SPOILERS: If you have not seen the movie Penelope, you must stop where you are, immediately go to Netflix or your nearest Redbox, pick up a copy, and enjoy one of the most entertaining modern fairy tales you will EVER see. If you’re too lazy, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There are many brilliant moments in Penelope, but hands down, this is my favorite line:
Don’t ask me why; I just love it. She’s Static Cling. It’s adorable. It’s clever. It’s creative. It’s just like something Penelope would have done for Halloween had she been allowed to participate in the holiday as a child.
This clip cuts off right before Penelope says, “Frankly, I find you quite refreshing.” Penelope is passing along to Alice an important lesson: individuality is worthwhile and worthy of love.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie (as by now, I hope you all have), you know that Penelope takes a long time in learning this. Over 25 years.
Penelope, of course, is born under a curse– she will bear the face of a pig (actually adorable nose feature) until another blue blood accepts her, until death do they part.
The phrasing of the curse implies marriage, and so by means of matrimony, the Wilherns attempt to cure their daughter. It never once occurs to them that they are also blue bloods and could also break the curse. They automatically assume that it has to be marriage, so Penelope’s parents never accept her for who she is and instead train her to be a perfect bride.
So Penelope is raised to believe that she is unworthy and that only marriage to a wealthy blue-blooded man will give her any value.
Then she meets Max. Max is great for Penelope. He challenges her, he teases her, he comes to love her. He doesn’t run away from her. But when push comes to shove, he turns her down and walks away.
There are a couple key reasons why Max (aka Johnny) and Penelope can’t be together at this point in their lives. One) Max is not actually Max, and therefore he cannot break the curse for Penelope. Two) Neither Johnny nor Penelope love themselves sufficiently to sustain a viable relationship.
Let’s look at number One first. Ladies and gents, just like Johnny not being able to break the curse, you cannot solve someone else’s problems. When you go into a relationship attempting to solve the other person’s problems (or worse, have the other person solve your problems), your relationship is bound for destruction. It’s taking the bullet train to get there, too. And really, if you’re throwing that on somebody (either solving or being solved), you don’t love them well enough. If your relationship gets to a point where one party is relying on the other to fix something in themselves, the healthiest thing to do might be to take a breather. When Johnny walks out, it’s because he knows that he cannot break Penelope’s curse.
Speaking of the curse, let’s move on to number Two. Penelope’s curse is much more than her physical appearance (which I still insist is adorable!). Penelope’s curse is low self-esteem. In the chapter on psychoanalysis, my beautiful book on literary criticism defines low self esteem as:
The belief that we are less worthy than other people and therefore, don’t deserve attention, love, or any other of life’s rewards. Indeed, we often believe that we deserve to be punished by life in some way.
Essentially, Penelope does not love herself, nor does she accept herself or value herself as a human being. Penelope cannot be with Max/Johnny until she learns to do so. And when she does break the psychological curse by learning to love herself as she is, she breaks the physical curse on her facial features.
But what about Johnny? He doesn’t love himself either. At the start of Johnny’s story line in the film, all we know about him is that he’s a gambler out to make a quick buck. So he’s wasted his money, he’s not working, he’s addicted to gambling, he’s not following his dreams, he’s not living a healthy life. Being with Penelope (as Max) was good for Johnny in that it made him acutely aware of his problems. But his problems, if he hadn’t walked away from her when he did, would have eventually ruined their relationship. Johnny pre-Penelope is wasting himself away little by little, masochistically destroying his talent as a musician and artist by gambling through the whole night. He has secluded himself from healthy society, and he does not care about himself.
Penelope helps Johnny to realize that he has serious problems and issues to work through, and that only he can fix his own problems. Slowly, gradually, he takes steps to change. He starts playing music again. He quits gambling. He branches back out to the Cloverdilly Pub instead of the poker crowd. He admits that he “didn’t appreciate a good thing when [he] had it” and begins working again. Without Penelope, Johnny would not have begun to heal, but he could only heal on his own. He had to learn to love himself before he could love Penelope.
So while it is frustrating and difficult for both Penelope and Johnny to have a glimpse of togetherness and then be apart, it is essential for them to have the break up in order for their relationship to be strong. Without the influence of the other, neither would have begun to love themselves properly, yet learning to love yourself is something that must be done on your own. You will never love somebody enough for both of you; he has to love himself for him to love her and vice versa.
But when you do work through your problems, this could still happen: