20.7.12

You Have No Power Over Me: Labyrinth (1986)

I have tragically been unable to procure any blogs for what appears to be twenty plus days, although considering that I have been knee deep in moving for the past week I figure it is slightly excusable.  However, knowing that this rather lengthy break leaves a gap in my movie reviews I completely understand that in order to return to with a new blog that it needs to be something spectacular and in my opinion the 80's cult classic Labyrinth provides for the perfect return. A spectacle in the very sense of the term, this Jim Henson directed film is otherworldly without being so fantastical as to dismiss accessibility to those less inclined towards the fantasy genre. The combination of some masterful puppeteer work and what is simultaneously David Bowie's best and worst offering to music, Labyrinth manages to be very fun and at times bizarre.  I am fully aware of its lack of success upon initial release and could expound on the possibilities for days, however, that is unnecessary and I would be more inclined to simply celebrate its cult status and demand its immediate viewing to all those who have not seen its glorious absurdity.  A film like Labyrinth reminds me that not every big budget film to come out of the 80's is indeed terrible; in fact, many were quite enjoyable and stellar offering to the world of movies.


Labyrinth focuses on the experiences of one young girl named Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) who is at wits end with her indifferent father and stubborn stepmother that seems more concerned with making it to their various outings than spending time with her.  This problem is only exacerbated by their continual dumping of their youngest child Toby (Toby Froud) onto Sarah.  Constantly seeking solace in a fantasy world known as Labyrinth, Sarah utters words from the novel that are supposed to cause her younger brother to be kidnapped by goblins.  At first loving the silence, Sarah immediately regrets her decision and decides to check on her brother, who has disappeared.  In a panic, Sarah attempts to redact her decision, only to encounter Jareth (David Bowie), the king of the goblins.  He explains that Sarah will only see her brother again if she is able to successfully find the center of his labyrinth within thirteen hours.  Accepting her fate, Sarah quickly takes to the task of finding her brother within the madness of the labyrinth, along the way she encounters various creatures of fantastical proportions from a grouchy dwarf named Hoggle, to various logic puzzles and riddles, all intended to test her wits and maturity.  Fed up with her successes, Jareth intervenes on many occasions to throw obstacles in Sarah's way.  Ultimately, however, with the help of a new set of friends and a newly found inner power, Sarah defeats Jareth by accepting that she has no control over her and that she truly loves her brother and would do anything for his safety.  Sarah returns home safely and finds Toby fast asleep, she thinks fondly of her encounters with the various creatures of the Labyrinth only to discover that within her imagination that she can revisit each and everyone of them on countless occasions.


While the film is littered with surprisingly excellent special effects and a very large amount of song and dance numbers, particularly the somewhat awkward "Dance Magic" bit, it is possible to glean a series commentary out of the film.  Sarah represents a young woman who is attempting to traverse through the world with a headstrong sense of independence, one that is ridiculed by her step mom who thinks she should be more concerned with her dating life.  The labyrinth, and to some extent Jareth, represent a imaginative world of oppression, quite similar to the real world she exists within.  It is only when she displaces her anger on someone weaker than her that she realizes her mistakes and for this, she must seek redemption.  Along the way, Sarah evolves from a stubborn girl who simply runs in one direction until she is tired to a born leader who helps to defend a town from a goblin onslaught.  More importantly, however, Sarah learns both the value of companionship and loyalty through Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus, all theoretical extensions of her personality as well as independence from a patriarchal figure head, as is evident in Jareth (despite his rather androgynous appearance).  The puzzles within the film evolve from very literal ones, as is the case with her encounter with the traditional Knight and Knave dilemma to breaking from her own restraints of dreams involving bourgeois extravagances that adhere to heteronormative notions of male and female relationships.  Each encounter within the narrative could easily be read as Sarah attempting to encounter a ridiculous social rule head on.  Of course, it could all just be an anti-drug film, as is evident in the peach scene.

Key Scene: A certain scene invoking the work of M.C. Esher that I have dubbed Jareth's Lament.

This is a great piece of 80's film that has recently been upgraded to bluray.  While I fully intend to obtain a copy of the film, it is perfectly acceptable to simply rent it instead.

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