Labyrinth (Henson, 1986): Rock Music, Muppets and Morality

I’ve always known about Labyrinth (Henson, 1986) or more to the point, ‘that film David Bowie was in’ and it’s always been accompanied by smirks. Last night I finally caved and watched it, and now I know why people smile…

It’s a typical story-line: a young girl makes an error and must set out on a quest to fix it – reminiscent of The Wizard of OZ (cemented through strategic placement of the OZ book in the mise-en-scene) and the perception of American teenagers in the 1980s. The representation of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) as selfish and spoiled is found not only in other family movies of the same era – I’m thinking of the 80s/90s combined – but also in the serial horror films of the same period. I can see similarities with the concept of a teenage girl making a mistake and getting her ‘comeuppance’ in the plot lines of Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween – Sarah, for all intents and purposes, is almost a Final Girl.

Except she’s not, she has friends (the muppets) to guide her (honestly, I did not know it was a Muppet film such has Bowie’s presence overshadowed the film) echoing The Princess Bride and The Wizard of Oz. Despite her faults, she is friendly and seems to entrance people along the way. This allows for the most crucial difference in this film from others I’m comparing it too, family and horror alike – she is allowed to keep her fantasy. Typical family films of the era which would focus on a reconciliation between her parents and her coming of age – even Back to the Future came to an eventual end which sets Marty (Michael J. Fox) in the path for marriage and children in a blissful American future – and Final Girl’s, as we all know, end up scarred for life and hunted in the sequel. Yes, Sarah puts away her toys, what she realises are “junk” but she still talks to the Goblins who now seem to exist in her world. It is, in my opinion, this is one of the most surprising and lovely parts of the film, celebrating imagination rather than condemning it..

Sarah keeps her fantasy and her friends

Music videos, a moral, hilariously bad superimposition: it’s a great film and I can see why it’s a cult classic, but it is a strange combination. It juxtaposes children’s films, a rock star and high fantasy myths in a way which almost works consistently. I do wonder if spectators interpret the film based on which aspect is most important to them – as I mentioned at the beginning, I knew this as a Bowie film but watching it for myself I would call it a Muppet film, and the fantasy is almost unnecessary.

David Bowie, wearing exceedingly tight trousers, is quite wooden in his acting (haha) but I feel like that was to be expected. He stands as more of an idol in the film than any significant acting presence, but that’s probably the best role for him. One wonders, indeed, if the fantasy role was necessary to simply embrace Bowie’s eccentricity in film form. Whilst I enjoyed some of the musical interludes Bowie contributes to the film, I have to say that the Ballroom sequence, arguably the major ‘music video’ of the film was a little off. It was cheesy and strange, seemingly trying to set up a potential romance between Bowie and Connelly, but it has already been established that Sarah is a young teenager, therefore, it doesn’t quite work. On a mythological level, I understand it to be a reference to the idea that if you eat something from the Fairy Kingdom, you will be trapped in a dance until you die/your feet bleed etc., but this is where the combination of spheres (Bowie/Muppets/High fantasy) starts to clash a little.

The Ballroom scene: an awkward transition?

Labyrinth may be a silly film, but that’s part of the joy and part of why it remains relevant. Indeed I think it will be cemented as a classic through David Bowie’s death: film is immortalizing, we relive moments and stories with people who are long gone time and time again through switching on a film and escaping. Labyrinth is pure escapism, despite what some cult followers may argue is wrong with it, the lore doesn’t actually matter. Labyrinth remains a fantastically fun film, immortalizing Bowie and Henson as heroes of escapism.


P.s. My favourite part….because I’m a child and fart noises can be funny

P.p.s A happy Pan’s Labyrinth, anyone? What do you reckon to the similarities between them? Obviously, this one was made first…. I wonder if it shows the cultural differences of fairy stories: a happy ending for the USA but not for Spain….

Copyright: Images/Videos are not mine and used for review purposes.


One thought on “Labyrinth (Henson, 1986): Rock Music, Muppets and Morality

  1. Pingback: 2016 Favourites | SnarkyOverload

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