Academic Writing

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman

Here we have yet another iteration of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs story.  I've already written about it here and here, but after seeing Snow White and The Huntsman, I thought it deserved some more real estate on this blog.  This film is very much an updated version created for the modern day.  None of the characters fit into the rather one dimensional frameworks that Disney had put them in nearly 80 years ago.  In this version, soon after The King’s beloved wife dies, he marries another in hopes of alleviating his pain and forgetting his past.  This new wife, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), turns out to be a man-hater who goes from kingdom to kingdom destroying the men there and feasting on the beauty of young virgins to maintain her youthfulness.  During her reign, The King’s daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), is locked in the north tower, never seeing the light of day (maybe that’s why her skin is so fair) and waiting for the chance to escape. 

When she gets that chance and she runs away into the Dark Forest, a mysterious place filled with dangerous magical flora and fauna and from which only one man is known to have survived.  Ravenna sends that man, The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), to seek her out and return her so she can steal her beauty and reach immortality.  Rather than bringing her back, however, The Huntsman is taken with Snow and seeks to protect her as they navigate their way back to Snow’s childhood friend, William, and his father The Duke so they can seek vengeance on The Queen.  Along the way they encounter the seven dwarfs (originally 8, but one is lost in battle), who, while don’t hi-ho their way through the wilderness, do teach Snow the power of her inner beauty and become an integral force in their army.

Kristen Stewart does an ok job in this role.  I am generally underwhelmed by her performances and find her expressions blank and uninteresting.  She has moments of more depth in this film, but they are generally fleeting.  It's hard to understand why she even landed this role.  Additionally, audiences are supposed to believe that she is the fairest of the land, not only because of her beauty, but because of her heart.  Yet, other than a moment of compassion for an injured crow in the first scenes of the film, it is unclear why she is so wonderful.  Her character is rather one-dimensional, and in the hands of a stronger actress she could have been more interesting.  The male characters also do not provide much depth as they are mostly there to help and mentor Snow (and, let’s be honest, to provide some very much appreciated eye candy!).

Contrasted with Stewart’s lackluster performance was Charlize Theron.  Theron brought so much emotion and depth to this role; you’re almost exhausted watching her.  Most of all, I found myself often paying attention to her eyes.  Her eyes reflected her every emotion and feeling throughout the course of the film.  The bright blueness of them were in stark contrast the dark and gray world her evil brought to the kingdom.   I very well might be reading too much into it, because in fact she just has blue eyes, but , if the eyes are a window to the soul, at times they seemed to be saying that she’s really a good person deep down, but her unfortunate circumstances let her to this very dark place. 

The visual effects are impressive and in addition to the depiction of magic that they provide, it also allows viewers the opportunity to be transported into different worlds.  The film has three main locales – the palace where the queen does her bidding, the Dark Forest, where no one other than spirits or demons are known to survive, and the Enchanted Forest, which is a clear nod to the 1937 Disney film and allows Snow an opportunity to frolic with fairies and bunnies. 

It’s interesting to me that the title of the film is Snow White and The Huntsman, which would make it seem that the central and most compelling relationship is between the titular characters.   Rather, while they have very little screen time together, the most thought-provoking relationship is in fact between Ravenna and Snow.  Moreover, that central relationship is strengthened as there is never an outward struggle between William and The Huntsman as they vie for Snow’s affection.  The film is about women battling it out between themselves and to throw that love triangle into the mix would water down its message.

The film is about the relationship women have with each other, especially regarding power struggles, and how beauty plays into their societal role.  Further, the ultimate message is not that women don’t need men to survive.  It’s just the opposite.  Snow needed men throughout the entire course of the film. She needed her father.  She needed William.  They both, for reasons out of their control could not be there for her.  Then enters The Huntsman, who is there for her and who helps her survive and teaches her survival skills.  The Dwarfs also prove vital to her survival.  It’s OK for women to need men, that doesn’t make them weak.  Different people bring different skill sets to the table and that’s ok to acknowledge.

The Queen is obsessed with maintaining her beauty as she believes that will determine her place in society.  The mirror encourages this and tells Ravenna that her beauty is the source of her power so she must do all that she can to maintain her beauty.  In this case, it’s very obviously her physical beauty.  She literally feeds off of the beauty of others to keep herself physically beautiful.  While obviously dramatized, to some regard this is something women do all the time.  We live in a society where it’s very hard for women to support other women without feeling as though their power is at stake.  Often they must demean other women to assert their power.  Snow’s beauty is really about her inner splendor.  It just so happens she’s beautiful on the outside, but throughout the course of the film – both by her mother and then again by The Huntsman, she is praised for her purity of heart.  It is what inspires other around her and what Ravenna really despises about her.  Snow is everything the queen cannot be. 

Something else interesting in this line of thought is that the beauty that the queen seeks is partially about her own vanity, but also about her need to have others, mainly men, find her beautiful.  Her evil is initiated when she was stolen from her mother by soldiers.  When she stabs The King she tells him that it is men who bring the destruction of women and therefore he must be killed.  Yet, she seeks the approval of men while also destroying other women.  Her brother (with whom she has a disturbing psycho-sexual relationship with) feeds her ego, reminding her of her beauty.  Her mirror, the one who she seeks out to reassure her of her status of fairest of them all, is a male voice who consoles her and who tells her she must kill Snow White to maintain her status.  The Queen, like so many women, needs the reassurance of men to feel good about herself.  Additionally, in this story it is the queen’s sycophantic men who feed this female on female power struggle.

While they are positioned as ultimate foes and in direct contrast to one another, there is a link between Ravenna and Snow.  This is manifested through the reoccurring visual theme and use of birds.  Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, masses of birds represent anxiety and Snow White and The Huntsman plays off of that theme.  Snow saves a crow at the beginning of the film, and later one they return to her to lead her to safety in another number of instances.  The Queen herself, Snow’s direct juxtaposition, is also aligned with birds as not only feasts on their hearts, but also summons them to aid in her dark magic.  Her name, Ravenna, conjures thoughts of Ravens, her bird of choice, and a clear image of death and darkness.  This creates a connection between Snow and The Queen.  Yes, they are vastly different, but they are also similar.  They are both considered “the fairest,” they are both torn from their families and seek vengeance.  They just go about it in different ways, offering two perspectives on how to handle a given situation.

In the original fairy tale, The Huntsman was a real danger and threat to Snow White.  In 2012, the real story is about how The Queen was her ultimate adversary.  The original Disney film portrayed a weak, victimized Snow White who solely relies on the good deeds of others and her one true love, prince charming, to save her.  This Snow White does need the help of others to teach and guide her, but she develops over the course of the film and learns that she must fight to defend herself.  She laments to William that she could never be queen because she does not know how to inspire people and yet, by the end of the film has found her voice and manages to stand up for what she believes in and be the powerful force she must be.

No comments: