A Dangerous Thirst for Youth and Beauty

To celebrate crossing the one hundred page mark in my dissertation, I took myself to a movie, Snow White and the Huntsman. The previews included the new Les Misérables trailer. Tearful after hearing Anne Hathaway sing I Dreamed A Dream, I felt that no matter how disappointing the feature presentation, I would leave satisfied.

Happily, I left much more than satisfied.

(Spoiler alert: I try not to get too specific, but be warned.)

Snow White and the Huntsman is a curious and mostly successful mix of gritty fairytale with Joan of Arc saintliness.  It unabashedly draws from Lord of the Rings imagery and some of the locations are directly reminiscent of places in the LOTR trilogy; however, the derivative visual aspects are not distracting because the story itself offers some substantial themes on its own.

Charlize Theron sinks her teeth into the role of Queen Ravenna. Both the script and how Theron embodies the role creates a figure of evil with utterly no anti-hero attraction. Instead, her brokenness and desperation is evident from the very beginning: youth and physical beauty are her addictions–possessing them shores up her tenuous sense of self. Theron captures the undercurrent of insanity and unrelenting thirst, reducing Ravenna’s considerable power to an internal hell that sickens everything around her, including herself.

Snow White, well-played by Kristen Stewart (yes, she can act), holds the beauty of heart that not only shines in her behavior, but also affects those who come in contact with her. Stewart’s subdued and melancholy portrayal fits a heroine whose life has seen no beauty since her father’s death. While she begins with a limited understanding of her own destiny, she gradually transforms into a Joan of Arc-savior figure who inspires an entire land to rise up against the Queen’s poison.

Alongside the theme of youth and beauty, though not as prominent, is that of forgiveness. At one point, Snow White prays the Lord’s Prayer, an interesting, though fitting, choice. While she keeps the traditional language of the King James version, she says “forgive us our sins and as we forgive those who sin against us.” The change to a modern translation is subtle, but it makes the point immediately clear. This simple line provides a context for other moments in the film where Snow White expresses her forgiveness for the Queen’s sins against her and exhibits forgiveness as one of the main differences between them.

In contrast, the Queen’s drive to maintain her youth and beauty is fueled by resentment and unforgiveness. Ravenna’s hatred is played out equally on men and women. Trapped in a cycle of destruction, she drains the life of beautiful women to gain youth and beauty and destroys men to take vengeance on the man who cast her aside–which, in turn, drains her. I so wanted her to step out of the cycle and find redemption.

Caught in his own cycle of addiction and destruction, The Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth (he can act as well, redeeming himself from Thor), provides the contrasting redemptive story arc.  Neither the Huntsman nor the non-essential Prince play the romantic lead in any traditional sense and that is a mercy. Realistically, a woman who has just escaped after years in a tower prison, and a grief-stricken man who drowns himself in alcohol are not in the best place to start a romantic relationship.  The downplayed romantic elements fit well, as the story acknowledges the pain and distrust of the characters and doesn’t devolve into flimsy infatuation or desperate lust.  Instead, the implicit love brings life where there is death.

Of course, Snow White and the Huntsman has its problems and while it attempts to be epic, it falls short in most cases. Some story points could have been developed more deeply and other bits should have been left on the editing floor. But, even with these imperfections, I admit to leaving inspired.

Now, I’m looking forward to the new Pixar movie, Brave, whose becloaked-wild-red-hair-Scottish-archer heroine makes me laugh every time I watch the trailer.