Edith's Review of Labyrinth
Many an Abusive Boyfriend Can Take a Lesson From Him
It's strange, when you think about it. Leaving aside that he was thirty-nine and she was sixteen, which I'm not entirely sure we should be leaving aside, this is a screwed up relationship. I mean, let's leave aside the power dynamic, too, which we'll get back to later. The fact is, he's arguably the villain, yet he's also arguably the romantic lead. This is the case in several of the Great Pop Culture Landmarks of My Childhood. How many girls swoon over the Phantom of the Opera and ignore the fact that, you know, he kidnapped and brainwashed Christine? I've never been sure why Elizabeth Swann didn't fall for Jack Sparrow, and he was a drunken womanizer. (Yeah, not exactly my childhood. You get what I mean.) I mean, no wonder the current dreamboat is actually a vampire, however pathetic he may be. We've all been primed to see the concept as romantic, not creepy and borderline criminal. Or not-so-borderline.
Anyway, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fanciful, romantic teenage girl. Her absent mother is an actress, and Sarah clearly plans to follow in her footsteps. Her father Christopher Malcolm) has remarried, and he and her stepmother (Shelley Thompson) have a son, Toby (Toby Froud). Sarah resents him, and not just because he's a sobbing baby that she's expected to care for all the time. Finally, in frustration, she wishes that the goblins would come and take him away--right now. To her great surprise, they do. This is because Jareth (David Bowie), the Goblin King, is in love with her and wishes to do her bidding. He gives her the chance to get Toby back, but she must first find her way to the castle in the center of the labyrinth. She makes allies--Hoggle (performed by Shari Weiser and voiced by Brian Henson), Ludo (Ron Mueck and Rob Mills), and Sir Didymus (Dave Goelz and David Barclay, voiced by David Shaughnessy)--and overcomes much, including her own personal failings.
As everyone from my generation knows, and as is foreshadowed at the beginning, Jareth has no power over Sarah except what she gives him. She has to realize that for herself, of course, because fantasy is all about Learning a Valuable Lesson. It's what we expect. However, I feel that too many girls of my generation learned "he's creepy because he loves you," not "you don't have to put up with that." And of course, if you really look at it, Sarah has no power over Jareth except that which he gives her. He is, after all, the Goblin King. He has a lot of magic and various goblin minions and so forth. He gives Sarah control of him, sort of, because he loves her. I mean, he also takes a sixteen-year-old at her word more than she really deserves, but that's a different issue. We don't even know if she loves him back. Yes, her stepmother wishes she would go on dates now and again, but I somehow doubt Jareth is what she had in mind.
Though for quite a lot of us, this movie was one of the things to introduce us to the concept of sexuality. I read somewhere, probably on the AV Club, that after [i]Labyrinth[/i], there was no longer any such thing as virginity. David Bowie in those pants retroactively took everyone's virginity, and all virginity to come. I mean, he's got quite a package in those pants. Man, he was old for us, and we may not have quite known what those feelings we were having were--I was nine when this came out, myself--but to this day, most of us include an image of David Bowie in this movie in our personal mental file of "what 'erotic' means." At least, most of us who are attracted to men and probably a fair few looking for an image to emulate who aren't. I think part of it worked because Jennifer Connelly is so breathtakingly beautiful, but it's also that David Bowie is a better actor than a lot of other rock stars who've dabbled in it. I believe he at least has more sense than to leer over sixteen-year-olds like that in real life, but here?
Oh, yeah, and the puppetry, and the production design, and all that. It's a beautiful movie, and they created techniques for it that are still in use today, even though people seem to have looked at the iffy CGI owl and thought, "Yeah, that's the direction we should be taking instead." I could even wax English major and talk about the whole thing as a metaphor for growing up--and how just because you're growing up, you don't have to leave your entire childhood behind. The music--including Bowie's songs and the Trevor Jones score--is hopelessly '80s, I'm afraid, with very few songs that cross into timelessness. However, this is the kind of movie I'd happily show kids today, even taking the risk that they, too, will be hypnotized by David Bowie's package. Heck, even now, I'd love to have a chance to wear the dress Sarah wears to that ball, and I do think girls can be taught to recognize that Jareth's methods are not the ones you want to see in a prospective partner.