So a little while back, I saw the new Beauty and the Beast. (And this post takes no care with spoilers so if you haven’t seen it, look out: there are spoilers.) I was nervous from the multitude of things I heard about it, various criticisms of all sorts ranging from the vague, “it wasn’t that good,” to the specific. As Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie as a kid, I desperately wanted it to be good.
And I absolutely loved it.
I felt that they addressed every major criticism of the original Disney film – especially the one where Belle’s love for the Beast is actually just Stockholm Syndrome – and they expounded plot and character arcs. And while I’d love to go into detail on those notes, there’s much to argue that in the end depends on what you care about most in a film, what you’re looking for in it. So, I’d rather get to why you’re all really here.
Which is of course Gaston.
Gaston has a bit of backstory in this new rendition – he’s not just this super pretty douchehole who wants to marry Belle. He’s a soldier who (probably?) owns the tavern in town (I mean it has all his hunting trophies and his name is painted on the wall) and is obsessed with marrying Belle due to sticking strongly to the delusion of the perfect life he wants that completely ignores one big detail – Belle isn’t the lovely doll he insists in his mind she is.
In the original animated film, Gaston does one main villain thing, beyond being a narcisistic jerk: he plots to use Maurice’s “craziness” as blackmail against Belle – and mind you, Gaston probably or definitely believes Maurie is psychotic. Everyone does. But it’s a matter of using that “obvious” disability against Belle that is villainous.
I’d argue that his wanting to kill the beast isn’t exactly a villain thing. He’s the village hunter, and there’s something that is “obviously” a monster. It’s his job to kill the beast. I mean, he probably should have listened to Belle, but you can’t really expect a small-minded small-town guy of old to listen to a girl, right? Especially when he displayed his inability to listen to her when she said “no” earlier. It’s more of a mob-mentality thing, the sort of thing a hero could get into just as easily, and have – I mean, my friend was just telling me how in his last DnD session, his players got lost in dimensions and eventually happened upon an orc, who they tried to kill, until their one player who speaks orcish discovered that they were the intruders in the orc’s pocket dimension: they’d broken into his house and tried to kill him.
The difference is that Gaston never tried to pull out diplomacy, and probably had a clue that Belle loved the beast or somesuch. That part IS villainous.
But Live Action Gaston, he has more to him. He starts off the same big-headed jerk, refusing to acknowledge who Belle is or what she wants for herself, only what he wants. And then Belle disappears and Maurice comes in the bar yelling about a beast. Gaston, wanting to get on father-in-law’s good side, decides to try to help him even though he doesn’t believe Maurice. Unfortunately, the path to the castle has mysteriously disappeared, so they’re out in the woods when it’s late and cold and there are wolves and Gaston wants to go home. Maurice insists that they have to save Belle, his everything, and Gaston flips that Maurice is crazy.
An interesting bit here is that to calm his friend and idol down, LeFou reminds Gaston of the war. Now, I might not know anything about soldiers, but “the war, the explosions, the widows” is not usually a comforting thought. Like, PTSD is common among soldiers for a reason. But this works, calms Gaston down right quick, allows him to paste on a wide smile for a moment. That’s the first flag this guy is not just a jerk, like animated Gaston.
The second is that Gaston does something absolutely sinister, after bursting out he only helped Maurice because he wants to marry Belle: Maurice declares he will never marry Belle, and Gaston, after having established being out now means freezing to death or being devoured by wolves, punches Maurice, knocking him out, and ties him to a tree.
I have a bit of a hard time seeing Animated Gaston do this. Live Action Gaston, though? We just, like literally just, established that he enjoyed the war, and war is about death. He has no qualms with killing people, and didn’t figure out how to leave that behidn in the war, because it wasn’t a mantle he put on for the war. It’s who he is. We start to get the idea that Gaston is actually an evil person, a monster, masquerading as a normal person, or even a hero. And if we weren’t sure that maybe it’s just that Gaston is disturbed from the war, or maybe in Ye Olde Fairy Tale Times, this isn’t that, y’know, murderous, we have LeFou, who was Gaston’s war buddy, who walks into the bar with what’s basically,
And Maurice, who had been saved by the beggar/enchantress, is there, accusing Gaston of murder. Unfortunately, Gaston is the kind of guy who is REALLY good at the game Werewolves, like me – which is to say, even if you are the only werewolf left in the game, you can convince the entire “town” – or just, town, in Gaston’s case – that you are the only person they can trust and to whomever you point the finger is the REAL werewolf, using only the sheer force of your maxed out Charisma skill.
