Sunday, January 29, 2012

Labyrinth, Part 5: A Fairy Tale Ending

The goblin army fights Sarah and her friends in a tedious and pointless fight sequence.  The baddies never pose an obvious threat, so it just feels like a lot of filler to get to the end of the movie.  But eventually, they make it to the castle, where Sarah tells her companions that this is goodbye, for she must do this final part alone because "that's how it happens."  Hoggle and Ludo give tearful farewells.  Sir Didymus does as well, but it's rather unwarranted given how he never really got close to Sarah.

Anyway, now we are at the final challenge.  Sarah finds herself in a room filled with multiple staircases, clearly patterned off M.C. Escher's "House of Stairs."  She spots baby Toby and gives chase, but never manages to catch him.

One minute they're crawling and the next minute they're defying the laws of physics.

All during this sequence, Jareth Bowie sings his laments about how Sarah broke his heart.  She eventually spots the baby on a lower level and jumps into the oblivion to rescue him.  Instead she comes face to face with Jareth, still whining over his failure.  He claims that he had done so much for her and he never appreciated it.  Like an abusive boyfriend, he tries to pin all of his faults on her, but Sarah does not give in to his ruses and tells him he has no power over her.

But he is so captivating!  How could you turn him down?

These seem to be the magic words that set everything right, placing Sarah and Toby back at home.  Having learned a valuable lesson, Sarah decides to leave her toys with Toby, since she has outgrown them.  But then, in a weird mixed message of sorts, she returns to her room to find all of her Labyrinthian friends waiting for her.  Then they throw a party, because it's the '80s!

Wubba wubba wubba wubba, woo woo woo!

And that was Labyrinth.  Throughout this entire revisit, I have been tempted to analyze some of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) themes of the story.  However, in my research, I have found that many of the points I wanted to make have already been realized.

First, my inspiration to review the movie was this tongue-in-cheek "analysis" of the film as a Christian allegory, with Jareth as the Devil and Hoggle as Jesus Christ.  It's mostly comedic, but several points are actually pretty fitting (the forbidden fruit, temptation, and the leap of faith at the end).  It even legitimized the ending with all of the characters returning for a party, claiming it is Sarah's knowledge that Christ will always be with her.  A little farfetched, but worth a look.

The themes I really wanted to discuss, however, were about Sarah's transition from childhood to adulthood, the effects of puberty, and the visual and thematic references to sexual maturity, fertility, and dominance that run rampant through the film.  However, a person known as Freya Lorelei wrote such an analysis over six years ago that cover everything I wanted to say and more.  She even took the time to chronicle all of the hidden references in Sarah's bedroom.  This series of essays is a must read for any Labyrinth fan.

So, where does that leave us?  Well, let us return to the beginning.

When Henson created The Dark Crystal, his goal was to create a fully realized fantasy world.  He succeeded in doing this, but he failed to attach it to a story that people cared about.  Even he didn't care about the story.  This resulted in a boring journey through a plot that lacked surprises, originality, and most importantly meaning.  Yes, it is possible to analyze The Dark Crystal, but so what?  The literary criticism you'll find on the subject is vary similar.  There is no disagreement about the themes.  They are obvious, and because the story wasn't well thought out, searching for meaning is a trite enterprise.

But, o, Labyrinth.  You may be lacking clever dialogue and believable characters, but at least you have depth.  On the surface level, it seems like a very childish tale.  But a story doesn't have to be for adults just for it to have meaning.  Look at all of Grimm's Fairy Tales.  None of them are well-written, nor do they make much sense.  But they each contain portraits of human life.  Themes that resonate within us so that we return to them again and again.  Fighting monsters, having our wishes granted, and falling in love.  We need these fairy tales to live out our wildest fantasies.

The attention to detail is so prevalent in Labyrinth that it manages to be unique, despite using every trick in the fantasy genre.  In this story alone, we get references to The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderlla, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Where the Wild Things Are, and the Book of Genesis just to name a few.  If you watch the film with these stories in mind, you can see exactly where each one pops up.  But if you don't, you still have a solid story with memorable characters that creates it's own unique setting and look.

This is the sign of a great pastiche.  It looks at the rules of it's genre and uses them to great effect.  Some scenes are just thrown in for the interesting technological components (like the Helping Hands), but most of them are there to remind us of the stories of our past.  For as cheesy as the movie is, it is a lot more memorable than The Dark Crystal.  And it had nothing to do with how well everything looked.  It was because there were elements we could identify with or elements that were so bizarre we couldn't help but remember them.

David Bowie alone could have carried this film by the way he commits himself to the ridiculous character of Jareth.  Henson smartly built the film around him so that the whole film felt like it could take place inside Bowie's mind.

This earns it's reputation as a cult film.  Quirky yet accessible, able to please a wide variety of people.  I was introduced to the film in high school, when a group of friends decided to check it out, having never heard anything about it.  That night remains permanently etched in our memories as the night we learned the true power of the Magic Dance as well as Bowie's...manhood.  Few films have had such staying power in my memory as this one had.

While I have had plenty of fun poking fun at the flaws in the script, I cannot deny that this is one of Henson's best feature length films.  I would gladly recommend everyone see it at least once because no other film even comes close to presenting what this one does.  The Muppet movies, while each great, are all very similar in tone.  And The Dark Crystal comes off as a poor man's Lord of the Rings which should only be watched to respect the artistry and effort that went into.  But you will never forget your first visit to the Labyrinth.


  1. Yeah, the Netflix series of 'The Dark Crystal' is better. So much better.