Snow White and the Huntsman
Posted by Hedwig on June 9, 2012
Note: I’ll keep it spoiler-free above the fold, but I would like to discuss the ending below it.
Updating fairy-tales is all the rage these days, with not just two Snow White movies but even a Jack & the Beanstalk one, but they’ve really never left the public consciousness. It can be safely assumed that like vampires and Frankenstein’s, they will never truly disappear, since the bare bones of the stories can so easily be adapted to the times, the core elements familiar but the subtext fluid. The stories of princesses might all look the same, and seem to embody only the most antiquated of gender roles, but their messages and lessons still ring strong.
Snow White, of course, has always been about beauty and youth. “Who is the fairest of them all?”, the queen asks, eager to hear her own name, and furious when it turns out she is fairest no longer, surpassed by a raven-haired pale beauty with crimson lips. In the fairy tale and in the new action-movie adaptation SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, Snow White “wins” the contest because she has inner as well as outer beauty. But the movie makes implicit that the queen’s desperate desire to retain her youth and beauty is not vanity alone – she fiercely defends herself because her beauty is the source of her power, perhaps even the only power she has. She’s a monster, but a monster made by the system, and this explains why Snow White can’t help but feel sorry for her. Charlize Theron clearly relishes playing such a grandiose, evil part, but she never forgets that her queen Ravenna is at heart a pitiful creature.
It’s too bad they haven’t found a Snow White to match her. Just to clarify: I’m no Kristen Stewart hater. The Twilight movies are easy targets, but she managed to give Bella something completely absent in the books: a personality. I can understand why she was cast: she projects a certain authenticity – carefully cultivated in her public image, too – that helps her play wide-eyed wonder and innocence without it going into maudlin territory. But this Snow White is a warrior too, and when called upon to give a St. Crispin’s day speech, she can’t quite pull it off. She shouts, and her chest heaves with labored breathing, but she lacks the authority Theron has no problem summoning.
Overall, though, I thought this adaptation was both visually stunning and thematically interesting. And what really sold me on it, the thing that made sure I left the cinema not just satisfied but elated, was the ending (and here be spoilers)
In the end, Snow White is crowned Queen. Who is crowned King? Who does she choose, the Duke’s son or the troubled Huntsman?
Nobody. Snow White sits on her throne, and seems in no hurry to share her hard-earned power. And the men? Far from squabbling or fighting over her, they respect her and obey her. It even gets left in the middle if it is the Huntsman’s kiss that waked her, or maybe both their kisses, or maybe neither: this Snow White stands on her own. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have pantsfeelings* for the deliciously scruffy Chris Hemsworth, and the other dude’s not hard to look at either. But there’s something profoundly satisfying to see a “happily ever after” that doesn’t involve a coupling – and it’s quite a bit more subversive than just turning Snow into a warrior princess.
Finally, on a completely tangent, the film made me think of Mad Men, specifically of Betty and Sally’s plot in the most recent episode. Betty actually comes off pretty well compared to Ravenna. In the early season’s, Betty was the most conventionally beautiful of the female characters, and traded on those looks. This season, she’s been struggling with weight gain, and with the reality of having been replaced by a younger, slimmer, hipper woman. The previous episode was the first time we’ve seen her happy, comforting Sally after she got her first period. It has been uncharitably been ascribed just to a sense of triumph that Sally ran to her and not to Megan. But I think it might also just be because she finally accepted the loss of her youth (and the beauty society associates with it), and passed the baton. Even Snow White will get wrinkles some day – but if your value derives from something more than just your looks, that’s not such a tragedy.
*hat-tip Captain Awkward