And thus, convincing the town Maurice is psycho and needs to go to an asylum becomes much, much more sinister. It’s not about manipulating Maurice or Belle into the marriage Gaston wants so much as saving his sorry hide, destroying the evidence that Gaston is actually a monster – but hey, maybe twisting Maurice’s arm into forcing Belle into marriage is the cherry on top.
I would like to take this time to remind you of an important fact: Gaston says Maurice wouldn’t survive the asylum and he’s absolutely freaking right have you ever seen Ye Olde asylums holy HECk are they the things of nightmares. Like, even just, idk, fifty, sixy years ago, they were hell holes. But back in the day! If you saw the tools and the cells and the apparatus used, you’d think you were looking at a torture chamber.
Gaston is sending Maurice to what is more torture chamber than anything else on the pretense of being psychotic thinking of beasts and Gaston his murderer (which he was). That’s evil.
And he’s already in full-blown Cover Up My Villainy mode when Belle rides in and says whoooooaaaa hold on, here’s proof Gaston is full of crap. So he doesn’t roll diplomacy because whatever’s happening, he needs the people on his side, believing he is right, and the immediately obvious way to go is to kill the beast. And if Belle is saying, wait, wait, no! then that must mean that the Beast, like Maurice, is an obstacle and it needs clearing anyway.
And there’s poor LeFou, stuck with his own beast, his heart’s desire, his idol, wondering if he’s even on the right side, fearing War Gaston is on the loose, and thinking hard how he can reign is friend back in. And the harpsichord drops on him. And Gaston refuses to help because now’s his chance, with all the “furniture” distracted with the mob, to kill the Beast.
And LeFou realizes, this isn’t War Gaston – there isn’t War Gaston and Post-War Gaston. There’s just Gaston, and Gaston is a monster.
And Gaston finds the Beast and declares that Belle sent him, a clear lie – a pretty dang good indication that Gaston knows exactly what the Beast means to Belle, or at least that he’s important or precious to her if not that she loves him. It’s a sign that he has devoted himself single-mindedly to his fantasy, his delusion, that he will get what he wants, no matter the cost, no matter who he has to kill.
And that, friends, is one of the most basic cores of any villain. To get what you want, no matter the cost.
And that’s – wow I could maybe not like start the next paragraph with “and” – and that’s why I love this live-action Gaston. In the animation, I might have said that Gaston’s song is his villain song, but in this one, it really feels like Kill The Beast is the villain song. It’s not fun and silly and self-aggrandizing. It’s deadly mob psychology run by someone who knows better and doesn’t care.
The final aspect of Gaston that apparently upset many is that he dies because the castle crumbles from underneath him (and also that he shot the Beast instead of stabbing him, which I won’t grace much with response because that’s a dumb complaint. It makes sense, much more sense than stabbing, in the context.). While I might be prone to whine about this as well, since the defeat of the villain is crucial, I’m actually okay with this one. See Gaston is a villain and a problem, but he isn’t the problem that the heroine has to overcome for much of the story. Actually, Gaston is nearly side plot to that.
See, the running theme of the story as told here seems to be to me “be true to yourself”. The Beast, on realizing that this whole time he’s been a snooty, selfish ponce because his dad raised him to be that way, starts to explore himself, find out who he truly is, with Belle at his side. Belle is already true to herself, and others criticize her for it (why I’ve always connected to her, that and her incessant reading). And Gaston, like the Beast, is not who he appears to be on the outside. But unlike the Beast, who is putting aside a mask of cruelty he was taught to hold to find out what’s underneath, Gaston is holding tight to his mask of heroism to get what he wants as the mask crumbles away to reveal a monster. The juxtaposition is sufficient; either hero laying a hand on Gaston, or being responsible in any way for his death, would be detrimental to their character arcs. Especially the Beast’s, who has just discovered he’s actually a pretty decent guy when he’s true to himself. Decent guys don’t usually kill other guys regardless of the situation.
As for falling to his death from a crumbling castle – that was foreshadowed pretty heavily. The castle was constantly crumbling throughout the movie, and all throughout the fight scene. So it wasn’t a Deus Ex Machina or anything, either. It was a consequence of zeal to kill the Beast and lack of care.
So if you were wondering if there’s a good model for how to make your monster of a man – just a man, yes, but a monster of one – look like a normal person, take a look at Live Action Gaston. There’s no one quite like him.