My mother had the love and wisdom to introduce Jim Henson’s film ‘Labyrinth’ to us as children. It’s pure magic. For those of you who don’t know the story/need a refresher, here’s the synopsis:
Fed up with her stepmother’s insistence that she watch her baby half-brother, fifteen-year-old Sarah wishes the infant into the care of the goblins and their malevolent king. Desperate, Sarah fights her way through the Goblin King’s dangerous labyrinth with the help of some unlikely new friends to reclaim her infant brother and defeat the evil king.
(I just couldn’t resist, guys, and I’m not sorry).
We loved this film so much as kids that my sister painted the most adorable picture of His Royal Jerkface, complete with awesome hair, that was up on the door forever. Dang, I wonder where it went….
(Complete sidenote, but this is exciting — my mother agreed to let my daddy buy me white bread hamburger buns!)
It’s been over a decade since I first saw the film, but my love for it has just grown throughout the years. I love the goblins, I love the music, I love Sarah’s hair, I love Jareth’s smile, I love the blinking glitter— What’s not to love? It’s a story of overcoming obstacles for the love of your family. Sure, it was released in ’86 and there are some aspects that really need help, but it’s still a sweeping tale rife with beauty, magic and mystery.
Jennifer Connelly was only fourteen when she was cast as Sarah. I think it was her first real role, and to tell the truth, she was a terrible actress back then. (If you haven’t seen a Beautiful Mind, do yourself a favor and turn it on. While not perfect, she does a fantastic job and the story is too amazing for words). But she did the best she could and I think her nose is adorable. I love her nose. As for the character, Sarah begins as a frustrated teen, and while I totally understand her point of view — y’know, father remarrying someone quite unlikable, being expected to be the perfect child, perfect babysitter, and losing the attention of her father, just to name a few things — she does go about dealing with it all in the wrong way. She’s embittered toward the little baby and resents that she’s constantly pulled from the world of fantasy she has created around herself as a buffer from the unhappiness of her life. She thrives on story, and her favorite book is a small, worn thing that she’s constantly quoting. It’s called ‘the Labyrinth.’ When she wishes away her brother and the story actually begins happening, she quickly realizes that the adventure is not as great as it was in the book.
(I think this is the most beautiful picture).
As Sarah goes along her story, winding through the labyrinth, she meets three folk who will become her dear friends: Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus. At first Hoggle gets on her nerves and she treats him rather rudely, but she ultimately has a good heart and learns to trust him. Ludo, a big, furry yeti, wins her over immediately due to his sweet nature and adorable childlikeness. Sir Didymus is a fox-looking knight, and I think she’s amused by and appreciative of his gallantry towards her.
Despite Jenny’s sadly lacking acting ability, Sarah’s personality and abilities do shine through. She loves stories and fantasy, and she’s brave and determined. Though Jareth, the Goblin King, takes every opportunity to throw things in her path (literally and figuratively), she doesn’t let it deter her. She’s nearly turned to mincemeat, dumped in a bog, mindwashed, sliced in half, shot, but she continues steadfastly in her mission to save her little brother. As she realizes how far she’s willing to go to get him back, her dormant love for him blossoms and when her adventure ends, the audience senses that forevermore, Sarah will love and protect Toby no matter what. She learns the true meaning of love and how it can change her life for the better.
Sarah begins as a lonely child, a girl longing for attention and love. But as she learns what it means to trust others as well as herself and becomes aware of how much she is capable of, she transforms into a woman. Her journey through the labyrinth wasn’t just to save her brother — it was to learn about herself. She is brave, loyal, compassionate, and strong. She has a heart that is capable of loving and forgiving despite betrayal and hurt. At the end of the film, we see her putting away the relics of her childhood as she realizes that if she wants to move forward, she can’t be held back by her pain and loneliness. As wonderful as these childhood books and toys were, no matter how much they helped her, she understands it’s time to move on to different tools, ones that will carry her into womanhood. Still, one can’t outgrow love and friendship, and she invites all her friends back and they celebrate together. She still needs them, and perhaps she always will. They remind her of who she truly is, and they encourage her to be her best. They have become her family, and it’s beautiful.
(Sarah and Hoggle).
Hoggle — whose name always seems to be mutilated most embarrassingly — begins as a grudging ally of Jareth. Originally entrusted with taking Sarah back to the beginning of the labyrinth, Sarah bribes him with her plastic bracelet. Hoggle says of himself, “See, you’ve got to understand my position. I’m a coward, and Jareth scares me.” It’s true, Hoggle is a coward, and while he’s extremely touched when Sarah calls him her friend, the instant he hears a terrifying roaring (which happens to be Ludo) he takes off, despite Sarah having taken his little bag of jewels in an attempt to make him stay and lead her to the palace.
