Category Archives: Myth

Letter to the POTUS in response to his inauguration

Dorene Koehler, PhD

Santa Barbara, Ca. 93103

mythscholar429@me.com

January 22, 2013

Dr. President Obama:

I write to you today as one of your constituents—a supporter who believes in you and believes in the work you do for America.

Mr. President, I am tired, concerned, and anxious. I am concerned about our future as Americans, and I would like to ask you about some of what you envision for America.

As I write this letter to you, it has been approximately twenty-four hours since your second inauguration—a beautiful day filled with sacred American ritual. I want you to know that I heard your speech. I truly heard it! I have always known that one person and one administration alone cannot cure all the ills of the world and our system. It is a deep truth that we must act even in the face of the knowledge that what we do will never be complete, never enough. There will always be another day and another battle to fight.

You, however, must be aware of your own power as an iconic presence leading the changes we presently experience. The fact that you chose to be sworn in using both Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s bibles proves that you know the power of an icon—the mythic power of archetypal images—to move people.

And so I write to ask you: How are we going to begin to change our cultural understanding of the power of these archetypal images? How are we going to re-vivify the study of the humanities in America?

There were two studies released this year that really made the crisis in the Humanities clear to me (besides the fact that I’ve yet to find any kind of gainful employment utilizing my degree).

The first was the Pew Forum’s “Study on Religion and Public Life.” This 2012 study states that 1 in 5 Americans now claim no religious affiliation. That is a huge percentage of Americans with no organized communal outlet for their spirituality. American spirituality is in flux and in crisis. Large numbers of us seem to be abandoning old ways of connecting to the soul. Perhaps, in our secularized society, this may not seem like a huge crisis, but it is.  We cannot afford to allow our need to act on our ritual impulses to disappear into unconscious careless action. At the very least, we are called to address these changes, for the sake of the future–our children. If Americans neglect connecting with each other for the sake of tending to our souls in community, how can we tend to each other in the material world? Why would it even matter if we did?

The second study was an article released by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which notes a 43% unemployment rate among PhDs in the humanities. 43%!! How can it be that America has some of the brightest, most educated of its citizens living in poverty because they are burdened by the debt of an education that has taught them what it means to be a human being, and because they cannot find a job sharing that knowledge with their communities?

I understand (and agree by the way) that mathematics, science, and technology are going to drive our next economic boom. Everything you said about this in your inaugural address is true. But, we cannot expect Americans to come together in the way we need to for prosperity if we continue to neglect our spiritual, psychological, and mythological needs as human beings.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

And, in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

I believe that you know this instinctually and viscerally. That is why I trust you with my vote. I know you value the power of symbols, of culture, of the soul, Mr. President, and so I ask you: What can we do? What can I do? How can I be a part of reclaiming and healing the soul of America for the future?

Thank you for lending your ear,

Dorene Koehler, PhD

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My Review of “Hitchcock”

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When I saw that a biopic about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho was about to be released, I was uncontrollably excited!  After all, it was Hitchcock’s work that lit the fire of cinematic passion in my heart. My sister, who happens to be seven years older than me, loves Hitchcock films. She is particularly enamoured with Vertigo, arguably Hitchcock (Hitch) ‘s most genius treatment of the psychopathology of sexual obsession and control. The Birds was another family favorite. My mother, brothers, and sister once lived in Valley Ford, a town just a few miles from Bodega Bay that has the distinction of housing the film’s infamous “Fawcett farm”. And yes, Bruce and I did go see it when it was recently rereleased in theaters for one night.

I can remember being no older than five or six and watching a documentary on TV about the making of Psycho. I can’t really remember the time in my life when I didn’t know about Janet Leigh’s famous swallowing of a contact lens as she lay dead on the floor of the shower. When I got married, I was lucky enough to snag a partner who loves Hitch’s movies even more than I do. Around the time that Hitch’s birthday comes around every August, Bruce always pulls out these classic films: Rear Window, Rope, Vertigo, Marnie, Spellbound, Notorious, The Birds, Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest, Shadow of A Doubt. We’ve watched these movies so many times, I’m surprised we haven’t (pardon the pun) worn a hole through them.

