Yes, I’m talking about the Disney movie. Rapunzel, her witchy mother, the swarthy bandit-turned-good Flynn Rider (aka Eugene Fitzherbert), and the real hero, Maximus, head horse of the palace guard. I found it to be a surprisingly delightful and entertaining movie, straight out of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast mold. (You’ll be glad to know that Quentin Tarantino ranked Tangled number five on his Best of 2010 list.) Yes, I’m the girl who owned the soundtrack cassettes to both of those movies. Yes, I could still probably sing them to you by heart. It feels good to get that off my chest.
Jonah, for his part, was entertained and all, but I don’t think it was quite dark enough for him. Some kids are obsessed with trains. Some with princesses. Gabriel loves anything that digs, pushes, dumps, or rolls. Jonah, well, Jonah is rather preoccupied with death. Awhile back, John described the process of growing old as shrinking. John’s father died about a year and half ago; Jonah attended the funeral and burial. I’m pretty sure that’s when the questions started. Jonah understands that he’s still a kid, and that kids are still growing and in no immediate danger of shrinking, so he doesn’t freak out about death usually (except occasionally, when he’s feeling anxious, and he repeatedly asks, “I’m not shrinking, right? I’m not shrinking. I’m still growing, right?”). So he’s aware of death. It’s firmly planted in his consciousness, and he’s trying to make his own sense of it. Several times he’s told us, “Someday you are going to die, and Gabriel and I will be big. And we will talk and think.” Like everything Jonah does, or is about to do, he wants to know when death is going to come. He needs to place it. In a way, it’s just a matter of semantics.
So while I was enchanted by the music and that great floating lantern scene (we’re back to Tangled here), he couldn’t get enough of the scene where the witchy “mother” withers before our eyes—her face goes ashen and wrinkled (not unlike Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith), her hands shrivel up, and she stumbles around moaning “What have you done?! O what have you done?” until she trips on Rapunzel’s hair and falls out of a very high window, disintegrating as she hits the ground. Makes sense; she’s hundreds of years old. Well Jonah just couldn’t get enough. Over and over again he wanted to watch that scene. “She disappears!” he cried. Rewind. “Look! She melts!” (An allusion to his other favorite death scene.) Rewind to where she’s shriveling up. “See her face! She is old! Look, she melts! Do you see that?” I cut him off at this point. It was bath time anyway.
Over the weekend, we passed a church just as the bride and groom were exiting. “Look,” I told Jonah, “it’s a wedding. They just got married.” His reply startled me. “Now she is going to die.” How do you respond to that? What’s going on in his brain? I don’t want to make him sound like a specimen, but I love trying to decipher his processes. “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). This is where the autism label doesn’t mean much. Which one of us isn’t an astonishing, if messy, conundrum?