Thoughts On: Labyrinth - The Introspective Trap


Labyrinth - The Introspective Trap

Thoughts On: Labyrinth

To save her little brother from the Goblin King, Jareth, Sarah must journey to the centre of the labyrinth to reclaim him with the help of a few friends.

I've always loved this film. I grew up with it, drawn to the goblins, talking hands, rocks that come to life and absurd creatures. As with all films we grow up with, when we revisit them later on, we either find they kind of suck, but are still fun, or, that they hold a deeper message we never quite grasped beforehand. With Labyrinth, I can see it's not a great film. It's not bad though. Not at all. The acting's questionable, but that comes mainly down to writing - in short, don't have actors narrate action. But, none of that matters much, the film is in no way cringy or a task to watch. The only faults I have with it come with the third act and battle sequence. It was supposed to be silly, not at all violent, but it didn't make a lot of sense - and not in a good way. There are of course an awful lot of occurrences in this film where... just... what? But, almost all make overall sense as they align with the underlying message of the film. So, let's jump straight into it. The most obvious undertones of the film are of a sexual nature. We all know the jokes about David Bowie's tight pants and huge dick, and how the film is about a sexual awakening. If not, well, it's pretty obvious. But, there's something a lot of people miss with this film. To understand it, we need to survey its focal point - Sarah's bedroom. Inside this bedroom are a myriad of references to fairy tales (The Wizard Of Oz, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and the film itself with Hoggle, Ludo, Didymus and so on. But, these is not the key observation we need to be making to understand the film. In her room Sarah has pictures and newspaper clippings of and about her mother - Linda Williams. What these clippings make clear is that she was a stage actor who may have been caught up in a few scandals. We can understand this through titles such as 'One-Off Romance! Back Together' or 'Williams Love, It's All Over'. Thoighout the film Sarah's mother is nowhere to be seen, with her father having moved on, married another woman and had a child. What's left ambiguous is whether Sarah's mother walked out or died. I think it's fair to infer that Sarah's mother walked out as dead parents are something movies love to make obvious, but also, there is no newspaper clippings in memory to her. Though, it is fair to say that a daughter wouldn't keep such clippings. What's important here though is the love hearts, the clear admiration Sarah has for her mother who is probably living another life with another man, having abandoned her daughter...

This is the crux of the film, our way into understanding it's precisely constructed message. Sarah wants to be her mother. We see this in the opening, Sarah practicing lines from a book - acting. However, there's something separating the two and that's the fact that her mother is a woman and Sarah's a child. This is where the elements of puberty and a sexual awakening become of significance. Also, can I draw your attention back to picture above. One the left page there's a picture with Sarah's mum and a man, a man who looks quite a bit like... um... David Bowie? The Goblin King? Whoa! Exactly. But let's not jump ahead of ourselves here. In the first act we learn that Sarah thinks her stepmother is evil, that her life is unfair, that she shouldn't have to look after her little brother. There's two huge parts of her character in this little bit here. First of all, she wants to live a fantasy. She projects fantastical ideas such as an evil step mother onto what seems like a perfectly rational person. The next major character trait is what links Sarah to her mother intrinsically. She doesn't want to look after the baby, just like Sarah's mum didn't want to look after her. You starting to see how deep the film is? Let's bring this all together then. We have a 15 year old girl who's quite a way into puberty, around the age where she'll start dating boys. She idolises her mother and the fantasy she represents. But she's also inherited this twisted idea of love - of abandoning family for the sake of lust. This is why she despises Toby. Not only does he represent abandonment - Sarah's father distancing himself from her with a new family, but he also represents irrational ideas of evil families and oppression - all of which Sarah feels she must fight. So, this means that this film is not about a woman overcoming evil boyfriends, sexual inclinations and so on, but herself. This film is, quite ironically, a reality check. This comes about almost instantaneously. Sarah knows she shouldn't have wished her brother away. She knows she's going to have to bring him back. What this film, as a result, is about, is a girl working through her deep-seated delusions, going on an inner journey towards... well, not being so much of a bitch.

