I liked your post last month about how Jareth’s gender expression is so often erased in fic. I’d love to see more deep analytical posts like this.
Btw, although it’s rare, I’ve read at least one fic where Jareth discusses a past romantic relationship with a man — and it even sounds like it was loving. Check out JR Godwin’s “Fledgling” on AO3 or FFNet.
Bonus: although Jareth is bisexual (he clearly wants Sarah), the author still portrays him as an alpha male with teeth.
As it was schoolwork, I obviously omitted my name and such. Hope you enjoy. I’ve gotten positive feedback on it (feel free to readmore this; i’m not sure how to do that in a submission)
I. Title Page
The Labyrinth of Dawning Female Sexuality
It seems that from childhood, females are assaulted with their own incoming onset of sexuality and motherly duties. There are toys packaged with make-up, the ever popular Barbie, dolls who cry and wet like the real babies that woman are urged from birth to grow up and raise. Some girls and women, however, stray from society’s predestined path to them. Sarah, the female protagonist of Jim Henson’s rather cult classic 1986 film Labyrinth is one of those girls that avoided the onset of her own sexuality and society’s expectation of a girl her age. While even the most passive viewer can come to the conclusion that Henson’s film addresses a coming-of-age scenario in a somewhat nontraditional way, further analysis that not only is it a story of leaving the childish things behind and emerging into adulthood, it is also Sarah’s own denial and repression of her burgeoning sexuality. This idea is played out between her and Goblin King Jareth, the antagonist, throughout the length of the film. Sarah represents a part of a counterculture who shirk the Cult of Domesticity, denying the maternal roles and sexual standards set for women even in a more contemporary society. Canonically, she seems to lack dates, avoid maternal instincts, and avoid the advance of her own sexual desires—desires that come to her in the shape of an effeminate Goblin King, whisking away all of her responsibilities to take her to a place from one of her fairy stories.
The movie has in some circles been revered as a cult classic. As Jim Henson, known for work on The Muppets and The Dark Crystal, is a pivotal part of the project, in depth puppetry is used in lieu of an expansive cast of human characters. Of the cast, there are perhaps five humanoid characters, only three of which have more than minimal screen time. As mentioned, Sarah is the sixteen year old protagonist who finds herself reluctantly on the cusp of adulthood. Most of the other humans are her family, her unnamed father and step-mother and her younger brother, Toby. She returns home late from reading poetry in the park and is tasked with babysitting the infant Toby, showing a very typical response of anger. It is when she wishes the goblins would take her brother away that she is caught up in a whole new world of fantasy—arguably, one only within her own imagination, making the cast of characters therein all the more meaningful. Jareth, the humanoid Goblin King played by sex icon David Bowie, comes to take the baby and tells Sarah she can only return home with the child if she makes it to the center of the labyrinth in under thirteen hours—hence, the title of the film. While completing this task, she meets and creates friendships with three faces familiar to those who pay attention to her room in the beginning, named Hoggle, a small, aesthetically challenging dwarf goblin; Ludo, a massive beast who has the ability to control rocks; and Sir Didymus, the petite dog-like bridge guardian of the Bog of Eternal Stench. All three play their own primary roles in helping the lost Sarah through the labyrinth and the small battle in a later scene. While she does complete this task and conquer Jareth’s control over her, she laments the fact she has left her friends behind, only to be informed that she can call upon them whenever she should need them. Whether or not these events actually occurred or were merely her own imagination and dreams is never fully confirmed and fans seem to disagree on that point, however, for this analysis, it is assumed that much of it is her own internal projections.
