Self-Reflection, Honoring Your Parents, and MULAN (1998)
NOTE: Originally published in The Princess Gospels (2018). Photos added.
“No matter how the wind blows,
the mountain cannot bow to it.”
Scripture Reading: James 1:23-25
Unlike Pocahontas, which was a fairytale version of an historical event, Mulan isn't based on a true story; rather, it's based on a Chinese folktale about a girl who pretends to be a boy and goes to war. The film did draw criticism for its clumsy, and, at times, disrespectful interpretation of Chinese culture but is stronger overall and has a better-defined hero.
The movie's central motif is reflection. Mulan even sings a whole song about it! A perpetual klutz, she wonders if who she sees in the mirror will ever reflect who she is inside. But a reflection is more than a noun – a thing we see in a mirror, it's also a verb; reflecting is something we do. Mulan's reflections call her to action, illustrating Proverbs 11:19: “As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.” Mulan will never see the person she wants to see in the mirror unless she goes out to become that person.
Mulan cuts off her hair, takes up her father's armor, and sets out for war. The spirits of Mulan's ancestors decide to send a guardian to watch over her, and she's stuck with Mushu – a former guardian spirit who was demoted but sees Mulan as an opportunity to regain his standing.
The reflection motif continues during the great battle with the villainous Shan Yu's army. Mulan's troop is down to their last cannon, but just as their captain, Shang, readies it to fire directly as Shan Yu, Mulan sees a cliff overhead in the reflection of a helmet. She snatches the cannon and fires it at the cliff, creating an avalanche that swallows Shan Yu's entire army, which appears to end the war. Sadly, an injury reveals that Mulan is a girl, and Shang leaves her behind.
Alone with her thoughts, Mulan reflects once again. She wonders if she set out on this quest for her father or for herself – selfishly trying to be someone she can be proud to see in the mirror. Like the person in our passage today who hears God's word but does nothing about it, Mulan has lost touch with her reflection; she has forgotten who she is and what she set out to become.
Many of us recognize what God expects from us but then 'forget ourselves' and lose our way. Part of the problem is what we focus on. We gaze at mirrors and are disheartened by who we see rather than looking at the Word of God to see what we can be.
Mushu tries to cheer Mulan up, to no avail. Then, he confesses that he's a fraud too. What interests me about the shot is that his own reflection is in the frame. It reminds us of another function of mirrors – forcing us to face the truth! One of the most important truths we have to face is that it's impossible for us to see the complete picture.
In 1 Corinthians 12:9-12, Paul discusses how we only partly understand Jesus and His plans. For now, he says, we see “only a reflection as in a mirror (Verse 12).” One day, we will see Jesus face-to-face and understand Him fully, but Paul adds a curious comment, “just as I am fully known.” God knows you through and through! Cutting your hair, wearing bulky armor, or using a deep voice won't trick Him. But unlike Mulan, who was cast out from her troop because of who she is, the Lord embraces you all the more because of who you are: a reflection of Him – made in His image. He, in turn, makes you a reflection of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Mulan wanted to honor her family. Honoring our parents is the fifth commandment – a bridge between four commandments about our duty to God and six about our duty to others. Honoring our parents can be hard; for one thing, not everyone has parents to honor. Others have had abusive parents, and the idea of 'honoring' them might even have been used to keep them in an abusive situation, but honoring our parents just means living respectably regardless of what our parents have done or who they are. Likewise, we honor our Heavenly Father by being a positive reflection of His goodness and grace. So, get down to business and take up His armor, and don't worry about whether or not you are good enough; He'll make a Man (or Woman) – of God – out of you!
- Does who you see in the mirror reflect what you think God sees when He looks at you
- Have you struggled to honor your parents? How so?
Distributor: Buena Vista Distribution
Producer: Pam Coats
Directors: Tony Bancroft, Gary Cook
Writers: Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik, Eugenia Bostick-Singer, and Raymond Singer
Runtime: 88 minutes
If you enjoyed this examination of Mulan, you might like my book, The Princess Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 24 of the best princess movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.