Shrek Is Love: A Philosophical Analysis

By Caleb Burke

Photo by Tim Caynes.

We all know that Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life. But one special Saturday night while I was doing my weekly marathon of the Shrek movies it occurred to me: love appears in so many different ways. Here, I will look at four types, love as union, concern, appraisal of value, and bestowing of value and how they are shown in the classic series, Shrek 1, 2, and 3. I'll be ignoring Shrek 4 as it is my least favourite. 


Unionists believe that love is the desire to form a kind of union with another. Like the way you can't form a more iconic duo than Donkey and Dragon, or Gingy and his gumdrop buttons.

For a Unionist, simply having a loving attitude towards somebody is not enough for the criteria of love, and instead requires a shared relationship such as common interests even if partial. In fairness, this is partially seen when Fiona recognises she and Shrek share the issues of not being able to identify peacefully with their true ogre-ish selves. We see the idea of union again in Shrek 3 when Arthur and Shrek first bond after their shared experience of childhood trauma derived from their fathers. Here the union is not seen as the catalyst for love but is actually the love itself. 

American philosopher, Robert Nozick claims that two lovers acquire a new identity as part of the “we” made by (a) wanting to be publicly perceived as a couple, (b) sharing collective well-being, and (c) dividing labour.

Though, Shrek also does criticise the idea of love being a union. Namely, if we identify love as a union of two people then this involves a loss of autonomy. In Shrek 2, Fiona says that Shrek needs her parent's blessing for him to be in her family, something which Shrek is uninterested in. So, if lovers have to act as a combined unit, it is harder to see how individuality can be conserved so that both Shrek and Fiona can tolerate each other's wishes.


Concerners believe that love is defined as the concerns we have for other people. Perhaps like Shrek’s concern for Fiona’s well-being, or our genuine concern that a friend got home safe. Philosopher, Gabriele Taylor suggests that this loving concern happens because life would simply be better with that person in our lives (like the way Shrek becomes better from Donkey as he learns to care less about what people think). 

This is incompatible with the unionist view of love where any concern for one’s partner is ultimately a concern for yourself since you and your partner both act as a combined unit. For the concerners, one must have some desire or concern for another which is non-egotistical, like when Shrek is willing to sacrifice his life for Arthur in Shrek 3.

This view does have its criticisms though. Namely, if love is based on concern for others can it then be possible to love people after they’ve died? After all, there is then nothing to be concerned about. For Prince Charming who mourns the loss of his mother (the Fairy Godmother from Shrek 2), it would be cruel to say his pain is not real.


Appraisers view love as the acknowledgement and appraising of parts or the entirety of a person's identity. However, a BIG distinction should be made about the definition of liking/respect vs love in this case. US philosopher, J. David Velleman suggests the following:

Respect / Liking


an appraisal of another without emotional vulnerability.

the same but with emotional vulnerability.

Consider when Dragon and Donkey first meet. Donkey clearly respects Dragon (though arguably only out of fear) since he can appraise the values of Dragon of having “white sparkling teeth” and her “dazzling smile” with a “hint of minty-freshness”. Dragon too reciprocates by appraising Donkey’s charisma by blushing and blowing a smoke ring in the shape of a heart.

The difference is, while Donkey respects Dragon, he is clearly not in an emotionally defensive position and is visibly uncomfortable at Dragon's advances. Alternatively, Dragon is much more emotionally vulnerable, even forgetting her purpose to guard Fiona’s tower.


Bestowers see the act of love as placing a massive value on somebody. Consider the way some people place an extreme value on their cute anime body pillow even though it’s technically just… a pillow. But can that person’s love for the body pillow accurately be called love?

Well… maybe not always. Consider Farquaad’s “love” for Fiona. Though Farquaad genuinely did place a massive value on Fiona, he was using her for his own good - which is not allowed under Bestower’s theory of love. This is because to place value on something, you must also appraise one's well-being.

Farquaad does not care about the well-being of Fiona, he only cares that she is a woman who will make him king. For Fiona, while she may bestow value on Farquaad for being able to make permanent her human form, she does not truly love him since she knows nothing about what he needs for his well-being. However, Fiona both bestows value on Shrek and cares for his well-being (his desire for acceptance as an ogre).

And there is is. The lessons Shrek has on love is multifaceted and captures different aspects of what it means to love another. Do you see love as a union, or as concern for another? Or is it about appraising your lovers values or bestowing that value onto them. Next time you're watching Shrek in the middle of a deep Netflix and Chill sesh, ask your partner what they think. ;) 

Writer’s Bio: Caleb is a student studying Science (Physics) and Arts (Philosophy/English). His starter pack includes the Sonic Unleashed PS2 Game, Albert Camus's novel The Stranger, and three bowls of coco-pops cereal.