparts, building the argument for the equality of women. The climax of the movie comes when Mulan defeats the antagonist, the head Hun. It is possible that the death of the antagonist is symbolic of Mulan defeating her discrimination. This is a quintessential point in the movie that solidifies the underlying theme, bringing the argument to a close.
The argument for the theme of gender equality was successful in the movie Mulan. Against all odds, Mulan showed persistence and determination, and was able to save not only her father, but also all of China. The use of ethos was critical to the success of the argument. The viewer is emotionally drawn to the character of Mulan, which inevitably makes the theme successful. The movie is most specifically directed at a younger audience; however, the theme presents a relative argument to everyone. The theme is obviously more disguised to the younger audience, but older viewers will definitely relate to the theme. This is an effective method because generally a younger audience views movies with parental guidance, making a more complex theme a logical choice (logos).
While the positive message of gender equality is the ideal theme of the movie producer, there is a more negative implied theme that results: rebellion. Mulan, beginning early in the movie, is resistant to authority. She acts out of place, such as when she inappropriately confronts the emperor’s messenger, and defies the will of her father. This theme, while unintentional, is potentially harmful to the easily influenced mind of young viewers. It advertises the feasibility of being disrespectful and a rebel toward authority.
While the theme of rebellion is potentially problematic, I think overall the movie is still successful in arguing for gender equality. The positive message has a more lasting and greater impact than that of the negative theme. The theme of gender equality is argued with much more clarity and ethos, which makes it the more effective theme. However, the negative theme is still prevalent and a potential setback of this movie. For this reason, I give the film four out of five pickles. In order to show the theme of gender equality, some display or rebellion was necessary; however, it could have been minimized somewhat and still have had the same result.