I am also kind of obsessed with the ways golden age Hollywood is portrayed in film. Factuality is not important to me. I just like to analyze what the films are doing. So, lucky me! Genius Tony Hopkins (a high school crush of mine) plays the creepiest director in history. Not to mention Helen Mirren as his inimitable wife. How could they lose?

Bruce and I saw it last night and here’s my mythie take on it.

Hitch was called the master of suspense. Everyone knows that. Everyone who knows anything about him knows that he was obsessed with murder, suspense, and the macabre. He was interested in Freudian psychology, and he clearly loved to explore the deepest darkest recesses of the mind. He loved to shock audiences with what was possible in the realm of human behavior.

Psychologist and PGI godfather, James Hillman, made an interesting documentary in 2005 (Surfing LA) in which he explored the archetypal nature of the city of Los Angeles. He suggests that there is something about Los Angeles that is underworldly, that the energy of the place–from the geography to the violent history of the city to the presence of the film industry and the darkness that seems to surround it–makes it the entrance to the underworld. It seems fitting that this master of macabre storytelling would make his home the City of Angels during its golden age.

Hitchcock explores a time when this master filmmaker seemed about to fall from his golden pedastal. The film begins with a member of the press asking him why at sixty years old he doesnt just retire while he is ahead. The viewer can see the anger brewing inside of him. He searches for his next project, and when it does it is an adaptation of Psycho, a novel based on the true story of psychotic murder Ed Gein. Hitch descends into madness as the character of Norman Bates begins to resonate with him. The anger that Hitch feels toward everyone in his life is turned interior, as he lives it vicariously through Norman.

All of these details are fascinating, but it was the mythic associations of the characters of Hitch and his wife Alma themselves that had me really interested. I wondered to myself: Is there a pattern from classical mythology being played out in this relationship? If so, what is it?

As per usual, I turned to Greek mythology, and it became clear to me that there was indeed a series of motifs from Greek mythology being played out in the story of the making of Psycho, and probably in the truth of Hitch’s life.

According to the Encyclopedia Mythica (pantheon.org):

Hephaestus, the god of fire, especially the blacksmith’s fire, was the patron of all craftsmen, principally those working with metals. Known as the lame god, Hephaestus was born weak and crippled. Displeased by the sight of her son, Hera threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, and he fell for a whole day before landing in the sea. Nymphs rescued him and took him to Lemnos, where the people of the island cared for him. 

To gain revenge for his rejection by Hera, Hephaestus fashioned a magic throne, which was presented to her on Mount Olympus. When Hera sat on the throne, it entrapped her, making her a prisoner. Hephaestus eventually released Hera after being given the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride.

The god of craftsmen, and poets, and, I would suggest that is applies to filmmakers as well, the archetypal energy of Hephaestus is present in Hitch, the archetypal craftsman and poet. Hitch lives deep in the bowels of the cutting room, making, shifting, editing his way to greatness. Like Hephaestus, he is considered ugly–overweight, bald, and (ehem) not tall. Also, like Hephaestus, he is metaphorically wed to Aphrodite, as he is cursed to live an obsession with the blond Hitchcockian woman of mystery, who is always guaranteed to scorn his form.

By contrast, like Hera, his wife Alma is presented as being the queen of the “Hills.” It becomes clear that Hitch would be nothing without her. And, if fact, he says as much to her at one point during the film. She is a genius editor, writer, and intuitive producer. She is involved in every aspect of the project from the cast choices to the camera angles. She is the mother of his creation, and their relationship reflects the possessiveness, perversion, and obsession of a Freudian Oedipal relationship. She is consistently frustrated by his destructive “ugliness.” She spends much of the films pushing him away and pursuing her own well deserved goals.

The Alma of this film longs for her own work. She believes she will find it in a new collaborator, but in the end, she is called back to her work with Hitch, and through that return he is forced to recognize that, well, she’s more powerful than he is, and that he loves her.

When Alma tells Hitch that she has waited thirty years for him to tell her that she is more beautiful than any Hitchcock blonde, he tells her: “And THAT, my dear, is the reason they call me the master of suspense.”

Ultimately, Bruce and I both found this film to be a fascinating portrayal of this pivotal period of Hitchcock’s career. Hopkins and Mirren shine. Scarlett Johansson inhabits Janet Leigh, and James D’Arcy’s portrayal of Anthony Perkins is at once incredibly unsettling and sympathetic. Fine holiday fun for a pair of Hitchcock nerds. We loved it!

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Election Day and the American Archetypal Manifestation of Individualism

As our American founding fathers once wrote about the importance of a government made up of individuals bound by a social contract:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” –Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

I’ve been thinking about the significance of election day for a while. There is always a lot of individualistic lip service connected to election day, but this election seems to have been particularly full of individualist rhetoric. So, what does it mean, mythically, to be an individual with the right to vote?…to have the freedom to make a choice?…to have a right to speak one’s into the government? and to be a one individual piece in a system that makes up a whole nation?

Fuzz, Fuzz, Fuzz

First, let’s not forget that the entire concept of what it means to be an individual, and to have individual choice is what C.G. Jung called an archetype.

Jung defines archetypes, or the Imago Dei, in terms of the concept of the Platonic ideals or forms. In Volume 9 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Archetypes Of Collective Unconsious), he writes of the term archetype:

“For our purposes this term is apposite and helpful, because it tells us that so far as the collective unconscious contents are concerned we are dealing with archaic or- I would say- primordial types, that is, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” Archetypes house the soul’s energy. And, there is a energy in the soul of humanity that calls to have its individual voice to be heard. The way that archetypal energy is played out in culture becomes the mythic/archetypal manifestation of that energy. All of these archetypal manifestations together make up a mythology…a mythic identity.

Many, MANY different archetypal images come together to shape these mythic identities, some more powerful and influential than others, and one might argue that this archetypal image of individualism is the definining aspect of America’s ideological identity. Who one votes for in terms of the office of the presidency has become the ultimate expression of American individualism.

I’m really not going to go into what these candidates/parties represent, as that is up for debate. I will say that Americans often grouse that elections change nothing, which in essence means that many Americans believe that their individual voice counts for nothing. This morning, at the pinnacle of America’s sacred moment of election, I heard someone say that either way, whoever wins, this will be a rough four years. This person truly believed that it doesn’t matter who wins the election, that one is as good as the next. Many Americans are convinced that their vote doesn’t count (either due to the electoral college or due to simple disinterest), or that the winning candidate (whoever that may be) does not represent them and therefore cannot speak for them–valid arguements, although perhaps short-sighted. It often makes us feel powerless, hopeless, and anxious.

Take heart! Candidates are not themselves the solutions Americans wish them to be. They are images upon which Americans project their mythic ideals. Sure, they may spend their time in office doing good work for America, but in reality it is not simply that good work that makes them elect-able, it is their ability to embody the ideals of the collective individual American.

The fusion of these ideals and a sense of individualism becomes tricky because we often forget that the key to the experience of archetypal individualism as practiced in America lies in the paradox that in order to be free, to have the individual’s voice heard, one must relinquish the right to exercise that freedom 100% of the time. It is paradox, and it is irony–truth that comes from the combination of two contradictions–that humanity is most free when limitations call for the balance of that individual freedom in service to the good of all. That is what makes our elections choices so complicated, and our choices often counter-intuitive. And in that context, it is, perhaps, the elction itself that makes us free, and not necessarily the results of it.

