Rapunzel was Raised to Not Show Physical Affection
We’ve all seen that Gothel makes Rapunzel come to her for hugs, but today I realized it goes deeper than that. Gothel doesn’t want Rapunzel showing physical affection unless she has been given specific permission. Opening her arms is that unspoken permission.
For example, towards the beginning, when she’s reminding Gothel that it’s her birthday tomorrow, she grabs her arm in exuberance. Gothel is put out and then pries Rapunzel’s hands off her arm, all the while pretending she doesn’t remember (or care) that her birthday - something Rapunzel is extremely excited about - is fast approaching.
She also uses Rapunzel’s need for physical affection, deliberately taunting and “teaching” her with it by pretending to offer it, then taking it away immediately.
The first bazzilionty times I saw this movie, I always assumed Rapunzel was relieved to see Gothel towards the end of Mother Knows Best just because she was scared.
But now I realize it’s not only because she’s scared, but because Gothel is now giving Rapunzel permission to seek the creature comfort of physical contact that she so desperately needs after the gamut of fear she’s run.
Eugene, on the other hand, starts showing physical affection as soon as he starts feeling any affection for Rapunzel at all. He uses it as a comfort. Yet Rapunzel keeps her hands to herself.
It continues when he gives her the little flag, touching the small of her back in an affectionate way. But her hands (and attention) are full at this moment.
In fact, the first time she realizes she’s touching him, and he’s touching her, and there’s affection and enjoyment buzzing between them, she’s the first to pull away.
She’s alarmed at first, then apologetic and sheepish. Sorry I was touching you, Eugene. And he politely takes a step back, tuned in to her discomfort and giving her a little more space.
But that is why the moment on the boat is so important, and why Rapunzel has the reaction she does.
In taking Rapunzel’s hand, out of the blue (as far as she can tell), it’s sending her a clear message that he feels the same about her that she does about him, and that physical affection is both alright and wanted. That he will seek out her attention in a way Gothel never has. And from this moment on, she touches him often, holding hands for the rest of the song, brushing his hair from his face as he lay dying, and never letting go of his head, even after he’d died in her arms. Not to mention kissing him when he lives again, holding hands on the balcony while they wait for her parents and end-of-movie smooching.