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02 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (Review): "The Queen We Deserve"

If you plan to watch the movie, do not read this review just yet.

It is amazing that filmmakers are still hooked on Royalty-based fairy tales when they are so feudal and antiquated no matter how much filmmakers twist and wring the plot.  For me, modern adaptations of fairy tales are ironically comical and thus they always work as comedies.  Taking fairy tales seriously is like believing that chauvinism is just misunderstood.

The best example is the Snow White story, amplified by an uncomfortably racist moniker. You have Snow White, the classic Brothers Grimm’s story; Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full-length animated movie; Mirror Mirror, the recent so-called revisionist comedy version; and lastly, Snow White and the Huntsman, the bleak Tolkienesque dramatic epic version.  Despite the obvious differences of these versions, they all start with a Queen and a King ruling benevolently over a kingdom.  Any student of history will tell you that there was never a monarch who ruled benevolently.  Kings and Queens were only benign on paper but all palaces and grandiose royal adventures were built on the backbones of poor subservient serfs and slaves.  The poor admiring subjects have yet to meet Napoleon and read Marx. 

But I digress.

Now to go back, our typical fairy tale royal couple is morose because they do not have a child. Voila! Fairy tale providence indulges and they are bestowed with a beautiful daughter with raven black hair, lips as red as blood or rose, and skin as white as snow. I swear every time I hear these phrases; I brace myself ready to see an elegantly packaged whitening cream materializing on the screen.  “Now that you have fairer skin, he will surely notice you.”

But I digress again.

Fortunately for this latest Snow White version, the movie did not end with a wedding but a coronation.  This Kristen Stewart version of Snow White might actually end up becoming the Elizabeth the First of the Fairy Tale universe.  I do not think we will ever see a Margaret Thatcher-like character in any fairy tale story soon though.

Like most Snow White stories, it is always the “Evil” Queen/Stepmother who is the most intriguing.  We want to know her motivations. Why was she so vain? Was it all about beauty or was that just the surface? Why such hatred for a teenager?  In Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror, the Queen’s complex psyche is presented in symbols, displayed right before our eyes and yet easily ignored by moviegoers who seem to be enjoying much of the many over-the-top slapstick antics in the film.   In Rupert Sanders' Snow White and the Huntsman, we were at least given a glimpse of the “Evil” Queen’s dire and violent history.  Charlize Theron gave us a beautiful vengeful monster with a valid excuse for malevolence. Theron’s Queen Ravenna is pure human, as human as you can get in a fairy tale. Theron’s Queen is probably one of the most complex fairy tale characters that I have seen in recent years.  Her final statement sums up everything, “I am going to give this wretched world the Queen it deserves.”

Snow White and the Huntsman could be read as a fictional representation of the arduous evolution of women’s position in society from her ancient role as mere property of men to her token medieval role as a powerful monarch but only in the absence of a male heir. 

Queen Ravenna is the symbolic oppressed common woman whose only refuge and protection is her beauty, yet that is also the source of her enslavement. The ruling monarch captured and raped her only to be replaced once her youth has passed.  However, her mother endowed her with magical power to destroy her oppressors and punish them with her hatred. Ravenna is not pure evil.  She is just the daughter of an obsolete patriarchal ideology that dictates that women should be gentle, beautiful, silent and subservient.  Any strength of will a woman shows, she becomes a dark witch.  In Ravenna’s world, women are to be consumed by men so vice versa, Ravenna is just consuming her men. She is simply giving her world the “wretched Queen it deserves.”  [I can’t believe I actually use patriarchy. “Ma’am, can I have an extension on my paper. My computer crashed and I did not have a back-up file.” Yes, I know, I digress.]

Snow White, on the other hand, is the symbol of the “innocent and pure” Christian youth, who still puts faith on the very trappings that will eventually enslave her.  Watching Snow White pray “Our Father” in prison is deliciously ironic.  After her escape, she comes in contact with people who have been cast aside by society: the hungry villagers, the huntsman, the miners, and a village of women who voluntarily mutilated their faces to ensure their safety.  She learns about a nature-based spiritualism. Mother Earth herself blesses her.  She then rejects the love of a prince because she will just end up becoming like Ravenna, a bride of male power, defenseless and captive. 

The film played a clever trick in using the prince as the deliverer of the poisoned apple.   The Queen disguised herself as the handsome prince and not an aged witch.  Death for a clueless female teenager is a handsome prince.  Snow White, of course, died after eating the apple but it is a symbolic death.  She is not awakened by the real prince; she is awakened by truth, aptly delivered by a kiss from dirty working class man. Hey, this is still a fairy tale.  Still, Snow White comes alive realizing the true oppressive nature of her very own belief.   She finally finds her voice and inspires the people to rise up. 

Snow White must slay the Queen because the Queen is the unwilling daughter of the long violent history of women’s subservience.  She is the repressive past. Snow White is the new.  She must remain pure and unconquered by the Queen. As Snow White aptly puts it, “You cannot own my heart” because Snow White will thread a different path for women, albeit very Medieval for now, which is about as far as a fairy tale can go. 

In the end, Snow White is victorious but after killing the Queen, she does not look at her with hatred but sadness and understanding.  Ravenna too looked more relieved than defeated.  Her enslavement has come to an end.  Both women knew that the present must do away with the past.  Only a woman with a pure heart can slay the queen. No man can destroy her because men created her.

I heard a viewer near me say that Snow White is still a virgin so only she can kill the queen.  “Really, why are people so fixated on virginity? Snow White can hump the huntsman and the prince anywhere in the forest and she can still kill the queen! You’re missing the point.”

Now I may be wrong considering I am a man and therefore tainted by my privileged male upbringing.  The words that I used here may actually be inappropriate and revealing my pretense on feminism, but still like the Huntsman, I am trying.

But in the end, just decide whether you find the film enjoyable or not. Whatever you decide, just open your eyes, god damn it! We are being brained washed movie after movie and Bella, I mean Kristen Stewart seems to be clueless as well, otherwise, she would doing more Jodie Foster kinds of roles.  Thankfully, her Snow White can knock some sense out of Bella.

For those asking which one is better, Mirror Mirror or Snow White and the Huntsman, this is my answer. Mirror Mirror is more entertaining and more visually appealing.  It is also delightfully bearable. I watched it twice.  Snow White and the Huntsman has potential to become a great film but it suffered from mishandled storytelling and lackluster acting, except from Charlize Theron.  But, the movie is pushing an agenda so that makes it superior in some way to Mirror Mirror.  Bottom-line, the Queens [Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron] are the real winners. Ah, oh, the producers too! Cashing!!  [Insert sound of cash register here]

The best line I heard from the audience is from a young fat boy who said, in perfect American accent, “Thor is in this movie.”  Ah yes! Welcome to the Philippines, Snow White, you will like it here.  You can model.  Does anybody know the number of any company that makes skin whitening products? Anybody?

Big Plus:  The theme song “Breath of Life” is from Florence and the Machine.


(First published in “The Chair” Blog)

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