Introducing a new feature here at SlumberPartyMovies: The Freshman Film Blue Book, where we take ourselves very, very seriously. Not too seriously, because seriously: We take these movies seriously, so there’s no “too” involved.
I’ve been mentally writing several chapters of my “Labyrinth” series for months–ever since we started the blog–but this weekend, we bought a 52″ plasma TV (that I may decide is too big; jury’s still out) and inaugurated it with watching “Labyrinth,” for no other reason than “Magic Dance” came up on my iPod, which immediately made my three-year-old insist we see the real thing in all its codpieced glory. She didn’t use the word codpiece, though.
I love a lot about the movie, for many reasons, but the biggest is that it’s fundamentally a coming-of-age story. And a coming-of-age story is nothing if not a loss of innocence: realizing that you’re not a kid anymore, that you have to grow up, and that that is both totally awesome, and massively sucky.
Sarah is dressed in princess garb when we first meet her–over her jeans, no less–reciting lines from a book to her dog, who’s named Merlin. She fancies herself an abused stepdaughter, and although it’s never said, her mother was clearly a princess: she was a beautiful stage actress, wildly famous, and died young and recently. Sarah worships the ideal of her dead mother, who spent her life pretending to be other people, and hates her new mother, who has a boring, bad haircut, and her new half-brother, who she’s doomed to babysit every night that she doesn’t have a date, which by the sound of it, is every night.
In a nutshell, she makes a wish to lose the brother, and instantly knows she’d rather have a baby brother, safe and secure at home, than live her fantasy of being an only child. She engages on a quest to find him, and at the end, we see her taking down her clippings of her mother, hiding away the toys of her childhood, deciding that it’s time to start moving on and growing up.
The second, third, and fortieth viewings of the movie reveal that her room is peppered with characters from the labyrinth, from Hoggle to the Fieries to the Escher steps. The Goblin King’s there, too, standing right next to her mirror, all purple and blond. Which, of course, has all led us to wonder: how much of this is in her head?
We’ve all thought it, of course: any movie that ends with how it began makes a person wonder if it’s all a dream. But the thing that finally tipped the scales, that finally made me decide to take up the keyboard and tackle this blue book, is the best number in the movie: “Within You.”
This is the big finale, where she faces him for the final puzzle. The song is fantastic: “I move the stars for no one” is probably on a t-shirt at Hot Topic, and if it isn’t, it should be. According to Google, it’s also a popular lower back tattoo.
One of the main themes that repelled and attracted me (OK, mostly attracted), and makes my husband squeamish about the whole thing, is the sexual tension between Jareth and Sarah. He’s like 40+. She’s 14. Gross. Except hot. Especially when you’re 11. So here’s where I go all Intro to Film class, and make a wild suggestion: if the whole thing’s a dream, and every character in a dream is, essentially, you, then Jareth’s part of her. And he’s the part of her that’s trying to keep her in her dream world. Being that she’s 14, sexual tension is pretty much a given.
All of her friends are trying to help her escape; Jareth doesn’t just want to keep Toby. He wants Sarah. He wants her to be his queen–specifically, he wants to rule her so he can be her slave. Which, on the face of it, is a big WTF–you rule me and you’re MY slave? But it makes sense, taken in the context of imagination. If you let your fantasies rule you, it seems as though you can do whatever you want. In fact, Jennifer Connolly herself grows up to marry a guy who solves spy secrets for a supersecret government agency… in his head. Lesson being: you can do whatever you want in your fantasies, but you’re not really living, because you’re obeying them as much as you think they obey you. After all, Sarah wished that her brother be taken away, and he was, and she realized, in that second, that wishes can bite. You can’t always get what you want, but when you do, you don’t always want what you get.
The big a-ha moment for me was the beautiful moment at 1:38, when Jareth sings, “I…. I… can’t live within you,” and makes the saddest, most disappointed face ever seen on a supervillain. He’s crushed. But he’s also resigned. He can’t have her. She’s beating him. The phrasing is what’s important: I can’t live within you. Major sexual undertones aside, he’s realizing that, when faced with adult responsibility and the high stakes of losing her baby brother, she’s rejecting living in her fantasy. Her fantasy can’t live within her anymore, and she finds that bitterly disappointing.
Moments later, she realizes the only way to get to her brother is to take a leap of faith. And she does. And then she faces down her fantasy with her best tool: the magic words her mother gave her. He has no power over her. She controls her fantasies, her imagination, and the game is up: she can be a grown-up. But she can also live in her imagination, as long as she doesn’t let it rule her.
Which is pretty much what I’ve been striving for my entire life. The reason I love stories set in a realistic setting, but with fantastical elements, is that there’s always a part of me that’s pretty sure I am a Muggle, and that there’s a school out there I don’t know about where some lucky kids get to do magic tricks. There’s a young woman who kicks ass against the forces of darkness so I can live in relative normality, sheltered from the vampires and the demons. And I will never, ever wish that the goblins will come and take Gillian away, no matter how fussy she is. Just in case.
P.S. When I saw this in a theater last year, the first five seconds of that last clip sent the audience into paroxysms of catcalling. Just yesterday, my daughter said, “He’s a princess! He’s so pretty! But he’s going to fall in his dress!”