From the first few minutes of the film, Sarah shows a preoccupations with the fantasies of a fictional world. Her step-mother, after lecturing her and turning out her dog (Merlin, so named after the Arthurian wizard) out into the storm, impresses upon Sarah that she would “like it if you had dates, you should have dates at your age!” This same step-mother saddles her with responsibility that she clearly does not want, that is the responsibility to babysit her infant half-brother, Toby. All while a storm rages outside, audible throughout the scene. The assault of hormones on a teen’s body can often be described akin to a storm of sorts, and also the storm of Sarah’s emotions betrayed between her and her step-mother. Storms are also a common motif in Shakespearean plays, such as The Tempest and Twelfth Night, where a major storm in the beginning causes and upset that echoes throughout the entire story. Sarah’s storm in The Labyrinth is no different. In both noted Shakespearean accounts, characters wind up in a new land after a storm strayed their course. Storms are sometimes used theatrically a sign of change, and Sarah is undergoing the difficult change from girl to woman, expected to leave her fairy tales behind and become a pseudo maternal figure to Toby and go on dates. Sarah outcries against this, balking when she finds one of her bears, named Lancelot, again after Arthurian lore, has been given to her younger half-brother. The step-mother, in prior mentioned instances, is a representation of societal expectations of a sixteen year old girl. She should have dates at her age. It is something expected of her. The Goblin King expresses a similar societal expectation. A man should have power over the woman, insisting that Sarah must “fear me, love me, and do as I say.” This is why her failure to remember the final line of the poem “The Labyrinth” is so crucial; that is the line that defeats Jareth’s tyranny towards the end of the film. “You have no power over me.” In any context, this is a powerful line. In the case of Sarah, it is her informing the societal standard, coming both from another woman via her step-mother and the male perspective via Jareth, that it has no power over her. Casting David Bowie as this desirable Goblin King was no whim. Bowie is known for being a sex icon from the seventies forward, himself preoccupied with a fantasy world in earlier escapades. He is a familiar face even to viewers in the current time, not just those watching in the eighties. As a representation of her desire, he portrays an effeminate appearance, with long hair and heels. This could be shrugged off as just and eighties fashion trend, but in the context of analysis, there is more to it. Sarah imagines her desire as an effeminate male. She is comfortable with femininity and knows she has control over it, and so she projects that onto something she is unable to control, that being this new push and perhaps even desire towards sexuality.
Symbols throughout both the film Labyrinth and the physical activities that go on within the primary location in the film portray this message. Numerous references to the original sin appear when Jareth is involved. As most know, the original sin was Eve’s disobedience to God and Adam. Openly, Sarah disobeys men that tell her to do much of anything, from Hoggle and Jareth both numerous times telling her to give up and go back, to the speaking male-voiced stone statues after the escape of the oubliette who insist that what she is doing is wrong, even as Hoggle attempts to shield her. As opposed to what is wanted of her, she follows her own heart and mind and refuses to listen to men. More obvious symbols come in the form of a snake early on in the film and a peach around the midway point. Soon after his appearance, notably violating the sanctity of Sarah’s house, one of the orbs Jareth holds turns into a snake. This snake is thrown to Sarah, aiming for her neck. The snake is both a literal snake and a figurative idea, as Jareth here presents the snake while also representing the snake of Lucifer in the Bible, coming to corrupt someone formerly pure. It doesn’t remain a snake for long, however, the point has already been made: Jareth is a figure here to corrupt Sarah away from that which she wants to do, and should do, when consideration is made of her duties to Toby. There is a juxtaposition here, as he is also a male figure that should, supposedly, be obeyed, but is drawing her away from her proper duty as a babysitter. The peach given to Hoggle is another blatant reference to the original sin. Even upon the inquiry on whether or not it will hurt Sarah, Jareth seems not to care, even telling Hoggle that “It’s a present”—much like the fruit eventually eaten by Eve at the coaxing of Satan was the gift of knowledge that she was not supposed to have. The peach serves the purpose of taking her deeper into her fantasies, of luring her off track from where she should be, of removing her from the straight and narrow that she attempts to walk. This is why the peach is parallel to the fruit of knowledge eaten by Eve, though that is more often portrayed as an apple.
Another major symbolic note is found in the clothing of the protagonist and antagonist. Sarah goes throughout the film wearing a white shirt and white vest with silver accents. It doesn’t take a doctoral degree to understand that white is associated with purity, virginity, and innocence. Jareth, however, beneath the glitter and sparkles tends to wear shades of gray, browns, navys, and blacks. This is a spectrum of colors considered earthy or neutral, but darker shades betray that meaning of black. Black is, generally, the conflict of white, used to portray good and bad. The fact they chose to corporate gray lends itself to the concept of a melding between white, good, and black, evil. To exist in shades of gray is to exist between good and evil. Another point worthy of note is the pattern on the high waist gray leggings he is in throughout much of the film. That is, the snake motif. At a distance or at a lower resolution, they appear to simply be gray tights. But during closer scenes, a snakeskin pattern is visible. Clothing is not without purpose. The snake motif and the snakeskin pattern aligns Jareth once again with the serpent that lured Eve from the path ordered of her by God’s righteousness. This factors in to their assigned colors, the white verses the less pure grays and navy hues worn by the Goblin King. Sarah is good and pure, if a little childish. And Jareth is meant to be seen perhaps not as evil, but if nothing else manipulative and selfish.
