Beauty and the Beast | How Reading can Improve Mental Health and Increase Empathy

An analysis of the 2017 film “Beauty and the Beast”, directed by Bill Condon.

The 2017 live-action adaption of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon, is a great re-telling of the classic fairy-tale. It stays true to the original film, while at the same time adding depth and expanding themes of alienation and feminism. Moreover, there is an important message about how to overcome mental illness, and how reading can increase empathy.

Beauty and the beast

While not stated out loud, there are subtextual hints that the Beast is mentally ill—a natural consequence of being locked up in a castle with only furniture to talk to. His abnormal appearance would contribute to his low self-esteem, and combined with his loneliness might cause social anxiety. His behaviour towards Belle testifies to this; he doesn’t want to speak to her, being too depressed and cynical. He has no confidence in his own like ability. He has resentfully accepted his fate of being a lonely beast for the rest of his life.

The living furnishings in the castle represent the conscience of the Beast; the small, dying voice that still has hope of being free from the spell of the castle and the imprisonment of the Beast’s self-pitying mind. The Beast has long ago stopped listening to these voices, but with the arrival of Belle, the first presence of a human being he has encountered in ten years, these voices start to shout to him, yelling out the nearly forgotten rules of courtesy, social interaction and decent behaviour.

And as Belle realizes there is humanity in the Beast, the Beast starts to see the humanity in himself which he has forgotten a long time ago, which makes him gradually overcome the mental illness that is plaguing him.

Belle uncovers the Beast’s love for books. The Beast probably hasn’t read for a long time, maybe not at all since becoming a beast, but Belle makes him rediscover the pleasure of reading. They find a common interest, something that connects them.

Research has proven that reading make us more empathic. Literary fiction in particular can help us read emotional cues and analyze other people’s motives. This, in turn, can make us more understanding human beings, which can greatly enhance our personal relationships. It doesn’t just expand our worldview—it expands our hearts.

Thus, as Belle and the Beast are reading, they both become more empathic. They step into the minds of fictional characters and empathize with them, which also makes them better at understanding and empathizing with each other and themselves. Reading helps the Beast to step out of his own troubled mind, experiencing the thoughts and emotions of other people, which in turn helps him understand his own thoughts and emotions, and those of Belle.

They get to know each other better through reading, which is displayed in the way they recite books to each other. And eventually this connection evolves to invoke feelings of affection and love.

Thus, Beauty and the Beasts ca teach us the importance of relationships; how we need others to help us like ourselves, and that we need help from others to overcome mental illness. This is shown in the way Belle helps the Beast to overcome his bad self-esteem and social anxiety. The film also tells us how reading can improve our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and how reading make us more empathic because it teaches us to value the inside of people instead of only the appearance, which is the ultimate message of the film.