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The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

In my previous movie review of Encanto, I talked about how the magic of the family Madrigal wasn’t their ability to make flowers bloom or move mountains; their real magic was the way they overcame generational trauma and learned to see each other for their true worth.

The Family Madrigal

It’s such a real, and painfully relatable story, that I can’t help but think about how each of the characters represents actual members of our own family, (myself included). Today, I want to talk about the family Madrigal, how this perfectly imperfect family teaches us about the cycle of abuse and grief, and how I can relate every Madrigal to people in my own family.

The First Trauma: Violence, Loss And Displacement

Let’s start with how the magical casita came to be: a haven born out of tragedy and sacrifice. The movie itself begins with abuela Alma as she and her people are displaced, driven away from their home and everything they knew by invaders.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

The not-so-subtle nod to Colombia’s history of suffering from violence was impossible to ignore, and though I am not Colombian, I also come from a country that had suffered the violence of colonization. I come from a family that was displaced, a family that remembers the fear and blood and smoke of the Partition and then the Independence War of 71.

To see abuela lose her home, her people, and everything she had reminded me of my abuela (or Dida as I call her), and the terror she must’ve felt as she fled the city she’d grown up in with nothing but her clothes her back, two pairs of gold bracelets, and an armful of 4 young children.

What struck me though is how abuela’s story is told twice, but very differently. The first time abuela tells her story, we see her witnessing the murder of her husband and the loss of her home with a serene acceptance. The violence is dulled when she first tells the story, and she only focuses on the magic, the miracle that saved her and her people and gave them refuge.

But when she tells her story a second time, the truth of the tragedy is laid bare: we see her pain, her grief, her hopelessness as the love of her life is taken away from her. We see her looking back on her people, who no longer have anyone to lead them but her. We see her staring down at her children with bloodshot eyes, and wearily taking on the heavy burden of setting away her grief so she could raise her children and help the town grow.

The stark contrast of both flashbacks is painful to watch. During the first flashback, she is hiding her pain from a young Mirabel and only telling her of the magic that they had been given. But in the second flashback, she is confessing to an older Mirabel the simple truth she had locked away for years: that deep down, she is in constant fear of losing her home and her loved ones again.

Here’s the real tragedy though: abuela’s fears end up making her hurt her family and she fails to see it until her home literally falls apart. Instead of using her pain and suffering to become a better mother, she becomes controlling and obsessed with keeping up appearances of strength and power. In her attempts to “protect her family”, she ends up passing down her trauma to her children and eventually her grandchildren.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

Peppa And Her Constant Anxiety

For me personally, Peppa was one of the most relatable characters throughout the movie. Her emotions control the weather, and so she is always under pressure to keep her emotions in check. Add to abuela’s insistence on trying to be the perfect magical family, it’s no wonder that Peppa is constantly suffering from anxiety.

What’s interesting though is that because she is always told to set her feelings aside instead of feeling them and letting them go, she is always in a miserable and painfully vulnerable state.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

This happens so often in many families, and I myself have suffered it growing up. I was constantly berated for being too emotional and sensitive. For the longest time, I have never been able to feel safe speaking my thoughts out loud for fear of being reprimanded and ridiculed. Every time I struggled with anything and tried to share my frustrations, I was told to control myself, to toughen up.

What ended up happening was a life full of mistakes that were made during moments of emotional turmoil. Looking back, I realize that because I had never been able to deal with my emotions in a healthy way because I never had someone to talk to openly, I had ended up making some of the stupidest and most rushed decisions that did not end well.

Even now, when all I do is try to share my feelings and thoughts when all I do is try to communicate, I am ridiculed for “complaining too much”, for “worrying too much”.

Writing was and continues to be my only escape, which is kind of obvious now if you are reading this. I wrote through my suicidal phases and survived, I wrote through my depression to come out of my dark days, I wrote through anger so I wouldn’t be physically violent towards the ones I love and I wrote through my anxieties so I could find the strength to move forward.

So when I see Peppa walking around with thunderclouds over her head and snapping back when people tell her to pull herself together, I feel for her.

We’re Gonna Talk About Bruno

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

We Don’t Talk About Bruno has surpassed Let It Go on US Charts and it is not just because of its catchy rhythm and mesmerizing polyphonic climax. The song itself is radical in its way of telling Bruno’s story–it first poses Bruno as a possible villain, a threat but when you pay attention to the lyrics, you realize it’s not really Bruno who was the problem; it was simply that he was too different and no one knew what to do with him.

And as it happens with family members who don’t fit in, Bruno ends up being alienated, to the point where he becomes nothing more than a dark secret, the one black sheep nobody wants to bring up during reunions.

Luisa The Burned Out Eldest Daughter

Before I even watched the movie Encanto, I heard the song Surface Pressure and it broke me. There are songs that move you, there are songs that speak to you, and then there are songs that hit you hard and force you to feel the things you had bottled up for ages.

That’s what it felt like when I was listening to Surface Pressure. While I related to Peppa the most, as the eldest daughter of the family, I’ve had to bear the weight of my family’s expectations and problems just like Luisa too, and more often than not, I find myself trying not to crumble under the pressure.

Mirabel The Invisible Madrigal

When the song The Family Madrigal begins to play and Mirabel sings about her family with pride and devotion, and quietly leaves herself out of it, I felt her pain. I too grew up in a family full of stars, where everyone shone bright but me. When she sings about how long she’d been waiting for a miracle, I felt her desperation, her need to prove to her family that she was capable and worthy.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

In many ways, I think everyone can relate to Mirabel at some point in their life, but for me, that feeling of being invisible and not worthy had haunted me during much of my childhood. Unlike the rest of my cousins who are constantly trying to grab the spotlight at every family event and get together, I have always been the one who fades into the background, not entirely willingly.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

And just like Mirabel, I had also tied my worth to my talents (or lack thereof as I saw it) and for the longest time I ended up trying to win my family’s love by making them proud of me. Only now do I realize that I deserved to be loved just simply for being and not for how much money I earned, my grades, or my job role.

Perhaps all of these reasons are why no matter how many times I rewatch Encanto, I find myself falling in love with the movie like I am watching it for the first time. A perfectly wholesome movie about flawed, imperfect families, Encanto explores generational trauma in the most thought-provoking ways.

The Family Madrigal: How Encanto Represents Generational Trauma

I can’t stop talking about Encanto, so if you have watched the movie, share your thoughts in the comments and below let me know which Madrigal you relate to the most!

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