PROVIDED BY THE HUMANITIES DIVISION
Winner: Megan Benitone
2014 October 30
Hans: The Most Lovable Villain
She is freezing to death. Her skin is so cold it feels like it’s blistering, and her fingers—well, she can’t even feel them anymore. All she needs is a kiss from her true love to fix this. A kiss from him. He strokes her face gently and it makes her miss her parents and her sister. But this will fix it. This is what she traveled back down the mountainside for. He leans in closer and so does she, one perfect, life-saving moment about to be had. She closes her eyes and—“Oh, Anna. If only there was someone out there who loved you.”
The vast majority of us recognize the above description as the infamous Kiss-and-Diss scene from the hugely popular Disney movie Frozen. This scene is the moment when a collective gasp is had by everyone in the theatre and the collective thought of, “I didn’t know he was evil” is had. Hans, Prince of the Southern Isles, is the true villain of the movie, but I think he’s more. Not only do I think he is the greatest and most intricate antagonist Disney has ever created, but I dare to say he is not evil. That’s right. Hans, who left Anna (his fiancée) for dead and attempted to brutally slay Elsa and wrongfully take the throne is not evil. Usually at this point in a casual discussion of the film, the other party will tell me I am nuts, and that I obviously need to press rewind, because I, apparently, missed a whole lot. But what if everyone else is missing something; what if Hans isn’t who we’ve all made him out to be? Now, I don’t think he’s good, let’s not get carried away. Dastardly? Yes. Misguided? Absolutely. Power-hungry? Sure. But evil? No. Prince Hans is certainly not the E-word, although he can plot and attempt murder with the best of ‘em.
In fact, I don’t believe I’m making a bold statement when I say that I believe Hans only wanted what we all do: to be loved.
He made some exceptionally bad choices, such as trying to kill off Anna and underestimating Elsa. Trying to be the storybook hero, especially, was one of his biggest mistakes. But, perhaps, at the very core of his character, he is just like all of us. Those simple desires to be loved, cared for, to be recognized at all would have easily been manipulated and twisted by the severe childhood he had. Yes, he was raised a prince, in comfort and luxury, but just like too much candy rots our teeth, so spoiling does a rotten child make. Not to mention his “lighthearted” comment about being shunned by three of his brothers for two years. Hans is thirteenth in his line, the youngest, and three of his older brothers who he without a doubt looked up to, treated him as if he were invisible for the entirety of two years. It wouldn’t matter that he had nine other brothers, because three of them didn’t care about his existence. One cannot even imagine how such treatment would twist the psyche. Humans are creatures that need loving and nurturing, we crave it, and the need for physical contact is important to the maintenance of mental well-being. And this is a portion of Hans’ life that is divulged merely on a whim in conversation, and by no means delves into his childhood as a whole. Meaning, this tiny slice of his life that he plays off, is one itsy-bitsy fraction of all of his experiences. It is likely that more emotionally stunting events probably took place in his childhood.
And this is only one reason why Hans in general is a very confusing, intricate character. His story is not laid out for us, we must come up with assumptions, and his villainhood prevents most people from taking the extra step to look into his character. But if one pays enough attention, there are huge give-aways to his true nature right off the bat. The strongest piece of evidence for this would be in the scene in which Hans and Anna first meet. Recall, please, that they meet when Anna clumsily collides with Hans’ horse and nearly falls into the water. The immediate reaction of any trained gentleman would, naturally, be to dismount and help the lady. Anyone, even a sociopath, can be a gentleman in technical terms. But when Hans first puts his hand out to help her, he is caught staring back in what appears to be adoration at the gaping Anna before he even knew she was a princess. The same look crosses his face only moments later after Anna has left. He peers up through his eyelashes and does one of those lop-sided smiles and his brows curve inward like he just can’t help himself. Now, I don’t think this is the look of someone in love necessarily, but I do think it is the look of someone who feels loved. Both times, before and after he found out Anna was royalty, he looks at her as if she’s his whole world, and he doesn’t even know her. All he knows is that she paid attention to him.