All this to say:

Please go vote! It is more than your civic duty, its the ultimate expression of your individualism! In doing so, you participate in the penultimate American archetypal experience.

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Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth

Coming Soon!

It came to my attention recently that I hadn’t watched Tim Burton’s Big Fish in quite a long while. It has been on cable a bit lately, and so I’ve watched parts of it from time to time. I’m working up a blog review of this film. Something about the mythopoetic process as a bridge between different archetypal personalities (perhaps Hermes and Apollo types?). I’m working on a paper for a Film and Myth Conference in Wisconsin. When I’m done with that, I’ll sit down with what I consider as Tim Burton’s Magnum Opus…a love song to storytellers…and write a review.–Keep your eyes peeled.

Until then dear readers.

Keep on flickin’!

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My Review of Moonrise Kingdom: Unsanitized Innocence

To all y’all who read this, I’m sorry it has taken me soooo blasted long to post this. What can I say, I’m slow…

Anywho, Wes Anderson movies have always made me superexcited. I find him to be one of the most mythically in tune filmmakers of the moment. The first of his films that I saw was The Royal Tenenbaums. I remember being struck by several things while I watched that film. These apply to all the Wes Anderson Films I’ve seen.

First, these films have an incredible aesthetic. Anderson has this uncanny ability to wield his own version of magical realism. His use of color is simultaneously bold and muted. I’m not really sure how else to describe it. Somehow, in the cosmos of these slightly matte, vintage-y films, the unreal becomes authentic. There is a quality in these films that captures the experience of memory.

Second, the use of humor. The writing in Wes Anderson films is ALWAYS genius. The dry humor of The Fantastic Mr. Fox kills me. I think Roald Dahl would be proud of what he did with this work. And it’s smart and quirky. These films capture the best qualities of the hipster movement without the inevitable hipster pretention.

Third, and now I get to the point of this blog, these films walk a balance between sanitizing a subject and living in a state of innocence. Many balk at the word innocence, as though it means repression or denial. The etymological root of the word innocent is old French. It does denote chastity and blamelessness, but in its earliest usage it was also used to denote a lack of guile or artifice. Wes Anderson films capture that aspect of innocence. They are vehicles for truth, which they present with their own brand of quirky artlessness. Moonrise Kingdom is a clear example of this unsanitized innocence.

I find it significant that this film is set in 1965. This was a period of awakening for America. The assassination of President Kennedy shattered America’s idyllic images of Camelot, and the March on Washington took America to task for equality. Both of these events happened in 1963. Furthermore, the early rumblings of our interference in Vietnam were going on behind closed doors. By 1965, America’s involvement in Vietnam was out of the closet, but again the “rumblings” of “times a’changin'” were just beginning to land on the radar of mainstream America.

This is the world of Moonrise Kingdom. It is the environment from which the two protagonists, two tweenage kids named Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky run away. Both of these young people are orphaned in different ways. Suzy’s parents (the genius pair Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) live in a state of emotional disconnect. They consider Suzy to be a problem child…quite literally…the even have a book on it. They THINK they are trying to help her, but in reality they have patronized, shamed, and alienated her. Frankly, they are alienated even from each other. Suzy’s mom carries on an affair with the local sheriff (Bruce Willis). She sneaks out every afternoon to meet him, but it doesn’t even really seem like she has a true connection with him either.

Sam, by contrast, is an actual orphan. No one at camp is aware of this. They only become aware of it when he runs away. His troop/camp leader, the adorably nerdy Edward Norton, is scandalized when he and the sheriff discover that not only is Sam an orphan but that he has been invited “not to return” by his foster family. These two young people form a mutual connection because of this alienation.