Hoggle was my favorite character when I was a kid. He’s funny and curmudgeonly, unaware of how utterly adorable he is. He pretends to be hard, but he’s really just an old softie. He begins as a ‘fend-for-myself-’cause-it’s-safest’ guy, but as Sarah worms her way into his heart he realizes there’s more to life than regretfully doing the Goblin King’s bidding. Jareth bullies him into giving Sarah an enchanted peach, and Hoggle can’t forgive himself. He sits alone, huddled by a fire, and says softly, “She’ll never forgive me. What have I done? I’ve lost my only friend. That’s what I’ve done.” He himself claims not to have any pride, and subsequently his self-esteem is all but non-existent, which Jareth takes full advantage of. Sarah helps him to realize his true importance and that he can be loved for himself. When Sarah and the others approach the gates to the Goblin City, Hoggle braves runs across the wall and stops the electronic goblin machine that was trying to kill the little crew. When Sarah rushes to see if he’s all right, he confesses that Jareth made him give her the peach, tells her that he doesn’t care what she thinks of him and he ain’t interested in being friends. Softly, she replies, “I forgive you, Hoggle.” He’s shocked, and is further moved when Sir Didymus adds, “And I commend you. Rarely have I seen such courage. You are a valiant man, Sir Hoggle.” And Ludo gently taps him and says simply, “Hoggle and Ludo friends.” Sarah thanks him and gives him back his pouch of jewels, and buoyed up by the love surrounding him, he stands and heroically declares, “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go get that rat who calls himself Jareth.”
(Sarah and Ludo).
Isn’t Ludo adorable? When Sarah finds him, he’s hanging upside-down from a tree, being tortured by a small group of armed goblins. Sarah saves him, and he asks if she’s his friend. When she replies in the affirmative, he’s overjoyed. He’s basically a big puppy-child, his sweet nature and unconditional love something Sarah desperately needs. He’s playful and kind, almost incapable of understanding evil, such is his innocence. He’s easily frightened and sticks very close to Sarah while in the glittering, ominous forest. He is able to control rocks, calling them his friends, and this ability is what saves the small band during the Battle of the Goblin City — the poor goblins didn’t know what hit them.
Ludo is extremely loyal, and while he knows to protect himself, his nature is one that is primarily kind and gentle. His heart is large enough to hold the world, and he, more than anyone, is the one who teaches Sarah how to let her own goodness free from the restraints she had built up.
(Didymus, Hoggle, and Ludo).
Sir Didymus is kind of a loony. He believes himself to be the bravest and most noble of knights and is gallant to the point that there are times you might want to headdesk. When Ludo all but defeats him in a ‘ferocious battle,’ Didymus yields and adopts Ludo as his brother. He’s willing to fight to the death for any cause that comes his way, even if his sheepdog steed isn’t so keen on his courtly ideals.
Didymus lacks a few brains cells despite his bravery. Anything that moves ought to be fought, he lifts a weapon and he’s immediately won, and is constantly convinced he’s unbeatable. For instance, when he finally convinces his mount to stop running and they are encircled by some of the goblin cavaliers, he says, “Don’t worry, […] I think we’ve got them surrounded.” He’s humorous but doesn’t get it, chivalrous but makes mistakes, and rushes headlong into any situation that bears a promise of a noble fight. And he looks cute and cuddly until you see him move — he’s almost like a squirrel. Oh, so adorable, right? — then its teeth are sunk deep into your finger. But he’s still cute. Although he would be deeply affronted to ever hear that. Warriors are not ‘cute.’
King of the goblins, expert in the art of magic, and a royal jerk.
How can you not love him?
But there are times when anyone in their right mind wants to whack him about the ears.
But there’s just something about him that draws you in, just as it did Sarah. Jareth is immature and manipulative, but there are times when you see past that. The one-and-only David Bowie portrays him and even got to compose all the songs for the film (the score was done by Trevor Jones). He’s dangerous and has obviously spent way more time than he would’ve liked among his rather idiotic subjects. He goes around whisking away babies and the magic of the labyrinth turns them into goblins within a day. He does everything in his (considerable) power to intimidate and stop Sarah, often in ways that would harm her greatly to say the least. For him, I don’t think it’s so much about keeping the baby — it’s about conquering this headstrong young girl who’s doing way too well in overcoming his labyrinth.
Jareth fascinates me. There are so many layers to his character that you just long to peel back to see the real man inside. Like all the characters, there’s definitely an arc during the course of the movie for Jareth. He’s proud and dangerous, and when he offers Sarah the chance to find her brother, I really don’t think he actually expects her to do it. What he’s counting on even less is the help his own subjects — most especially Hoggle — toward the girl. He’s insufferably domineering over everyone, cruel and mischievous, and likes to think he’s on top of the world. He wants the baby. He wants control.
