Fictional panic attacks – Frozen

I know that I have written about this before, but I watched Frozen again with my family last night (they hadn’t seen it), and I couldn’t help but want to break down the scene in the ice castle in which Anna tries to reason with Elsa. One reading of this scene is that Elsa is having a panic attack, and whether or not that is on purpose, it’s one of the better renderings of a panic attack in fictional film that I’ve seen.


Anna: Arendelle’s in deep deep deep deep snow.

Elsa:    What?

A:         You kind of set of an eternal winter, everywhere.

E:         Everywhere! [Initial trigger]

A:         It’s okay, you can just unfreeze it.

E:         No I can’t, I- I don’t know how.

A:         Sure you can. I know you can! Cause for the first time in forever

E;         I’m such a fool I can’t be free [Reaction to trigger, blaming self, self deprecation]

A:         You don’t have to be afraid

E:         No escape from the storm inside of me [Catastrophizing, black and white thinking]

A:         We can work this out together

E:         I can’t control the curse [Jumping to conclusions – although in Elsa’s case, it is kind of a fair jump]

A:         We’ll reverse the storm you’ve made

E:         Anna please you’ll only make it worse [Spiraling reaction]

A:         Don’t panic [hahahaha]

E:         There’s so much fear [More spiraling reaction]

A:         We’ll make the sun shine bright

E:         You’re not safe here [Exactly how I feel – that I am imminently going to lash out and hurt someone – I would argue that here is a difference  between my panic and perhaps other people’s symptoms or disorders, in which it is not unheard of to hurl vitriol at others, whereas I refused to speak out of fear]

A:         We can face this thing together

E:         Ahhhhhhh

A:         We can change this winter weather, and everything will be alright.

E:         AhhhhhI can’t! ((boom)) [shutting down, emotional outburst, severe physical symptoms]


Some people, at this point, with whatever disorder, might lash out; others might shut down. But there you have it. A crisis, a panic attack, an emotional event.

It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few scenes in which Anna does not act with the incredibly sensitive insight she seems to have for the rest of the movie. After the first time, in the ballroom, Anna recognizes that Elsa was afraid and stressed, and what she did was a mistake. She sees past the illness and situation to the person. Given the severity of Elsa’s crisis, this is remarkable for anyone, let alone a lifelong shunned younger sister. But Anna is confident in her sister’s goodness, and goes out to look for her. If only newspapers were so kind to people with mental illness.

In other examples of surprising insight from a (I assume) sixteen year old girl with no practice in dealing with her sister’s condition, Anna chooses to confront her allegedly dangerous sister alone, in order to be sensitive to her needs; she attempts to convince others of Elsa’s goodness; she doesn’t expect Elsa to stop having special abilities in order to come back; and she never even shows a hint of jealousy at Elsa’s powers.

All of this patience and calm and reassurance is what I would want from someone trying to reach me. It is as though Anna is a template for being a partner of someone with an illness or disability (minus the not recognizing when Elsa has reached her limit).

Of course all of this ignores one of the fundamental between-the-lines items in Frozen: that Elsa’s powers are both an ability and a disability. That’s a remarkable message.

But Anna’s reactions, her patience and calm, and non-jealous approach (which is especially important as she is a sibling) are all not only commendable in a character (are they Mary Sue? I’m not even sure), they are a potential message, a showing instead of telling children how to do it, how to be a friend to someone who has a difference about them. And that’s just fantastic.


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