For one day only, the Labyrinth is back! Check the link below to see the details, but here’s the low down:
- March 19, 2012
- Canadian theatres only
- Cineplex theatres
- Not in my town 😥
For one day only, the Labyrinth is back! Check the link below to see the details, but here’s the low down:
The Labyrinth movie is a coming-of-age story. It shows how Sarah learns to grow up, to put away her toys, and to take a more mature attitude towards life. Lessons about life being fair, taking things for granted, or the role of fantasy are explicitly stated by Sarah, or shown through her actions.
Alongside growing up emotionally, the movie also includes references to growing up physically and becoming an adult. These references are more subtle, but work well alongside the other themes.
The movie is kicked off by Sarah’s loss of the baby. Once Jareth takes Toby away, her quest is to find and recover him – the entire crux of the film is finding a baby. On a literal level, Sarah moves towards an infant. Just as her body moves towards fertility (i.e.: puberty), her quest takes her closer to the baby. As such, the baby acts as a physical manifestation of childbirth and fertility.
And Toby himself is threatened by his own kind of demented puberty. Jareth promises to keep Toby in his castle beyond the Goblin city – and turn him into a Goblin: “your baby brother becomes one of us, forever.” This transfiguration of Toby parallels Sarah’s own change, albeit on a more twisted level.
One of the hallmarks of adolescence is a change in things which previously seemed static. Parts of the body that a child knew and understood are suddenly altered and strange. Suddenly, there is no familiarity in the body – as soon as the adolescent looks again, something has changed.
The Labyrinth itself echoes this as it constantly fluxes and changes. Sarah looks back, and a path she took is no longer there.
It is interesting to note that the most significant of Sarah’s disorientations comes when her path markers are changed by the little man that moves the floor stones. To mark her path, she uses her red lipstick.
Lipstick is a fairly unambiguous representation of growth and physical maturation; young girls wear lipstick to look older, women wear lipstick to look more desirable.
Perhaps the fact that the lipstick markers were unreliable indicates that Sarah’s dabbling in the world of adolescence (via the lipstick) leaves her only more confused and physically unsure.
Throughout The Labyrinth, walls appear out of nowhere, passages disappear, and normal rules are inverted. This reaches its zenith in the M.C. Escher-inspired staircase scene where even gravity becomes unreliable.
The Firey Gang, the singing, dancing, limb-swappers, act out a constant bodily augmentation.
They trade arms, feet, heads, even eyeballs, making their bodies always dynamic. Theirs is an eternal puberty, with bodies that change from day to day. The Firey Gang embrace this bodily change and flaunt it, scaring Sarah with their free approach to their physicality.
They try to force her to change the same way they are – by tearing her head off. This could be analogous to the peer pressure by more developed children.
I would be remiss if I did not mention David Bowie and his overt sexuality. Much of this may be incidental – as an actor/singer, he is invested with many sexual associations which are not necessarily internal to the film.
His tight pants though, are undeniable. The “Bowie-bulge” acts as an in-your-face reminder that fertility is signified by change in men too.
Sarah’s masquerade fantasy features a number of adults, including Jareth, many of whom are dressed revealingly. The masked dancers stumble and laugh drunkenly and theirs is a grown-up’s party. Sarah’s presence here pushes the boundaries. Much as a child will want to stay up later and later and join parents and adults in the evenings, Sarah experiments with playing as a grown up.
Throughout the movie, Jareth taunts and entices Sarah with a crystal orb. Built on the existing framework, the sphere could be a stand in for an egg, the ultimate representation of fertility and birth.
This is re-enforced by the scene in which Sarah consumes the fruit that Hoggle gives her.
Originally, Jareth transformed the sphere to the fruit, and gave it to Hoggle. When Sarah bites the fruit, she is in a lush and fecund forest.
On biting it, she is transformed into a fantasy world of the Masquerade. We have a girl eating a piece of fruit in a garden/forest, which leads to a new state of being. I believe there are definite shades of Eve in the Garden of Eden, eating the forbidden fruit.
By tying her in with the female archetype of Eve, her status as a fertile woman is established.
In The Labyrinth, we only get a few minutes on Sarah’s life before things take a turn for the Bowied. We see her play acting in the park, run through the city, and get all up in Toby’s business. But aside from that, we also have a brief scene with Sarah’s parents – or at least her father and step-mother.
The step-mother we see first, looking fierce in a very 80s outfit with a linebacker’s shoulder pads. The dad we see next, boring and every bit the prototypical suburban father. They exchange a few words:
“She treats me like a wicked stepmother in a fairy story no matter what I say”
“I’ll talk to her.”
The dubbing of the lines is truly atrocious. I’d be curious to know if they actually ever spoke their lines, or just mouthed them and had them filled in later. Their acting (“acting”) is pretty weak, with no real emotions coming through. The timing is strangely forced also, as if the scene had been compressed during the editing process.
