Gender Roles - Men
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Men: 4 Stars
Jack is an unusually fragile young man, both physically and emotionally. His cuckoo clock heart makes him particularly susceptible to the bullying of a thuggish boy at school, and even more defenseless around women. Rather than putting up an impenetrable wall to protect himself, Jack willingly exposes himself to the raw emotions that his mother has warned him about. His only stated purpose in life is to find his one true love, despite the fact that her kiss could kill him. It’s unclear whether Jack truly believes that falling in love could lead to his sudden death, but it’s remarkable that he recognizes how valuable a thing love is, and believes that it may even be worth dying for.
Gender Roles - Women: 3 Stars
The midwife who becomes Jack’s mother, Madeline, is clever and creative. She immediately diagnoses the threat to the newborn infant in her care and crafts an expedient solution that saves his life. She is compassionate and resourceful, caring for the outcasts that come to her for help - and earns the reputation of a witch as her reward. Madeline remains true to herself in spite of the community's scorn, continuing the work that gives her life meaning.
In contrast, Miss Acacia has little to offer young girls. She’s a pretty little thing, but too concerned with her appearance to wear her glasses. She prefers to bump into things and go through life in a blurry haze. She does earn her own living, dancing and singing for a makeshift carnival. She is skilled at both, even singing in a second language during her flamenco routine, but doesn’t seem to have much direction or ambition, other than waiting for her childhood love to find her.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
Miss Acacia character is almost entirely built on her charming appearance. She is atypically thin (though most of the characters in this film are). She wears the same tight red dress and high-heeled shoes throughout the film, and maintains the same fresh roses in her hair. She is impeccably petite and lovely in every scene.
Madeline and the women in her household are a bit more typical in their appearance, sporting grey hair and a few extra pounds - but of course, these women aren’t the type that young girls are likely to model themselves after.
The film scores some points for the fact that Jack encourages Miss Acacia to wear the glasses that she believes make her look bug-eyed and foolish. The point might have come across as a bit more sincere if she had started to wear her glasses once her and Jack found each other - but it seems she’s made the decision that her external beauty is more important than either Jack’s love or seeing clearly.
Plot: 2 Stars (Spoilers)
This film might have more to offer women and girls if Madeline had been a larger part of the story. She might have been given the opportunity to craft a solution that would make Jack’s heart stronger and able to withstand the rigors of love. She could have come up with the perfect remedy just in time to save Jack's life and allow him to share his love with the rest of the world. But unfortunately, Madeline disappears from the film soon after Jack falls in love with Miss Acacia.
It’s odd that the movie places so much emphasis on romantic love and the impact that it might have on Jack’s cuckoo clock heart. There is little mention of the other intense emotions that might damage his fragile heart, such as walking away from the mother that raised him since he was a boy. There is no concern that he might track down and meet his birth mother or meddle in other toxic emotions like greed, envy or despair.
Jack eventually returns home and learns that his mother was taken to prison shortly after he left, and that she died alone in her jail cell. He never had the chance to say goodbye or tell her how much he loved her. And yet this terrible jolt isn’t the shock that stops his heart from ticking. The strain does seem to affect him to the point that he is no longer concerned with protecting his heart or winning the love of Miss Acacia. This ending could be interpreted to mean that it was in fact his mother’s death, and not Miss Acacia’s kiss at all that finally stops the ticking of his heart. But his final moments are too vague to save the plot from this obvious overemphasis on romantic love.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Madeline is given enough backstory to make her an intriguing character, but sadly, we lose sight of her at just the moment when she might have become a more pivotal character - before she has an opportunity to try to save or son or otherwise change the trajectory of the story. Instead the story shifts to Jack’s uninspiring journey to find and woo Miss Acacia.
Miss Acacia might have had an interesting story of her own, but most of what we know about her is underdeveloped and strange. She occasionally sprouts thorns around her upper torso - ugly vines that tend to appear whenever she’s angry or distressed as a means of keeping people at a safe distance. None of this is ever explained. The film also mentions the fact that her parents were somehow betrayed and she was sent away, but she never speaks to Jack about what happened or if she has any hope of seeing her parents again.
Love: 2 Stars
Jack’s undying love for Miss Acacia can only be described as love at first sight. He’s a young boy with little knowledge of the world, let alone girls, and yet the moment he lays eyes on Miss Acacia - his mind and his heart are set.
Miss Acacia also falls for Jack in an instant (without even seeing his face), based on little more than the sound of his voice and the tick tock of his heart which she somehow mistakes for the rain. It’s difficult to accept that Miss Acacia’s all-consuming love for Jack never drives her to go out in search of him. She seems content to patiently wait for him to find her, and yet when he does, she doesn’t even recognize him.
Miss Acacia is ultimately presented with the difficult choice of pursuing her love for Jack, or letting him go in order to spare his life. This might have been made into a more intense moment had she learned of Jack’s weakness before she fell in love with him. If we had seen her recognize the stirrings of love in her own heart and then realized the dangers that they presented for Jack. We might have a bit more admiration and sympathy for her if we had seen her struggle to give up her own chance at happiness in order to protect him. But the revelation comes too late in the story and with too little emotion to move us much.