Image Credit: flickr.com
When most people think of Shrek, they think of “Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life” (sigh) or they view the films as the products of several acid trips. What some people may not have realised is that the first two films also happen to be social commentaries on self-image, using the “flipping” of stereotypes that revolve around Shrek’s character.
The first movie involves Shrek going to save the princess to get his swamp back to himself. This is already atypical, as the “normal” structure of things would involve a knight or prince going to rescue a princess. Even the basis for Shrek going to rescue Fiona – to have his swamp to himself rather than to collect a princess – is atypical. After rescuing her from her chamber he runs from the dragon rather than fighting it to appear brave, claiming he would set himself up to die if he were to face it. At some point, he tells Fiona and Donkey that he’ll catch up with them and picks up a sword because he’ll “handle the dragon” – only to jam the sword into the chains the dragon tangles itself into to make sure it can’t escape. Fiona is frustrated by him as nothing he does to get her out of the tower is what she expected would happen.
As the movie progresses, however, the mounting frustration Fiona has for Shrek’s unique approach to things turns into understanding as she learns that he acts the way he thinks he should, based on the way others treat him. He isn’t fearsome or rude for no reason, he carries himself in this manner as a way of living up to the expectations of an ogre's behaviour.
These instances of things not going the way they would have stereotypically, all involve typical expectations that Shrek either shatters or exceeds by doing things his own way. He doesn’t adhere to the expectations others have for him even when he is aware they have them.
In Shrek 2, Shrek and Fiona meet her parents as a now-married couple; Lillian is supportive of the marriage, and Harold is not. This is primarily because Harold struck a deal with theFairy Godmother to have Fiona marry her son Charming so that he would become a king. Harold sends Puss in Boots as a hitman to take Shrek out in order to set things “back to normal”, pushing away the fact that he was also different (as a frog) before being made human. He of all people should sympathise with Shrek because of this.
Shrek takes the Happily Ever After potion because he thinks Fiona is falling out of love with him and is turned into a human along with her as a result. For the potion to have a permanent effect, Shrek and Fiona must kiss before midnight. The rest of the movie involves Shrek and Fiona just missing each other until the night of a ball hosted by Harold and Lillian. When Shrek and Fiona finally reunite, she chooses not to kiss him as she likes the way they both looked as ogres since it’s who they were/are. Again, when Shrek is faced with the expectation to be someone else to“fit” into a storyline, the expectation is rejected in favour of being himself.
What the viewer can take from both films is simple: we don’t have to let others determine our self-image or our place in society. Ultimately, carrying yourself in away that makes you comfortable, rather than in a way that others expect you to, will benefit you as everyone will either adjust if they are worth having in your life, or leave if they aren’t (Farquaad and Fairy Godmother died but hopefully you get the point).Who you are will al-ways matter more than any role you’re expected to play in society.