There are a couple ways to take this. The more obvious interpretation would be that the actors just phoned it in, the dubbing guy was half asleep, and no one really cared about this scene since it doesn’t do much. Henson didn’t worry about it, or didn’t notice the flaws.
I prefer an alternate interpretation, which maintains an internal consistency within the movie, and doesn’t require the director to be temporarily deaf and blind:
The parent scenes are flawed and dull because they are the only part of the film that is not fantasy.
The parent scene is the only one with the strained acting, off dubbing, off timing, and peculiar characterization. It is also the only scene that is not in some way fantasy. Even the earlier scenes in the part, Sarah is acting and playing. In her room, everything around her is a fantasy. In Toby’s room, she imagines that a Goblin King will take him away (and starts the events of the movie.)
The parents’ day-to-day lives, when compared to the richness of Sarah’s fantasy, are completely mundane, mis-timed, and flawed. The movie, as an extension of Sarah’s mind, perceives the characters in relation and comparison to her play-world. As a result, they appear drab and malformed.
Much like the artificial bird at the close of Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the apparent cinematic errors here draw our attention to the falsity of the scene. Unlike Blue Velvet, it is not because the scene is a fantasy, but because it is not a fantasy. Since Sarah’s fantasy is the focus of the movie, it becomes the reality, subverting “real life.” The true reality thereby becomes unreal – the parents are broken, reduced to actors playing poorly dubbed parts. Meanwhile, puppets provide real emotional substance.
Not only does this effect weaken our hold on reality, but it helps to better create the vibrant fantasy reality of the movie.
On June 27, 1986, Roger Ebert reviewed the latest Jim Henson movie, The Labyrinth. You can read his review here: Ebert reviews the Labyrinth
Ebert generally pans the movie, pointing to a weak story that doesn’t match the mastery of the effects. He also comments that it’s better for a human to enter a muppet world, than for muppets to be part of the ‘real’ world.
Obviously I disagree or I wouldn’t be running this site. Still, it’s interesting to see a contemporary review that corresponds with the fact that the movie tanked at the box office.
My favorite part though is that Ebert confuses the names Hoggle and Toby:
One of the key characters in this film is Toby (played by Toby Froud). Froud is a midget who has been given a Muppet head to wear. And although the head is a good special-effects construction, I kept wanting to see real eyes and real expressions. The effects didn’t add anything.
(It’s also possible that Ebert was just being way to witty for me.)
As The Labyrinth starts, Sarah has the catchphrase, it’s not fair! Sarah learns her lesson when Hoggle repeats it:
“Them’s my rightful property! It’s not fair!”
“No, it isn’t. But that’s the way it is…”
But there’s another repeating phrase in The Labyrinth – piece of cake. This one get’s repeated by a few different characters throughout the movie.
Sarah first says it after solving the door riddle:
“I’ve figured it out. I couldn’t do it before. I think I’m getting smarter. Piece of cake!”
(Sarah then falls right into the helping hands hole, and into the oubliette.)
Later, Jareth says to Sarah “How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?” Sarah responds “it’s a piece of cake.”
Jareth then speeds up the Toby countdown, saying “The Labyrinth’s a piece of cake? Let’s see you deal with this slice.”
(The cleaners come along.)
When the gang arrives in the goblin city, Sarah says ”I think we’re going to make it.” Hobble replies “oh, piece of cake!”
(Then, a new squad of goblin soldiers attacks.)
Each time a character says this, things immediately get worse. Much like the “it’s not fair” line, there’s a lesson for Sarah here. Hoggle says earlier that “You know what your problem is? You take too much for granted.” Whenever someone assumes that things are going right, that life is simple, and that they know everything – the Labyrinth teaches them otherwise.
Among everything else, The Labyrinth is a pedagogical device. But it may be less sophisticated than that. The method that The Labyrinth teaches is through behavioral modification – it’s essentially Pavlovian.
When Sarah or another character does something wrong (like assume their superiority with a “piece of cake” comment) bad things start to happen. When Sarah does something right (learn a lesson about taking things for granted, or about how life isn’t fair) things start to go right.
Sarah’s growth and education isn’t so much about her learning the hows and whys of life, but being punished for wrong-thinking, and rewarded for right-thinking.
The end result is the same, Sarah conquers the Labyrinth and matures, but it’s unsettling to think that it’s not a product of her own will. Sarah’s lessons are imposed on her from the outside.
We’ve got our first item available in our Labyrinth Store!
So far, we have a snazzy David Bowie Labyrinth t-shirt, but we’ve got plans to add more shirts, action figures, plushies, books, and more.
It seems like lots of the toy manufacturers are out of stock, and supplies are few – if you know anywhere that still supplies Jareth dolls, or the plushies, please drop me a line. If there’s another neato Labyrinth item that you think we should carry, let us know of that too.