And Jareth is selfish. Through Sarah’s eyes, most men are seen as selfish. Her father is more concerned with going out with her step-mother than talking to her, and Jareth desires full control of her life, and for her to “do as [he] say[s].” Even Hoggle is selfish for a good portion of the film, treasuring his jewels and even her cheap plastic bracelet more than Sarah until he grows to care about her. Males are demanding of Sarah, and they order her about, and she balks at such behavior. The labyrinth is a representation of her transition into the adult world, where she is a woman in a male’s space. The male space is somewhat feminized by glitter in a large portion of the area, tying in to to Jareth’s effeminate appearance, yet there are often spires seen pointed skyward. They could just be spikes to prevent anyone from climbing on the labyrinth and essentially cheating, however, they represent masculinity in the most blunt way possible: a phallic symbol. There are more direct references to phallases throughout the film. One is shortly after Sarah’s arrival to the labyrinth when Hoggle behaves as supposedly Sarah presumes them to, by urinating into a pond outside of the labyrinth. Then there are numerous shots of Jareth where the leggings leave minimal to the imagination. The concept of the phallus in a male dominated world equating to power and to control is obvious. Other goblins, if they are gendered, seem to not have such a focus on their genitals, so it is potentially not a facet of goblin culture, but instead how Sarah applies her own ideas to males. There is also a duo of canine-like characters who are door guardians hiding behind shields, notable for having two heads—on their shoulders, and one between their legs. Feet rest alongside the top shoulders so there is a potential it is in fact two separate beings, but the portrayal of the head between the legs remains a valid reference to Sarah’s view on male sexuality. Notably, the lower heads do not lack the knowledge She needs, and even one of the upper heads cannot be trusted, as “one always tells the truth, and the other always lies.” It seems that there is the idea that men are liars and cannot be trusted, especially the notorious second head. The solitary other confirmed female who plays a main role in Sarah’s quest, given the name of the Junk Lady, is the primary figure to offer her some sort of comfort, giving her icons of her childhood, from her room to her stuffed bear she feels was robbed from her by her younger brother, Toby. Even if it is all an illusion, the Junk Lady plays a more maternal role of offering comfort to what is seen as a lost child. In a particular scene, Sarah uses her lipstick to mark a brick to find her way. A tiny, male-voiced goblin appears and flips the brick over to hide the lipstick mark, representative of the blotting out of her femininity in the male-dominated world of the labyrinth.
As most everyone knows, David Bowie is a musician. As such, his music, and other songs, are peppered throughout the movie. The first and last song is the same song, titled “Underground,” including lyrics like “No one can blame you/For walking away/Too much rejection/No love injection.” Sarah, in a literal sense, is walking away from her sexuality. In the final scene, she does reject Jareth, embodying that dawning idea of adult sexuality. She returns to her room, with her toys, and while she does open up perhaps the maternal path that was rejected earlier by giving Lancelot, the bear, to Toby, there seems to be little done to accept her sexuality. In fact, she seems to shirk a full transition into adulthood. As she is in her room, her friends of the labyrinth appear to her in the mirror, and there is a transitional moment where she admits she may still need them in her life, and they appear in her reality. But the barn owl, a representation of Jareth present in the beginning and end of the film, remains locked outside the window. This is perhaps the most telling moment of the film, where Sarah has rejected her blossoming sexuality in favor of her more innocent, childish world that she is accustomed to. This is, however, not an act of a patriarchy. The choice made is Sarah’s, and so in the end of the film, she is still the one with the power over her own sexuality.
Labyrinth openly addresses the difficulty of a teenager as she transitions into adulthood and the responsibilities that are tied in. However, the keyed in viewer is able to pick up on the more subtle undertones of sex and sexuality of a frightened teenaged girl. Her rejection of it, and her attempt to feminize something masculine and foreign is clearly indicative of her dislike to pursue the traditional female roles. Jareth and her step-mother both present societal expectations. Her step-mother is adamant that she should have dates, Jareth pushes upon her domesticity, obedience, and sexuality. Yet she rejects both of these concepts, which, in the end, have “no power over [her].” Sarah is a type of counter culture, that woman who refuses to fall in line and do as she is told, a trend that echoes the New Woman movement started in England as well as other women’s liberation movements that were prominent during the decades prior to the making of the film. She rejects the power of the patriarchy and the idea that her sexuality is something that should develop at a certain point in time, opting to take everything—from growing up to sexuality—at her own pace, in contrast to the American culture pushing certain values onto her at a certain age.
Hey followers! As I said earlier I want to do a movie screening (not a live stream because quite frankly I don’t even know how to do that haha).
But first we need to set a date.
I want to do it somewhere between July 15th and August 15th.
What works better for everyone? A week night, or a weekend? Weekends are hard for me because I usually work but I could just ask for a morning shift.
I’m thinking maybe the 9th of August? That’s a Saturday. Please either PM me or reblog this with what days are best for everyone. Yes?
BTW the official tag is going to the #labyrinthmovienight
http://www.tumblr.com/blog/labyrinththemoviefanart here is my labyrinth movie art.