Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hands, Fruit, Mirrors, Masks and Mothers

Yesterday we watched MirrorMask on the DVD player we bought ourselves for Christmas. Hailed as this generation’s Labyrinth, I felt that in contrast with its predecessor its intense celebration of everything aesthetic and visual created a disconnection between the protagonist, the other characters, and the audience. The focus on the incredible worlds they ventured into and the ethereal presentation of them, through the computer graphics, left me with an ‘un-rooted’ sense, like you never once touch the ground or feel the earth. The scenes in Labyrinth might clearly be shot inside a studio, but the tactile contact the characters have with their environment offers the audience inclusion. I felt excluded from the world of MirrorMask.

Having said that, I’m a die-hard Jim Henson fan with fantasy fetishes and aesthetic persuasions, and so, I did enjoy it. I thought Stephanie Leonidas as the main protagonist, Helena, and Gina McKee as her mother/evil queen/good queen were great, and I’m so sick of children’s films being about the lives of boys (e.g. Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Holes, and that recent Anthony Horowitz film about the teenage spy, who is, of course, a boy! – Girl-child films incessantly involve sleepovers, boy trouble, and a lot of pinkness, and frankly, I’m sick of it!) with the girl character only ever being secondary, I welcome almost any film giving girls the adventure stories they need too. (Honestly, most girls’ ideas of adventure do not revolve around how to make the popular boy in class notice her!). So MirrorMask scores points from me there too.

It certainly doesn’t get away entirely cleanly however, since I also have trouble with the, albeit traditionally established, storytelling archetype of the mother=evil queen/good queen. Here, again, the good queen is dying and the evil queen threatens with her own rule (think Cinderella, Snow-White and Sleeping Beauty). Here, again, the young daughter is poised to rise up and usurp her evil/innocent mother (think, again, Cinderella, Snow-White and Sleeping Beauty).

And, another worn-out story concept as far as I’m concerned is this coming-of-age theme. Especially when that coming-of-age seems to, by rote, include a heterosexual involvement with a male character. Why does sexual growth so persistently mark girls’ coming-of-age stories?? Does Charlie fall in love in the chocolate factory?? (Well, with Johnny Depp confessing his version of Willy Wonka ((of all names!!)) was inspired by Michael Jackson, there is a more subversive love story that could be read here…!) Is there any love interest for the captive boys in Holes?? So, yes, that Helena must be eventually drawn sexually to her accomplice annoyed me.

However, the film did attempt to give a twist to the mother=evil/good convention with its own metaphor, the MirrorMask itself, by implying that both exist simultaneously in one person, and that we slip in and out of each to settle somewhere on the border (also a heavily emphasised symbol in the film) between the two. In this, I felt that MirrorMask did a much better job than Labyrinth which made no attempt to break from the evil step-mother (read, evil mother replacing absent ‘good’ mother) trope. Although I did enjoy the implied sexual tension between the Goblin King and Sarah in Labyrinth more than I enjoyed the slightly damper affair going on between Helena and her friend (what was his name??). But that probably has more to do with my admiration for David Bowie in Lycra than with anything else…

But I do love the fact that both films try to delve into the so-called ‘female psyche’ – through consistent metaphors of fruit and hands – and both do explore the seductive expectations upon young women to invest energy and time into self-maintenance and ideals of physical beauty. Both Sarah and Helena find themselves tempted, and both eventually reject these ideals as transient, unnecessary and, crucially, see them for the carefully preserved deliberate distractions from more the more important tasks in hand…

For other great films telling girls' stories, try:

  • Labyrinth
  • (of course!)
  • Whale Rider

  • Rabbit-Proof Fence

  • (The 1993 version of)
  • The Secret Garden

  • The (so horrifically bad, it’s fantastically good)
  • Worst Witch

  • The Railway Children
  • (for some old skool!)

    …There must be more than this… What have I forgotten…?

    Turbo Tagger

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