Yet there’s something beneath his glittery cruelty that compels and sparks the mind. Something I love that Bowie did with the music was tell Jareth’s story. The first song, Underground, alludes to Jareth understanding Sarah’s pain at being rejected and ignored. The second, Magic Dance, is a hilarious, catchy romp that almost has to do with little baby Toby. Jareth dances among the goblins — the puppeteering is amazing, says the puppeteer’s granddaughter — as they sing the playful number. Jareth is very childish and insists the goblins laugh when he laughs, shut up when he wants them to, and otherwise do his immature bidding.
(Jareth and Toby).
His relationship with — at? — Sarah is quite interesting. At first you get the feeling that she’s just another specimen to watch and do his bidding, a sort of test rat to run through his maze. But he seems to be genuinely intrigued by her. As she nears his fortress, he pulls string to make her fall into a sort of trance. In her dream, she’s in a ballroom, looking for Jareth, and the song that plays — and that he later sings — hints that he’d like her to stay. He seems honestly concerned and sad when she breaks free, though it could’ve been worry for her mind slipping back to rescuing her brother, but when she regains her memory and finds him and Toby in the palace’ Escher room, his attitude is strangely raw. The entire scene is basically Sarah running around trying to get to a gravity-defying Toby as Jareth sings Within You. The song begins as he’s berating her for turning his world upside-down, but finishes in a rather sad way. He says he believes in her and softly asks her to “Live without [her] sunlight. Love without [her] heartbeat.” He seems almost overcome with emotion.
(The dress, guys. The dress. The hair.)
Okay, one of the main reasons I’m writing this blog post is because of a problem I have with fangirls.
Guys, Jareth is pretty, mysterious, and we all love him, but he’s not some whimpering puppy you can take home to mama. It frustrates me how blind girls can be to the ‘sexy’ guys faults. He’s not nice. Yeah, he has pain, but that doesn’t mean he’s some poor, innocent baby you can cuddle and allow to dawdle after you forever. He won’t. Maybe someday he can change, but until then, stop acting as if he’s some misunderstood darling who only wants love. Yeah, he does want love, but the way he goes about it is twisted and cruel. And he would be the first to admit it. Excuse my harshness, but use your heads. (The same principle goes for the majority of guys in today’s popular stories). And as much as I love him, I try to see him as the manipulative jerk he actually is. That doesn’t mean he isn’t redeemable, but I’d need to love him from afar.
Okay, after that rant, let me finish my little yeah-I-love-Jareth monologue. Anyway, the last scene between Sarah and the Goblin King is so dynamic. He tells her to beware, for “[he had] been generous up until now, but [he] can be cruel.” When she doubts this, he tells her he has done everything she wanted. He took her brother, reordered time, turned the world upside down … and all for her. He claims that he’s exhausted from living up to her expectations of him. She then begins the most powerful speech of the whole movie, one that is incredibly moving and inspiring.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great.”
He interrupts. He’s afraid. He offers her her dreams, and as she steps forward, steadfastly continuing the speech, and in near desperation, he says, “I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want.” There’s a certain line that Sarah can never remember, and she visibly struggles as he leaps on his moment. “Just fear me,” he says, “love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.”
Sarah looks up, and his fear heightens.
“You have no power over me.”
Those were the words that destroyed him. When Sarah spoke them, he twisted through the air, collapsing, until he turned into his owl form and Sarah reappeared in her home just as the clock struck midnight.
I genuinely believe that Jareth cared for Sarah. She’s different, someone who believes in him and has the strength to overpower even him. David Bowie said, “He’s completely smitten,” and adds, basically, that her purity and goodness was another thing that drew him to her. But Jareth doesn’t know what it is to love. His heart is so hardened by what he has done that he can’t understand what it is to truly care about someone. And I pity him for that.
I love the ending of the film. Sarah has grown, she recognizes that there’s more to her than the lonely child she was before. As she invites her dear friends back into her life, I get the feeling that these unconventional companions are going to be her example of unconditional love. They are her family now, and we finally get to see her truly happy. Outside her window, a white owl perches on a branch, but as the celebrations continue, Jareth flies away toward the moon.
The story of Labyrinth is love. For family, for friends, and for yourself. Sarah’s friends help her find herself, and she does the same for them. She understands how much her brother means to her, and I like to think that those dear friends from the labyrinth will be the companions of Toby’s life as well.
Love really can conquer all.
P.S. It’s further than you think. Time is short.