I’ve been bothered by the fact that, at the end, Shrek and his princess elect not to remain handsome and dignified, but go back to their ogre ugliness and live in the swamp. In fact, I assume the name Shrek is based on the German schrecklich, which my dictionary says means “frightful, fearful, dreadful, terrible, horrible, hideous, ghastly, awful, atrocious.” Is that really a desirable conclusion to a film for a generation that values ugliness and uncouth? It must be.
After all, the guys who are depicted as being desirable to women in today’s commercials—and I don’t know about the network programs, because I can’t stomach them even for a minute—tend to look like skid row bums, and the only requirement for a male in a commercial, in addition to that five-day beard, seems to be that he look like someone with an IQ to match his hat size. Is this the final result of our entertainment culture, that we abandon our esthetic standards?
In world literature from the beginning we have what mythographers call the hieros gamos, which is Greek for “sacred wedding.” In the days when all myth was solar myth, they said it represented that meeting of sun and moon that takes place every nineteen years and represents the renewal of the cosmos and great fertility. In any case, the hieros gamos was the necessary conclusion to the Greek comedies, which were a part of the annual ceremonies to ensure the fertility of land and people. You know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl and they live happily ever after. As the uptight guardian of Princess Bagelle’s chastity in Robin Hood: Men in Tights puts it, we’ll have to expand the castle to make room for all the little ones.
In more serious literature, this is the point of The Odyssey. Odysseus, with his red hair, really is a solar hero, and Penelope (but where did she get a name meaning “purple-striped duck”?!) really is a lunar being, as she mimics the moon’s weaving of destiny. He manages to get back to her after 20 years of absence, rounding off the period between meetings of sun and moon. They have already been married for many years, of course, but the principle of final union is there.
Our great American musical comedies nearly all end with that blissful union of the handsome male and the beautiful female. Some of the westerns do, although there was a tendency for the cowboy hero to hug his horse and ride off into the sunset. Perhaps it is significant that in the film some critics consider the last western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the female lead declares that she will play the stereotyped feminine role for the bandits, but will not watch them die, and she boards a boat for the States.
I have written before that I was very impressed by John S. Brushwood’s statement that one problem with today’s society is that we’ve slain all our myths. Perhaps we’d better ask ourselves whether we really want to teach our children by precept and example that the sacred wedding isn’t a desirable thing and probably doesn’t work anymore in the best of cases. We may be condemning ourselves to a vulgar life in the swamp.