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.