Thursday, 12 July 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White with her shield (that what looks like the white of minas tirith on) (from

**** If you don’t want to know the plot details of Snow White and the Huntsman, don’t read this!****

I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman over a week ago weeks ago but I haven’t been able to write the review because I am a fool whose brain has turned to porridge. I spent a whole evening last week reading early versions of Snow White (all deeply creepy) but didn’t manage to write my Huntsman review. Here is my millionth attempt:

Snow White and the Huntsman is (obviously) a retelling of the fairy tale Snow White. The story of Snow White as we know it was written down by the Brothers Grimm*at the beginning of the 19th century, but old versions of the story go back centuries before the Grimm version. All the versions have these elements:
Beautiful girl + jealous older woman (in some cases the girl’s actual mother) = enchanted sleep/death
Beautiful girl + extreme passivity (ie. the death/sleep) = Love of a Prince
In most of the stories, the prince figure hasn’t actually met Snow White when he sees her apparent corpse and decides he must have it. Thankfully, the Disney version has Snow White and the Prince meet and fall in love (/smile at each other) before her internment in the glass coffin. Here endth the Lesson (I could probably write a whole essay on the glass coffin)

Snow White and the Huntsman turns this all on its head. For starters, the goal for Snow White is not Love or Marriage, but to get control of the Kingdom from her step-mother, avenging her father’s death in the process. While there is some love in the film, it’s not really something Snow White worries about too much – she has much more important stuff to deal with.

This film moves Snow White away from being a doll-like object of necrophiliac desire, to actually having some personality traits. This starts right from the opening scene, where the queen wishes not just for a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as a black as a raven’s wing; but also for her daughter to be brave. This isn’t subtle...but it’s a fairy tale; they aren’t subtle. Red Riding Hood is literally wearing a red hood (ie. badge of sexual maturity/menstruation) and is told not to stray off the path for she may fall into the clutches of the big bad wolf (the big bad man) who has already tried to devour her grandmother.

Snow White isn’t led to the wood to be killed, instead she finds herself in the wood having escaped from the castle armed with just her wits and a nail. Her wits come in again when she convinces the huntsman to join her in her quest. In the traditional story he can't bear to kill her because of her beauty and childlike innocence. When Snow White and the huntsman meet the Dwarves they are camping in the forest so there is no need for her to become a domestic slave. Unusually for this kind of film, Snow White doesn't have to run around in an impractical, artfully torn dress as her clothes seem to adapt quite well – especially as she seems to have some skinny jeans on under her dress. All these things contribute to making Snow White more like “one of the guys” on a quest, rather than a precious creature they must protect.

Once cursed by the apple, Snow White is not laid in a glass coffin where she can remain under the male gaze, even in death, but is laid out like a warrior king on a table in the great hall.  In keeping with the traditional story, the curse is lifted by true love, but not a by kiss. There is not a whiff of necrophilia as the two love interests confess their love her while they think she’s dead, neither of them showing any desire to keep her corpse.

Naturally Snow White achieves her goal, leading an army into battle against the queen and then single-handedly defeats the queen. I felt positive that Snow White could have done all this without any help, but I suppose it was nice to give the huntsman (who had a lot of sadness in him) something to focus on. The end of the film is great for two reasons: 1) Snow White wears some awesome armour 2) when she is crowned at the end she has no man beside her and there is no hint of a wedding.
I don’t think we could really argue too much with the Snow White character in this film. She gets to wear armour and has a purpose beyond marriage. If I had a daughter (or son) I would much rather they became obsessed with this version of Snow White than the Disney version.

*I know it sounds a bit knobby to put that, but I don’t know what else to call them!

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