The Tragedy of Elsa

I cried the first time I heard “Let It Go” from Frozen. Not delicate, wow-what-an-inspiring-moment sniffles. Actual, deep-down, trying-to-muffle-the-sobs-so-the-people-next-to-me-don’t-think-I’m-crazy, why-didn’t-I-bring-more-Kleenex-to-an-animated-comedy kind of tears.

Frozen 3

It’s possible that I am the only person in the whole entire world who had that reaction to the power ballad of the year. It will never make a list of Top Tearjerking Disney moments. In fact, most people think it’s a happy song.

Go figure.

Do you know what that song is about? Do you really? Let’s listen to it again, shall we? (Unless it’s already looping incessantly through your head right now, in which case feel free to pass. And I’m sorry.)

“Let it Go” is about a young woman who has shut everyone out…and then leaves them behind, leaves everything familiar that she has ever known. She is isolated and alone and surrounded by the harsh, icy beauty of winter. And her sister, who loves her, is very far away.

There was, in at least one theater, a young woman who had been shutting people out after she left everything familiar that she had ever known. She felt isolated and alone in the coldest winter Minnesota had seen in fifty years.

And her sister, who loved her, was very far away.

As I watched the movie, “Let it Go” was not funny and cute and catchy to me. It was definitely not inspiring. It’s a great song. But it’s a great song for the same reason that Hamlet is a great play—because it’s tragic.

At that point in the movie, Elsa didn’t have the wisdom to recognize that she was dealing with her problems in an extremely unhealthy way. Yes, “conceal, don’t feel” is an awful idea. So is “run away from your problems and your family even though you’re the ruler of your people.”

Like, come on, was she even familiar with the basic plot of The Lion King? In the same way that “Hakuna Matata” is a delightful and catchy song but in no sense intended as good life advice, “Let It Go” presents a way that people often deal with problems. One that we should immediately dismiss as a terrible idea, not turn into the Upbeat Singalong Hit of the Century.

Listen to the wise monkey, Elsa.

Listen to the wise monkey, Elsa.

Can I suggest that if we glorify pre-transformation Elsa we are rejecting Jesus’s most important command to the church?

Boom. Yes. That happened. I just raised the stakes.

But really, guys, the reason our culture is under the incredible delusion that “Let It Go” is a happy song is because we reward the independent. We value the strong and capable. We celebrate the ones who have it all together and set an example and can belt out those high notes perfectly on-key and with awesome hair.

And, as a culture, we’re becoming more and more accepting of people going off on their own and being “spiritual” without going to church, because churches are full of hypocritical people and broken systems.

Guess what? They are. But when Jesus talked about the most important sign of his followers, this is what he said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The mark of Christ’s followers is not rugged independence. Not talent or brilliance or strength. Not perfect churches with perfect people who are never bothered by the storms of life and can walk outside in the middle of winter without a coat and be just fine. Love for one another.

If you’re feeling like Elsa right now, first know that I understand what it’s like to be completely out of courage. To know in your head that it’s not good to be lonely but feel completely incapable of doing anything about it.

I understand that feeling…but you can’t stay there. It’s going to take a lot of work, and you will probably have to do things that scare you. But do them anyway. Don’t give up on people even if you have to meet them several times before they remember your name. Look for ways to serve instead of wondering why you’re not being served. Take risks. Pray a lot. Try new things. Say “hi.”


If you’re more like Anna, know that sometimes Elsa won’t come to you. Sometimes you have to go find her. Sometimes you have to love people who are so worn out that they can give nothing back to you. Ask the ones with the defeated look in their eyes what their dreams are. Believe in the guy who’s given up on himself. Find the defiantly independent and the socially withdrawn and speak words of truth to them.

Please love those people. And don’t let go.


  1. Post of the year so far, in my opinion. Bravo. Totally agree.

    It’s been a struggle for me to watch as so many people latch onto Let It Go like it’s this brilliant ideology for life. I’ve tried to point out how awful it is, but people hear “awful” and immediately think I don’t like the song or music, and then the defenses go up. Alas, it is what it is I suppose. People today just really don’t like hearing the words that are actually coming out of their mouths when they sing a song with lyrics that are sad and bitter, as too many songs today are.

    I honestly wonder how the filmmakers intended it? It’s obviously a “freeing” moment for Elsa, but I wonder if they intended it to be that place we all get to where we say “forget the world, it’s all about me!” and then she changes that opinion later. It’s a selfish moment, and I don’t know if they meant it to do what the world has taken it and done with it. Would be interesting to ask them!

    1. Great thoughts, JK Riki! I wondered about the filmmaker’s intent too–and the conclusion I came to was that *everything* in the plot/dialogue says that Elsa’s response to her problem was bad. You can’t miss that message. The happy ending was not Elsa moving back to her ice palace and being capable and independent and self-actualized. But the writers probably knew that the song would be taken out of context and used as a positive message of identity and confidence, etc., because that’s what happens to songs in musicals. Anyway, that’s my guess.

      1. Sounds about right.

        Also just “JK” is fine, Amy Green. 🙂 I’ll probably stick around, and it makes me nervous when people call me by my full name, ha ha!

  2. This was insightful and much appreciated. I knew the song shouldn’t be heralded as a good expression or reaction in real, but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Which is exactly what you did! Bravo.

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