More than one reviewer has talked about the fantasy of the beautiful and dangerous man who represents the scary but intriguing side of coming into one's own sexuality, especially when it comes to everyone's favorite punching bag. I don't think this fantasy is a bad thing, especially if put into its proper context, like a villain. And thus, for once we move away from Edward Cullen and come to Jareth, the Goblin King of Jim Henson's late film Labyrinth.
Unlike many girl geeks of my age I do not have fond childhood memories of this movie, although I remember very much remember wanting to see it when I saw an ad on HBO. It never happened until a few weeks ago, and while it probably would have blown me away more back then, it's certainly more interesting to me now.
The film follows Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a 15-year-old girl obsessed with fantasy worlds who is having a hard time with her father's new marriage, particularly her new younger brother, Toby. Told to look after the crying baby for the night, Sarah in a fit of rage calls upon the Goblin King (David Bowie) to take him away. He does that, arriving in a puff of glitter, and when Sarah fails to be seduced by him, he tells her she'll need to complete his labyrinth in 13 hours.
The HBO ad I saw (unlike the trailer I posted above) really played up the "Sarah must save her brother" angle. This intrigued me as a kid, because I'm a big sister with a little brother. (Plus, I remember reading a picture book with a similar plot that seemed more about the sibling relationship.) Yet quest tales are never about the object, but about the journey. Toby will be saved, but he's not the important part.
Jennifer Connelly is a great actress ... now. I loved her in Requiem for a Dream and The House of Sand and Fog and thought she was one of the saving graces of Ang Lee's Hulk. That being said her acting here is kind of rough and somewhat shrill. Of course, she was young, but it makes her performance somewhat distracting. Nevertheless, I did like Sarah, and enjoyed her journey. I liked that she was a protagonist who remained feminine, using her lipstick to mark her path (even if it didn't work).
And of course, Sarah meets very strange creatures and even stranger perils along the way, and makes some friends, as one does on quests. I felt a particular attachment to Ludo, a giant hairy beast who is also an Earth Bender.
Yet the real conflict on a both surface and metaphorical level is between Sarah and Jareth, and about how Jareth tries to seduce Sarah throughout the movie. As a growing young woman, Jareth's seductions upon Sarah are twofold. He tries to entrance her with the delights of childhood. At one point a goblin takes Sarah to her room and entreats her to stay with her old toys. In a scene that probably still makes Harry Knowles cry, Sarah breaks away when she exclaims, "It's all junk."
But there's also the enchantments of adulthood. Jareth, played by Bowie at his glam-rock best and wearing very tight pants that leave little to the imagination, remains a romantic figure to Sarah. He's perfect for the job, of course. Others have spoken about how androgynous males appeal to young ladies because they seem "safer" and less scary, and Jareth walks that scary/safe line perfectly. The sexual awakening elements of the story are left appropriately in subtext, but that makes them no less powerful. I'm by no means a hardcore Bowie fan, but I don't know who wouldn't find this fantasy ball sequence enchanting.
But one can't really give into the sexy/scary type, whatever Twilight tells us. Edward Cullen can raise the spectre of being scary only to has his author forget about it, but Jareth must remain in the realm of fantasy and Sarah must return. Even if Jareth offers to be her slave, she must reject him.
Although perhaps not completely. Even though we must all grow up, one can still return to childhood for visits, as Sarah assures the friends she made in her fantasy world when they turn up in her room in the final scene. Meanwhile a barn owl, the avatar of the Goblin King, remains tantalizingly watching through the window. He's still not Edward Cullen, though. He does fly away.