Sam sees Suzy for the first time when she is dressed in a raven costume during a stage production of the Noah myth. Birds are often an image of death, transformation, and/or a metaphor for the soul. His reaction to Suzy is deep and soulful (“what kind of bird are YOU?”) He reaches out to her on an energetic level, recognizing in an instant that his wounding matches hers. After this initial meeting, they become pen pals. Their communication is intimate (“he does landscapes and a few nudes”). They hold nothing back, and eventually decide to plan a ritual quest out across Native American trails; an attempt to ritualize a kind of creation myth and thus create their own identities separate from the abandonment they’ve experienced.

Throughout this quest–while being pursued to crazy campers (poor Snoopy), piercing Suzy’s ears with fishhooks, and the wonderful sexual awakening they experience while dancing on the beach in their underwear–the attachment between Suzy and Sam becomes more intense and more authentic. It becomes a connection that no one (not even the hater adults in their lives) can break. In the end, it transforms everyone around them. It becomes a mature love made of quiet participation in each other’s interests: reading, painting, music…a connection of the soul.

I love that Wes Anderson is able to do this. And he does it in ALL of his movies. He finds joy in dysfunction. He finds life in trauma. And he makes it beautiful. He fills his films with unsanitized innocence.

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Alba Go Bragh!! Pixar goes Gae-lic!

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Ok, I’ve been holding my tongue for a while now–mainly because I’d been waiting to see it with a couple of good friends before I said anything–but it is now time for me to get into the conversation on the newest Pixar film, “Brave.” My level of excitement was nearly uncontrollable as I waited for this film. My obsession with Celtic myths and legends was the original impetus for me to study myth.

To amp up my excitment even further, it’s a Pixar version. I’ve been on this rant for a while now about Pixar as Disney’s force for renewal in the corporation at present. Pixar + Scotland + some of the most kick tail talent Scotland has to offer + EMMA THOMPSON + Mumford and Sons and Birdy?! Pixar does a fairy tale? I just kept thinking to myself: how can they lose?

Bruce and I went–in secret like Murran and William Wallace–to see it on Saturday. We snuck away, our own version of quality time. Pretty much as soon as the credits started to roll, I was deeply moved by the experience. Bruce and I saw it in 3D, which we rarely do except for Disney animated films. The colors, the lifelike feel, and the music all made for a truly spectacular experience.

I really don’t want to post any spoilers here. Just go see it!! During the first song “Touch the Sky” I had a moment where my breath actually caught…like…full on air out of my lungs…took me a minute to breathe again and I started to cry…It can’t really even quantify it, or explain how it happened. The best way I can think to describe it is the feeling you get on a roller coaster when you go over the edge and whooosh–your breath catches as you speed down 100ft or more. But, I digress. I’ve said enough about the fabulousness of this film. Go see it!

So imagine my shock when I discovered that the film reviews were mixed. Without divulging too much about the story, there have been two major criticisms of “Brave” that I’d like to address.

1). Some reviewers have suggested that it is the most “Disneyfied” of all the Pixar films so far. Well, that’s true. But, how could it not be? This is a fairy tale, and if Disney is nothing else, it is THE authoritative mythic voice for fairy tales in contemporary culture.

When Ed Catmull and John Lasseter announced to the LA Times that The Walt Disney Animation Studio would step out of the realm of fairy tales for the moment (because, apparently they’ve tapped out the market) one of my thoughts was to wonder if Pixar was going to take over Disney’s fairy tale interpretations. When I heard that they were going to actually DO a fairy tale it felt like Lasseter’s way of saying that Pixar could do better. And frankly, they did, pretty much unarguably, with the exception of the introduction of Disney’s storytelling motifs.

But, to all of those annoyed by Pixar’s use of those recognizable Disney motifs-DUH! They have been subsumed into the Disney machine. The big three of Pixar–Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Ed Catmull–took on huge roles within Disney Corporate when the merger took place back in 2006. The relationship between Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studio is bound to get even more incestuous than it already was (Lasseter started from within Disney, after all…as a grad of CalArts and an animator in the 80s). These filmmakers cut their teeth on the Disney method. When they came to make their own Disney Pixar fairy tale, is it any wonder that they drew from the well of Disney type fairy tale motifs?

