Belle: An Enchanting Escape to a Virtual New World
Nearly every review of Belle you read will describe it as a futuristic retelling of Beauty and the Beast. But drawing comparisons between the two risks overlooking the narrative complexity that elevates the beloved romance to a tale about identity and acceptance.
Suzu is a lonely high school student who lives in an empty world devoid of much meaningful connection or fulfillment. After her mother died, she lost the confidence or energy to do what she once loved the most (sing) and she walks through the world closed off and afraid.
Suzu’s friend Hiroka introduces her to a new virtual space called “U” which promises to let users start a new life – and maybe even change the world – by living “as another you.” A program reads your biometric information and initiates a body sharing process that actually molds you with your virtual “AS” drawing out the user’s unique strengths. Suzu becomes the titular character Bell (no e, at first) in the virtual world of “U,” and once again finds herself able to sing.
The film follows Bell(e) as she captures and channels her voice (her songs are breathtaking), becoming a virtual and real-life sensation, and shows us the corresponding impact on Suzu. Bell(e) eventually meets the Beast and discovers something much more tragic than a beautiful enchantress behind the Beast’s “AS.” In the process she gathers the compassion and courage to open her heart and share her life.
Belle reflects a feeling many of us are likely familiar with – we are drawn to another life or narrative to escape the reality of the story in which we find ourselves. “U” becomes a sanctuary for Suzu to rebuild her identity and reconnect with the world around her, just as games, tv shows, and books may be places of respite for us. Belle is its own sort of escape. With its entrancing visuals soothing songs, it is a place I would happily spend another two hours.