Prince Hans: The Mirror
In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Perfect Mate,” a woman named Kamala is taken on board the U.S.S. Enterprise. She is a supremely talented empath who, in any condition, mirrors the emotions of the person with whom she interacts.
Thus, with the brilliant Captain Picard, she is intelligent and adventurous. With the animalistic Klingon, Worf, she is primal. With the womanizing Commander Ryker, she is provocative and flirtatious. And so forth.
That is the true nature of Prince Hans, in Frozen.
This explains why there has been so much confusion about his character. Because he isn’t a character at all — in the sense that there is, as far as the story shows, no essential self to Hans.
Rather, every scene in which Hans appears shows him interacting with someone, and in those scenes, he takes on the characteristics and emotions of the people with whom he interacts. He mirrors them, as if he were an empath, reflecting their feelings back at them. And more than that, he even embodies their projections, personifying their hopes or dreads.
In Hans’s first scene in the film, Anna has just been dreaming of a perfect prince, and there he appears, as if her will had conjured him out of thin air. He seems to be just like her, a little awkward, but sociable, and wholly receptive to meeting someone — as if, like Anna, he too had been dreaming of running into someone new.
She leaves the encounter a little dreamy-eyed and love-struck, and he ends the scene with the same look on his face, reflecting hers.
Then, at the coronation ball, Anna attempts to re-forge a relationship with Elsa, which of course, Elsa cannot do (for Anna’s safety). Thereafter, Anna immediately encounters Hans again, except this time, he mirrors Anna’s desire for a much deeper instant relationship, just as Anna improbably wished instantly to bond closely with Elsa (as if the last 13 years of separation had never existed). Hans now wants exactly what she wants, an open-door relationship with someone, and he seems even to have endured the same hardships as Anna has: being ignored by siblings. He mimics her movements in the clock scene. He echoes her exact words: “Can I say something crazy?” “Can I say something crazy?” In their love song, they sing the same words right back at each other, again and again.
When Elsa unleashes her magic, a fascinating moment follows in which Elsa and Hans exchange glances with one another. Elsa looks up, concerned, and Hans too looks up, with a similarly concerned look on his face. In that one moment, he reflects her emotions precisely.
When Anna resolves to set out after Elsa, Hans’s desire is to parallel her: “I’m coming with you.” But Anna leaves him behind, in her place. In effect, he is to function as her substitute, as her mirror self in Arendelle.
As the governor of Arendelle, when the people approach Hans with kindness, he reflects their kindness in return. But when the Duke approaches him with hostility and attempts to show him who’s boss, Hans mirrors the Duke’s bravura and stares him down, asserting his own authority in turn.
Even at the ice palace, when he confronts Marshmallow, he mirrors the great snow monster in the ferocity of his combat skills. Just as Marshmallow grows ice spikes, so too does Hans grow one — his sword – and defeats Elsa’s mighty snow sentinel by reflecting the snowman’s violence.
When he encounters Elsa in her upper chamber, he echoes Elsa’s very own lifelong dread when he says to her, “Don’t be the monster they fear you are.” In effect, he is speaking for her, uttering her own emotions, as if he were empathically linked to her.
Even his very next action is a mirroring one: when one of the guards raises his crossbow to shoot, Hans, in grasping the guard’s crossbow, shoots with him. The are two suddenly on the same trigger, mirroring each other, performing the same act, shooting the weapon together as if they were twins.
When Hans next encounters Elsa in the dungeon, his tone is identical to hers. He sits beside her and speaks with sadness and worry: “Stop the winter. Please,” saying the lines just the way Elsa might utter them herself. He seems, in that moment, to be as gentle as Elsa. He reflects her emotions and her demeanor.
Next, of course, comes the library scene. And now, one might think that Hans reveals his “true” self. But that’s not the case at all. Here too he performs an act of mirroring — of Anna.
Consider Anna’s words when she returns:
What happened out there?
Elsa struck me with her powers.
You said she’d never hurt you.
I was wrong…She froze my heart.
That is, of course, Anna’s selectively edited and misconstrued account of what happened. In truth, Elsa struck her with her magic unwittingly and unwillingly, after having begged Anna repeatedly to leave, for Anna’s own safety. It was Anna herself who caused the situation in which she was hurt.
However, because Anna (due to her characteristic lack of perceptiveness about others and their emotions) does not recognize why the ice-palace incident transpired as it did, she misconstrues the event as if she were the one who had been wronged or betrayed by her sister.
And what does Hans do next? He mirrors this, as he mirrors all things. He wrongs her. He betrays her.
Anna’s projection of an unexpected betrayal from her sister causes Hans to mirror that unexpected betrayal right back at her. Once again, Hans even echoes Anna’s own words to him: “You’re no match for Elsa.” “No, you’re no match for Elsa.” He takes off his gloves when he does this, just as Elsa wore no gloves during the encounter at the ice palace, when Anna believes that Elsa betrayed her and hurt her.
In the next scene, with the ad-hoc Arendelle council, Hans seems grave but resolute, just as they do, seemingly prepared to do what’s necessary to save Arendelle — even something desperate, such as executing the queen. Earlier, they had projected onto him the image of a hero (“You are all Arendelle has left”), just as Anna had yearned to meet “the one” right at the beginning of the film, and Hans reflects their hero projection right back at the council members, just as he initially reflected Anna’s projection of a perfect prince, or later, her projection of a betrayal and injury by someone whom she thought loved her.
On the fjord, Hans once again mirrors Elsa. Observe how wide-eyed and nearly frantic he appears when he shouts at her, just as wide-eyed as Elsa herself appears.
And what identity does he take on in this moment? That of an executioner — which is exactly what Elsa believes that she has become, once she is told that Anna died because of her magic. Elsa believes that she has become lethal, that she is death personified, and Hans, in turn, mirrors that identity, becoming death himself, sword in hand, like the scythe of the grim reaper.
Only at the very end of the film, when he is locked in a cell, is Hans seen alone, for the very first time. At that moment, there is no one to mirror, and he sinks to the ground like a mechanism without a battery, because, like an empath who only exists in relation to someone else, he has no independent existence – or at least, none to which the audience is privy, in this film.
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No wonder Hans has attracted so many diverse interpretations, all seemingly incompatible with one another. There is no single Hans, no “true” Hans, not even in the library scene. In every moment in which he exists in Frozen, he functions as a mirror to other characters, embodying their emotions or their projections.
It is not that he is not sincere. Quite the opposite. He is entirely as sincere in every moment as are the people he reflects. He is just as genuinely committed to love in one moment as he is genuinely committed to kindness in another and to execution in another. As a fully empathic personality, he becomes whoever he is with.
"Who is this Hans?" Olaf asks. The answer is: not a person, not a character, but a mirror, perhaps even supernatural — a mirror who reflects everyone around him, their loves and fears, their vices and virtues, their lives and, very nearly, their deaths.
(My own extended review of Frozen appears [here].)