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2). Merida is too boyish. In other words, some have argued that the filmmakers went from one extreme to the other–from a passive princess to, as Ebert put it, “a boy in girl’s clothing.” One blogger even noted *note my le sigh* that Merida’s lack of interest in girly pursuits such as how to nail a boyfriend, clothes, and primpy stuff suggests that she is (perhaps) an early template for a lesbian princess.

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/06/24/pixar-brave-gay-merida/

While I would happily welcome any LGBTTQ character Disney or Pixar wished to develop, I found this blog to offensive on many, MANY levels.

First of all, how dare this writer suggest that a woman’s feelings regarding their culture’s gender roles indicate their sexual orientation?! *growl, hiss, roar* I will avoid my feminist rant. I think it is pretty obvious why this would be construed as offensive. Feminine images in Disney/Pixar films have been in flux in the last 20 years, essentially since Ariel. As I’ve previously suggested, they reflect the changing relationship to the feminine within the studios.

Second, this interpretation of Merida indicates a shallow understanding of what the film as a whole accomplishes, not to mention the characters themselves. Merida is a young woman, just at the cusp of adulthood, is in the process of coming to know who she is as a woman. This is an archetypal moment in the life of a woman, and there have been myriad interpretations of this archetype in mythologies throughout the millenia. To a mythie person such as myself, Merida might be interpreted as a Celty kind of Artemis, the virginal Greek goddess of the hunt. THAT is the point. Of course there is no lover there, because when one is in that space psychologically, life is not about sexuality. Were there a lover chosen for Merida, it was be a tale of tragedy for Merida and her family. The filmmakers at Pixar intuit this. Well done guys.

Furthermore, focusing in even deeper on this character, one might consider that the Merida type of character–smart, a tomboy, and a woman who refuses to allow her identity to be controlled by anyone–can be seen in the characters of Jane Austen’s Lizzy Bennet and Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March. In contemporary culture, she can be seen in JK Rowling’s characters of Hermoine and Ginny, as well as in the character of Katniss Everdeen. Moving back even further, Shakespeare gives us the strong will of Juliet. And although all of these characters are women in relationship to men…indeed Juliet gives her life for a man…they ALL choose their own fate. The ability to change her own fate is ALL Merida desires.

AND, in order to choose her own fate, Merida must relate to her mother. I mean, we just CAN’T have a story about women relating to women without the story being sexual, can we? And is it even more scandalous for us to have a story of a woman who develops her identity outside of husband, home, and children. Lord forbid she deals with her childhood and her forthcoming womanhood first! I forgot that wasn’t allowed. Anyone who would expect otherwise from Merida clearly doesn’t understand Celtic women and their battle strength.

Next Blog: My review of “Moonrise Kingdom”–innocence vs sanitization.

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Filed under Disney/Pixar, Fairy Tales, Movie Reviews, Myth

Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Who’ll get the Fairest Review of All?

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who’s the fairest of them all? This may be the most famous line from a fairy tale to date. This line has been used as a trope, a literal question, a sensuous musing, and a terrifying demand.

The story of Snow White seems to be everywhere these days. The version of the tale with which we are most familiar, and from which this line comes, is from the Grimm brothers’s version of the tale. We have our difinitive translation of the Grimm interpretation from D. L. Ashliman. He translated that most famous line from its original German.

Snow White seems to be everywhere these days–Never mind the iconic Disney version and the never ending reiterations of the story that have graced the fireside, the stage, the silver and the small screens in the past–she is everywhere being reinterpreted at present.

I know I’ve been singing this tune for a while now. Fairy tales have virtually overrun the entertainment industry…check out another blog that I posted yesterday on my facebook. Here tis:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/9174410/Mirror-Mirror-How-Hollywood-fell-for-fairy-tales.html

In large part this latest Hollywood obsession is related to the success of other fairy tale franchises. However, the choice of story seems of particular interest. What the industry has often dubbed “girl-power” stories are the order of the day. Snow White has traditionally been understood as a story of anything but “girl-power”.

