It's finally time. Once again, I must apologize for not finishing this in any kind of timely manner, but the past few weekends have been a bit hectic with some personal issues sprinkled in to delay the writing of this. But we’ve gotten some time this weekend, so here we go: Beauty And The Beast. A movie that’s absolutely beloved to many, but that almost as many love to take to task for being a story of imprisonment and an incredibly creepy, cynical excuse for a love story. In general, I come down on the side that the movie is a worthwhile example of a positive, meaningful relationship, but today I want to discuss the other, under-discussed couple in the film: Gaston and LeFou Specifically, I want to argue that Gaston and LeFou are presented to the audience as something of an abusive relationship, which in turn is contrasted with the relationship between Belle and the Beast.
Before we begin, I want to quickly note that I’m working from the live action version of the film, released in 2017, because I think it makes this comparison more explicitly. In this film, the first glimpse of LeFou and Gaston we get is borderline idyllic, two close companions on horseback looking at the town with the explicitly romantic framing of a sunrise (remember, this happens right after the end of Belle's morning song). They exchange banter, make plans together, discuss Gaston's love for Belle. LeFou even drops the line "who needs her when you have us?" which can't help but paint the two of them as a close partnership, and aligns them even more closely with the romantic inclinations Gaston has for Belle. All seems right in the world, and it’s hard to imagine a better relationship anywhere, especially considering how understanding LeFou seems to be of Gaston being "so... athletically inclined." But as with a great many abusive relationships, the problems lie below the carefully constructed veneer.
Minor cracks start to show in the endlessly fun Gaston song, which occurs after Belle has rejected Gaston. At first this song feels like an honest pump-up, a way for Gaston to express his affection for his friend. But there are lyrics in it, some more subtle than others, that make us question whether this could be a song of warning, or even a blatant criticism. On the blatant side, the line “no one’s neck is incredibly thick as Gaston’s” is not usually the kind of thing one says about someone that one admires unconditionally. On the more subtle side, LeFou claiming that “in a wrestling match no one bites like Gaston” is a clever phrase to cast some doubt on Gaston’s character, given that biting is viscerally illegal in the sport. These criticisms, combined with the fact that the song is being performed explicitly to soothe Gaston out of anger, give the song a much less happy feel, as if LeFou is lying to himself brushing off a lover’s flaws or is trapped in a relationship in which he needs to prevent his partner from flying into a rage.
This impression is only strengthened later, when Belle’s father is attempting to take Gaston and LeFou to Beast’s castle. When the older man struggles to find it, we can clearly see Gaston’s temper rising. Instantly LeFou is by his side, desperately soothing him with talk of the war, specifically of "explosions" and "widows." This resembles nothing more than the Gaston song does upon further reflection, a person in an abusive language who recognizes both when their partner is about to fly into a rage and just how dangerous that can be. Especially when we consider that it’s memories of violence (both martial and sexual) that LeFou has to conjure up to soothe Gaston, this moment becomes even more creepy, and even downright frightening.
It’s a few minutes later, however, that the truly abusive side of Gaston comes out. First he implicitly threatens LeFou into lying for him about his attempt to kill Maurice, a threat made clear by the pressure of Gaston's hands always on LeFou's shoulders throughout the conversation, a clear gesture of control. Then the threat becomes explicit some minutes when LeFou objects to Gaston locking up Belle in preparation to kill The Beast, and Gaston asks him “Do you want to be next?" to force his compliance. This should, of course, be familiar to anyone who’s listened to a survivor of an abusive relationship. Threats of violence are an incredibly common response from an abusive partner when the abused tries to leave, end the relationship, or rebel in any way, and their appearance here only makes the partnership between Gaston and LeFou feel only more sinister.
Finally, this is strengthened even during “Kill The Beast,” in which LeFou utters the line “There’s a beast running wild there’s no question, but I fear the wrong monster’s been released.” The fact that LeFou is saying this under his breath while still riding alongside Gaston further conflates their partnership with an abusive relationship, where the abused party can’t leave for fear of violence and is often forced to be complicit in a partner’s bad behavior even after they’ve become disillusioned. It isn’t until Gaston is out of sight, (and soon to be slain) and that he’s surrounded by potential allies in the animated furniture of the castle, that LeFou can say “I was with them” (the “with” here also takes on a different light if we consider LeFou and Gaston analogous to a couple) “but I think I’m changing sides.” Once again this idea, that a person can’t leave unless they’re surrounded by support, and even then often only in the absence of the abuser, should feel familiar in the context of an abusive relationship.
The general structure of the film bears out the idea that we're meant to contrast LeFou and Gaston's relationship with the titular one, given that practically every scene between Gaston and LeFou is countered by one featuring Belle and The Beast. Charming, but somewhat backhanded and disingenuous pump-up song for Gaston? Immediately after we get the angry, but honest and vulnerable, confrontation in which Belle and The Beast argue about whether she'll eat with him. LeFou forced to soothe Gaston with memories of violence? Cut to Belle physically soothing The Beast with a soft touch, kindness between them, and a slowly growing relationship. Gaston implicitly threatening LeFou, exerting control through threat of violence? The very next scene is the famous dance between Belle and The Beast, after which he lets her leave to go to her father, relinquishing all control. Finally, Gaston explicitly threatening LeFou to compel his obedience is followed up by Belle running to save The Beast of her own volition. Together, all these scenes paint us a picture of two relationships, one revealed over time to be an abusive farce, the other growing into something genuine.
Finally, I think we can help rest this theory on a simple, yet profound change that the live action version of this movie makes to the character of LeFou: unlike the animation, this LeFou is explicitly gay. On the one hand, the first openly gay character in a major Disney film is a huge moment for diversity and progressivism that was desperately needed (but seriously, did anyone else hear this and not feel surprised that it took so damn long?). It also, however, lends credibility to much of the previous analysis. Some of it is simply a coloring of minor details (the bite mark on LeFou from Gaston is certainly more interesting in this film), but it also casts the overarching plot in a much more stark. If LeFou is definitively gay, it becomes harder to argue that his interactions with Gaston aren’t framed as a kind of abusive relationship that, interestingly enough, makes the strongest case for Beauty and The Beast being a sincere, powerful love story.
With excitement and optimism,