Sunday, January 2, 2011

Favorite Films: Labyrinth

Labyrinth came out in 1986. I was born in 1988. I first saw Labyrinth in 1997, more than a decade after the original release. I've loved it as an intimate reminder of my childhood since that time. It's now 2011, the film is 25 years old... and I've had a breakthrough.
When David Bowie comes on the screen as Jareth, The Goblin King we instantly know we're gonna enjoy the journey we're about to go on... and that score is 80s perfect oh yeah. Throughout the film we glimpse magnified versions of Sarah's (Jennifer Connelly) favorite things. Her imagination takes some incredible twists and turns... and while usually I'd fight the urge to deconstruct or even consider that an entire film is just occurring within somebody's mind, I have to tip my hat to Terry Jones and Jim Henson for not making me hate their way of doing this.

If you could follow that last section, I'm saying that everything in the movie is within Sarah's mind... but some of her imagination is trying to break free
"I can't live within you," Jareth sings at the end of the film. He says the most ridiculous line during the final confrontation, "Let me rule you and I will be your slave." But it makes sense when we recognize that he is just a part of her. Thus, in the final scene when she has made it back home at last, she can still enjoy the good parts of her imagination just with a newfound understanding that she has to control it or one day she'll become one of those horrifying hoarder creatures from the junk yard.
Because if all we do all the time is dream, we'll never make friends (this thought is evidenced by her mother's statement in the second scene about going on dates with boys) and never develop those relationships that can actually make our dreams come to light. So Sarah makes a difficult choice when she states, "You have no power over me." She is taking control of things. If she has, in the past, been afraid of forming meaningful relationships with real people, then she will now have to take that step into the unknown and become a real person herself.

I love Labyrinth. It has always brought me joy to see such wonderful Henson creations brought to life in a film with David Bowie. And I will never forget the first time I saw it at 11 o'clock on a weekday. I should have been in bed, but my parents were still out and I was too inthralled in the story telling. At that time I didn't realize who David Bowie was, or Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, and I only had the slightest of ideas as to who Jim Henson was. It's incredible to realize how important all of these people have been in my life since then. That I would one day own all of David Bowie's music and all of Monty Python's films (and television series)... and that Jim Henson, even in death, has played such a heavy role in my enjoyment and understanding of what makes a good film, is without equal in my life.

*When I mention Jim Henson I think about the importance of keeping practical puppetry alive in film. I am of the opinion that the large majority of CG is still in need of further work. It just looks too fake, even in Hollywood's biggest budget films I find myself pulled out of the movie by something that just looks weakly designed or weakly portrayed. And when you see an actor working with a puppet at his side, it just feels better, I know it's the actor's job to imagine anything could be there... but it doesn't hurt to have a little help from time to time. Anyway, this is a massive digression.*

If any one film has had the greatest impact on how I see the world, I'd go so far as to say Labyrinth is that film. Because it has stuck with me for so long and never become boring, never lost that magic touch, and even when I think of this new understanding something just feels right, like I was meant to grow up one day and see what the film is truly trying to say, just as Sarah sees her own imagination and what her life could be without allowing her own personal growth... We all have to grow up one day. We just have to figure out what that means.

The List So Far:
1927 - Metropolis - Fritz Lang
1928 - Steamboat Willie - Ub Iwerks
1931 - M - Fritz Lang
1932 - Tarzan, The Ape Man - W. S. Van Dyke
1933 - King Kong - Merian C. Cooper +
1934 - It Happened One Night - Frank Capra
1957 - Funny Face - Stanley Donen
1986 - Labyrinth - Jim Henson

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