A princess, who lacks any identity other than her physical beauty is opressed by a dark mother figure. She retreats to the forest for protection, and domesticates with a group of small men who allow her to cook and clean for them until she falls victim to a the spell of the dark mother and is saved by true love’s kiss. That’s the story in a nutshell…at least its Disney version.

The newer attempts at the “Snow” story approach it somewhat different. Snow’s character is more developed and, frankly, she’s a bit tougher. I’m not going to go into all the different versions, from ABC’s Once Upon a Time to the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman and the version that is still in the works where Snow is an English princess in China and the “dwarves” are seven swordsmen. Today, I’m going to explore the most recent film version, “Mirror Mirror”.

This film, released by Relativity Media on March 30, 2012 is a farcical version of the fairy tale. When I originally watched the trailer, I thought to myself…”really guys?? Is this truly necessary?” I’ve been really judgmental about it…really not even sure if I wanted to watch it. I went to see if earlier this week…by myself…as I wasn’t sure how badly it was going to suck. Even the guy working the popcorn stand scoffed at me when I told him what I was going to see. I popped into the theater, only to note that NOONE else was there, and I waited for the film to start. Five tweenage girls did finally make it in for the movie…giggling the whole time. that’s six of us in the theater, mind you.

Basically, the writing did suck, but it was tongue-in-cheek-cheesy in a way that would appeal to kids. It put me immediately in the mind of the Shelley Duvall series of short films that came out in the early 80s called Faeire Tale Theatre.

Much like this version, there were big names attached to it. It was cheesy…CHEEEEESSSSSY! But really, anyone who was ANNNYONEEEE in the 80s was involved with this project. We are talking the late Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, Matthew Broderick, Shelley Duvall, Terri Garr, Jeff Bridges, Liza Minelli, Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Redgrave, and so on and so on and so on…

I LOVED these as a kid. I recently aquired the whole set on DVD, and when I watched them I realized that they really weren’t that good. The production quality…the whole schmear…yeah…not that great. But the talent was amazing.

Wonderful people involved with these projects…which made me wonder why these amazing actors, who I know can do better, produced such silliness. Perhaps the answer to that is the material in fairy tales is archetypal, and as such, it can be played many different ways. And, if that is the case, then I guess fairy tales can explore both the light and the dark in psyche…well, obviously they DO do that, by virtue of their characters, but in their presentation, they lend themselves to comedy and drama together.

Such is the case with the newest silliness, Mirror Mirror.

*Warning: Spoilers coming. If you don’t want an actual review of this film, don’t read any further.*

Basic plot looks a bit like this:

A princess is born to a loving royal couple (and so it always starts). The queen, of course, dies and the king is left alone to raise the princess. He becomes lonely and confused so he decides to take a bride. Then, he goes off to battle to fight a beast plaguing the kingdom and, of course, never comes home…leaving the princess in the hands of her stepmother.

One thing I did love about this scene was that they had it told by the wicked queen in a room with a zoetrope (an early animation wheel). This was a great homage to the relationship between fairy tales and animation in our myths and culture. It set up an environment of self-anachronism from the very beginning. The queen (Academy Award Winner Julia Roberts) cracks jokes as she tells the story (“the people danced and sang…apparently noone had jobs back then”). The queen is one of those (sadly not so rare) people who thinks she is funny when she really isn’t.

She doesn’t come off as being particularly powerful, other than the one moment where she pulls Snow White’s hair and reminds her that it is important to know when one is beaten.