It is highly likely that Hans had been considering a plan to weasel his way into the throne before he even set foot on Arendelle. But I’m not so sure that he was ready to go through with said plan until he met Anna and felt what it was like to be seen, to be really seen and acknowledged. It is most likely that he decided after their encounter that he wanted the throne, any throne, and the recognition that comes with it.
As his character unfolds over the course of the movie, it is clear that he is one of the most intricate villains to ever grace a Disney movie. Even when very closely examined, Hans’ is a very hard character to pin down. In addition to the scene mentioned above, in the attack on Elsa’s ice palace, Hans does save her from certain death. He could have let her die, problem solved, and why he didn’t is simply a mystery. Maybe he left her alive to keep the snow storm broiling and to draw attention away from his actions. But the possibility of Elsa escaping and overcoming him was much too large for someone who is as thorough as Hans proved himself to be. Disney does not leave loose ends. They create deep, winding backstories for each and every character, most of which is never even involved in their films. The brilliance of this is that a movie and its character become snapshots, not even close to an entire album. This leaves the audience gasping in the theatres and pleasantly puzzled outside of them. Hans is Disney’s greatest example of their masterful techniques. His actions make little sense, just like a real person, and his motives and much deeper than they appear. With this, instantly a shallow character becomes a bottomless blue-hole with undiscovered beasties lurking in the cold waters far below. This is Hans, and this is the true nature of his dynamic.
He is certainly intricate in design, but one question is still left unanswered: why is Hans the greatest Disney villain ever created? He does not transform into a menacing dragon like Maleficent, or steal the souls of innocent mer-people like Ursula. He doesn’t even attempt to destroy and pillage an entire country like Shan Yu. Attempted murder aside, Hans’ goal seems to be to take the throne of Arendelle. His motives are made quite clear. I mean, he says it all himself: “As thirteenth in line in my own kingdom, I didn’t stand a chance. I knew I’d have to marry into the throne somewhere.” For someone raised only with the throne in mind, his choice of antagonist-motivation seem classic, and maybe even a little blaze. The power of the Rule was definitely one reason why Hans wanted to be King of Arendelle (everyone gets a little power-hungry), but most of all I think he wanted to be loved. Actually, forget loved, he just wanted to be noticed. He wanted his existence to be paid enough regard that someone, anyone would be moved enough to either hate him or love him. He would never be ignored again. In the same scene as the aforementioned quote, he later says, “I…am the hero who is going to save Arendelle from destruction.” I think we all know that heroes are generally beloved by their people. Need I say more?
Of course, these things don’t negate his outright cruelty to Anna. Many would wonder why someone who only wanted to be loved would spurn one as warm and ready to love as Anna, and those many would be right in wondering. But let’s think about it this way: Anna and Hans are similar. Not identical, but similar. After all, both grew up in forms of isolation, both were rejected by loved ones, both are last in line for the throne. It can be observed through one of the sillier and mushier songs in the film called “Love is an Open Door,” that Hans (even if he is for the most part trying to fool Anna) has also taken note of their similarities. In the instance of the Kiss-and-Diss scene, I believe when Hans is speaking to Anna, he is, in a way, speaking to himself. Which would mean that he is unloading all of his self-hatred and disgust, his feelings of responsibility for being unloved, on a similar party. I don’t think he’s treating Anna as a person, I think he’s treating her as I mirror, and he is revolted by his reflection. This is, possibly, the most complete explanation that can be made of Hans. Disney did a good job in disguising his true-nature, and the difficulty in reading him is probably why he makes such an outstanding antagonist.
Hans is a grade A douche-bag for sure, but evil—I don’t think so. He is an excellent example of Disney’s amazing dynamic in character creation. Even after he is revealed (and his reveal is excellently timed and came as quite the surprise) as the true villain of the story, he continues to confuse and mislead. One moment he spares Elsa’s life with no apparent motive, and in the next he is going to cut her down with a long-sword, and has already left Anna for dead. The smoke and mirrors he employs make him an obvious choice for Villain of the Year, but what truly makes Hans the greatest villain is that anyone of us could be him. After all, we all want to be loved.
Frozen. Dir. Jennifer Lee. Walt Disney Pictures, 2013.