What's so brilliant about this film is that that's all you really need to know to see it's hidden message. Everything in the film centres around metaphorically projecting images of self-deceit. Everything we see is of Sarah's creation - especially Jareth. He has no control, he has no plans, he has no motivations. You could say this is bad character work, but it clearly isn't. Jareth simply wants Sarah because she wants him to. He does everything she wants him to whilst beating her into the ground, trying to force her to conform to every nasty aspect herself. He represents her aversion to changing the ways in which she acts. In short, she just wants to find a boyfriend to run away from family and responsibility with. In this sense goblins are also just mindless evil projections of her character. They are representations of how she sees others. That's why Toby is threatened to be transformed into one. Moreover, the goblins are also implied to be us. Think of the opening scene where they are watching Sarah, wanting her to say the words: 'I wish the Goblin King would take you away right now'. Where are these creatures? Under the bed? Behind a wall? Some magical place? No. They are in the audience, they are us, commentating. Just look:

This means that the goblins are merely Sarah's twisted view of everyone else. This also explain why in the end they appear and start celebrating, jumping on the bed, with Sarah. They aren't bad guys, they're just under a bad guy's control - Sarah's twisted idea of romance. Other character such as Hoggle represent real friends. They're not always nice, the greatest people, but, if you're good to them, they stick by your side. Hoggle is also very interesting as he's linked to Sarah's idea of boys/men. This is why he is threatened by Jareth - the two come from the same place in her mind. Ludo on the other hand is the scary adults, that are really just harmless and only want to protect you. This means that the rocks he has under his control symbolise a strength in character, something that will not change, that'll always be there to support. Maybe Ludo is representative of her father. The fox/dog thing that rides a horse/dog thing is a materialisation of play. The dog/horse is Sarah's dog from from the very beginning and the fox thing is representative of her idea of knights, chivalry, romance. In the film she recognises that they're not so brave, but a little childish and stupid - at least, her version of them as play things. Other characters are lifted from fairy tales as archetypes turned on their elbows. The fairies are a very interesting idea. To understand why they're evil look at the Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory post. If you need more reason to click on that link, I prove that Wonka is a Nazi so... you know, go ahead. Anyways, back to this film. Other archetypes are the helpful characters such as old men and small creatures. None of them turn out to be very helpful. Again, Sarah's childish fantasies are proving themselves to be nothing more than naive. One other key symbol in the film is the doors. I needn't explain that one, but we see doors open and appear when Sarah learns something such as life's not fair, use your sense, or ask the right questions. This means that she can progress in her journey towards change, by, would you guess it, actually changing. This also means that the traps, the oubliettes, are representative of the depression Sarah may fall into when she can't change, merely recognise that she's a naive kid. And the bog of eternal stench, this is a funny one. There could be links in this to puberty and being stained by teenage stench. But, the better interpretation in my opinion is that the bog represents being a shitty person for the rest of your life. This is why Hoggle doesn't want to be dumped in there, why Sarah almost falls in. The main character motivations here are to grow up, to change a little so their seen as inevitably shitty people.

The final aspects of the message come with the fantasy sequence - which is merely representative of Sarah wanting to act like an adult, but not be in their world - and then the final conflict between Jareth and Sarah. What Sarah learns here is that she has to grow up a little, but not completely. She needs to overcome childish hatred, drop her fixation on her mother and her mother's path through life so she can just concentrate on being as much of a kid as she can get away with. This all means that the babe, the babe with the power, is both Sarah and Toby. They are children, both malleable, able to change. Their power comes with choice. Sarah hates the power Toby has in the beginning because he seems to be ruining her life, deciding what she does and when. But, what she realises by the end is that babysitting isn't that hard and she can be who she wants to be, given a lot of hard work and equal introspection. What this leads to is a key idea of: What is grown up? But, to explore that click on the link for a discussion on Hook.

So, comment. Tell me what you think of Labyrinth and what the film means to you.

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