The narrative is a pretty clear socio-cultural statement about selfishness in government. The queen is so preoccupied with her own amusement and her own beauty that she has taxed the kingdom into the ground. The people are starving while the crown maintains a “let them eat cake” attitude. Snow White, inspired by her loyal servant and cook (Mare Winningham, Turner and Hootch and St. Elmo’s Fire) goes out into the realm to discover what it is really “like out there.” She realizes that her step mother is mismanaging the kingdom. Ironically enough, ehhhhm, or not, this film is being released at the beginning of what proves to be an epically awful election year.

While she is out, she comes across the prince who has been bested by “bandits” aka the dwarves with hydrolic legs. After releasing the prince from the dwarf-bonds, Snow returns to the palace to give the queen some sass. The queen sends her out into the forest to be slayed by her royal bootlicker (come on…Nathan Lane??!…he ain’t no Chris Hemsworth…when confronted by the dwarves, he screams and runs away).

Saved by her diminuative division, Snow joins the bandits in their forest habitat. Through the experience of training to be a bandit, and fight back in the forest, Snow develops her backbone, and figures out what SHE wants her identity to be.

Meanwhile, the queen has decided that she wants to marry the young prince in order to glean his wealth to her own kingdom…mind you, this prince has already met/fallen in love with Snow. Unable to MAKE the prince love her, she gives him a potion…a love potion that turns out to be a puppy love potion. Consequently, he agrees to marry her because…really…whose dog WOULDN’T do anything to make their human happy?

Snow and the seven kidnap the prince (this wicked queen really isn’t very powerful is she??) and take him out to the forest where they try everything known to human kind to break the spell…everything, that is, EXCEPT true love’s kiss. Oh, and by the way, in this version, the queen doesn’t trick Snow with a poisoned apple in the forest, hence she is not under a spell…THE PRINCE IS…

Snow offers to kiss the prince who is weeping about how much he misses his queen…how he “longs for the nector of her skin”…HUH??!! and after much hemming and hawwwing (well, it is her first kiss after all) she plants one on him.

It is an interesting true’s love’s kiss moment because, as per usual in the contemporary princess tale, the feminine overtakes the hero quite literarally taking him for herself on her own terms, and also because the true love’s kiss moment takes place between two people who are awake, alive, and aware that the kiss is about to happen.

The feeling function person that I am also loved this moment because you can actually see the moment when the prince goes from rejecting her (cause she is not HIS QUEEN) and kissing her back. The actor (Armie Hammer who played Leo DeCaprio’s love interest in J Edgar did an excellent job committed and displaying feeling in that moment, which I always admire in an actor.

Then, the queen shows up with the beast that has plagued the kingdom and, again as per usual in the contemporary princess tale, Snow goes out as the hero to face the beast. The prince breaks his way out of the house (where Snow has trapped him and the seven for “their own safety”).

Again, the hero is neither simply masculine or feminine as the two unite for fight the beast together. Luckily, they don’t kill the beast. Because she is a heroine, Snow feels the pain in the beast’s eyes and releases him from a spell which binds him to the wicked queen. The beast turns out to be her father (Sean Bean)…and there is much rejoicing in the kingdom.

At their wedding, Snow is approached an an old begger woman (the evil queen whose magic has turned against her). This begger woman attempts to give her a big, red shiny apple. Snow refuses it, cutting it and handing it to because “it is good to know when we are beaten.”

Before:

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After:

With that, they all live happily ever after…

In the end, it is all about mirroring…the mirroring between opposites…young and old, rich and poor, masculine and feminine, responsibility and careless, integrity and selfishness. The whole time I was watching

, I couldn’t shake the idea that these film makers were really attempting to instruct the tweens who would find this film so irresistible.

Without being moralistic, this film attempts to teach the golden rule. Like Katniss and so many other heroines of this generation, this Snow knows that she must participate in life in order to thrive. She needs to be active, not passive, protective, but not necessarily aggressive. She is all about balance.

Is it Oscar worthy? No. Does it need to be? I would also say no. Cute, yes, and interesting archetypally because of the way in which they retold this most captivating of mirror tales.

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April 28, 2012 · 12:12 am