Tuesday, September 18, 2012

21st century feminism: film review of Snow White and the Huntsman

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). This one is a bit special, a collaboration with oldest teenage daughter. I’ve done this a number of times now with both the children. We watch together, write together and share the writing fee together. It’s always a very rich experience.

Snow White and the Huntsman
A film review by S and S Taylor

Snow White is a German fairytale, made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. From them we get the magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs.

The tale has long been a fascination for movie makers. Snow White first appeared, silent, in 1916. Disney grabbed her in 1937, while in 1961 the story was parodied as “Snow White and the Three Stooges.” In other words, when the tale is well known, give it a twist. Exactly 200 years later, enter “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a dark recasting of the classic tale.

Some things remain – magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs. Both focus on the importance of inner beauty, with an Evil Queen preoccupied with her appearance.

But in 2012, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) becomes both saviour and fellow fighter, the dwarves are more suspicious, while Snow White saves not only herself, but her entire Kingdom.

While the cast is well known, the acting is uneven. Kristen Stewart (Snow White) struggles to break free from being Bella Swan of the “Twilight” saga. Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, struggles to be more than the mysterious strong man. Charlize Theron (featured in “Prometheus,” reviewed in Touchstone last month) is superbly wicked, an Evil Queen of chilling complexity.

Despite being old-fashioned, Snow White is intriguing in the way it places as central two strong female characters, in Snow and the Evil Queen. But this is a twisted tale and so the question is worth exploring. What might it take to be a twenty first century woman?

For the Evil Queen, it is to seek youth and beauty. She lives and dies defined by her mother’s words: “Your beauty is all that can save you.”

For Snow White, her mother’s words are also defining, an inner beauty expressed in honourable actions. (Although a climax in which she leads an armed uprising becomes an intriguing 21st century take on moral purity). Surprisingly for Hollywood, Snow White in 2012 requires no Hollywood love interest, no handsome hero to complete her day.

And to be a man? It means confronting pain and facing grief. For Snow’s father, impulsive decisions result in far reaching negative consequences. For Snow’s childhood friend, boyhood loss generates a lifelong quest. For the Huntsman, adult grief requires facing the pain, taking risks and making right choices.

Being a modern tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes complete with environmental themes. The Evil Queen poisons not only an apple but people and planet. The good fairies emerge from friendly birds, to conjure up a very English creation, complete with cute squirrels and the famed white stag.

The M rating is deserved, a mirror of human wickedness. All fairytales contain a moral. In 1812 it was that beauty comes from the inside but it needs a rescuing Prince to restore Snow White to her rightful place, man at side.

In 2012 beauty remains, but it needs an iron fist, a deadly battle between sword and bow, leaving Snow a woman alone. Such is the feminism of the twenty first century.

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

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