(Warning: Contains spoilers.)
The first time I watched Encanto was during the New Year of 2022. I was still with my whole family back at home, and little did I know, this was the best movie to watch on the first day of the year.
Since then, I became mesmerized with the film’s progressive plotline, such as the inclusivity of its characters in different shapes, sizes, and personalities, the way it portrays problems that typically occurs in a family, and how it brings to light the struggles that each family members face (most especially older sisters and the family black sheep). Not to mention, the movie’s single setting plot, with the main character not having to go on a journey somewhere far in order to solve a problem.
But most of all, the music. The incredible Colombian slash Lin-Manuel Miranda charm that made Encanto way more appealing. Even today, I’m still singing along to Surface Pressure (unofficially the older sister anthem), and the iconic We Don’t Talk About Bruno (although I argue that we definitely should talk about Bruno).
These traits from the movie are just one of the reasons why I immediately became a fan. However, as I watched the film for a second, and even a third time, I realized another important thing.
And that is, this movie is a revelation. It made me realize that I, and my whole family, are all still suffering from generational trauma.
Summary and reflection
The plot of Encanto starts with Mirabel, the only non-gifted child among a whole family with magical powers. As such, she faces the challenges of being treated as an outcast, whilst having the feeling of being inadequate, and the pain of not being good enough to meet family expectations, resulting in being less loved and respected. Sounds familiar?
However, the problem starts when the Candle, which holds the miracle that gives the Madrigal family their magical powers, starts to fade. This then causes the Casita, the Madrigals’ magical house, to form cracks on its walls, affecting the family members’ powers.
Upon discovering this problem, Mirabel takes it upon herself to “save the miracle” both because of her love for her family and to prove that she was just as special and as worthy as them.
In addition to Encanto’s greatness is the fact that it introduces a set of diverse characters, with these most notable ones: Mirabel – being the first Disney heroine to wear eyeglasses, Luisa, as it is incredibly rare for Disney to design a female character with muscles, and of course, Pepa and Felix – a couple where the woman is taller than her male partner.
Also, it’s a successful way of capturing racial diversity in Colombia, the country where the movie takes place and whose culture is based on.
But the main point and beauty of Encanto is the way it tackles generational trauma in a more nuanced, creative way, through a “magical realism” plot (reportedly a homage to the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, as speculated by fans and enthusiasts of the film).
The generational trauma that began with Abuela Alma, as well as the reason Encanto was created, can be a relation to the violent forced displacement that has been happening to Colombians all throughout their history. Screenrant even cited Colombia’s Thousand Days War as the historical context for this part in the story.
In the last parts of the movie as the Dos Oruguitas starts playing, Abuela Alma’s flashback is shown, beginning with when she met Abuelo Pedro. It goes on to show the part when she married him, gave birth to the triplets (now Mirabel’s mother, auntie, and uncle), and most of all when they had to escape from their burning village.
Abuelo Pedro, in an attempt to protect his wife, children, and the rest of the villagers from the men attacking them, then sacrificed his life; leaving Abuela Alma alone with their children.
It can be noted that at the start of the movie, this same story was introduced in a nonchalant, almost magical way when the miracle mystically appeared and created Encanto. But the second version showed something that wasn’t there before: Abuela Alma’s heartbreaking grief and trauma.
And these are the cycles that she is unconsciously passing on to the next generation of Madrigals: Isabela, who have been expected to be perfect at all times, Luisa, whose self-worth is tied to being the strong one who could handle everything, and even Mirabel, who is still not good enough no matter how much she compensates for not having powers.
The Madrigal family, thanks to Abuela Alma, is unnecessarily held to a higher standard of perfection, as a way to justify the “gifts” given to them. Almost like an imposter syndrome. This was also Abuela Alma’s way to protect Encanto, which could be a trauma response to when she lost her husband and former home.
This undoubtedly began to break the family apart, starting with Bruno, the estranged uncle.
Fortunately, Mirabel is there to break this abusive cycle once and for all, but with the help of her own family.
Families of flaws
I never expected generational trauma to be something that I can relate to in Encanto, but here we are.
To be fair, despite the movie being a representation of Colombian culture and history, a lot of aspects in the movie can be incredibly relatable for a lot of Filipinos.
This is due to the fact that both Colombia and the Philippines were former colonies of Spain. Basically, these two countries once shared the same oppressor and were somewhat influenced by Spain’s culture.
For example, the concept of the family shown in Encanto is quite similar to our own. Such as the culture of having multi-generational families live on the same roof, and a matriarch as head of the household.
In fact, Abuela Alma reminded me a bit of my late paternal grandmother, who was the matriarch of our family for most of my life.
Just like Abuela Alma, my own grandmother also had her share of dealing with traumatic events. She was a teenager when the Japanese invasion began in the Philippines in World War II. To survive, her family hopped from one place to another in order to escape the violence being done by Japanese troops.
Meanwhile, during the sixties, to seventies, and even to the eighties, her family with my grandfather had faced unimaginable poverty and food insecurity, despite her job as a teacher and my grandfather is a veteran of World War II, Filipino-American soldier.
I remember my father telling me about how when he was growing up, all they had were scraps. They didn’t have enough money to buy shoes for school, and they had almost nothing to eat except fried eggs.
Today, I can see this with how my father behaves toward food. He tends to eat or cook a lot, almost as though he’s afraid the food will run out, or that there would be nothing left for him to eat.
On the other hand, my grandfather was known to be an alcoholic. I never met him, since he died when I was still a baby. Based on stories from my aunties, he was pretty abusive. His alcoholism, I’m assuming, was a toxic coping mechanism for the trauma he obtained from fighting in the war.
Today, I can see a remnant of this through my dad: he also turns to alcohol every time he needed to cope with any difficulties in life.
As with my grandmother, the hardships in her life had taught her the importance of education, success, and greatness, as a way of survival. Intelligence was not optional. It was a necessity, something that we should have if we wanted to be treated with respect.
Anything that did not meet these expectations was viewed as undesirable. After all, my grandmother’s words were law.
She imbued these same lessons to her children, and then to her grandchildren. Today, my aunties are successful in the profession or paths that they chose to pursue, and the same can be said with my older cousins.
Needless to say, this definitely had put pressure on us younger ones, to live up to these built-in expectations that have been ingrained in my family for decades. And because my father was not able to finish college, their eyes are all on me.
This is why Luisa’s song in the movie, called “Surface Pressure” hit so heavily. As the eldest child, her song basically narrated my inner struggles, the pressures and burden of meeting expectations and shouldering responsibilities in the family.
Even then, I know that among my family, I am definitely not the only one facing this struggle; I can see this happening with my cousins too, and with my oldest aunt, who was once the third parent in their family.
Breaking the family curse
Overall, Encanto poignantly captured the dynamics of a huge family and the issues they typically face. Thanks to it, I was able to understand how and why my own family behaves or think in certain ways.
However, the movie still made it clear that this is not supposed to justify or validate abuse of any sort. Despite the Madrigal family showing acceptance and accountability at the end of the film, sadly, this is still far from what happens in reality.
While we can open our minds to be more understanding with the struggles that our parents and grandparents experienced, this is also the perfect time to learn – or rather, to unlearn, the cycles of trauma that have been plaguing our families for generations.
By recognizing these abusive patterns, we can take it upon ourselves to start breaking the cycle, just like Mirabel. And eventually start anew, by healing as a family, or as an individual.
As Mirabel said, “We need a new foundation” and that “constellations shift.” This wheel doesn’t have to keep spinning forever.