Mirror mirror

I watched Snow White and the Huntsman the day it came out because I am a huge winner.

I actually really enjoyed the movie and thought it was a pretty good and creative way to update on a classic that’s mostly gone untouched in mainstream pop culture. The acting was a snoozefest and I never want to see Charlize Theron or Kristen Stewart play anyone who speaks with an accent ever again, but it’s not like I watched this for the Oscar-worthy performances. I thought the cinematography was great, as was the costuming and overall visual palette of the movie.

I’ve never been a Snow White kinda gal and the Disney movie was probably one of my least favorites. I was 6? 7? when I first watched the cartoon and I haven’t seen anything Snow White related until now, and it’s really jarring how I haven’t given this much thought ever but Snow White encapsulates the kind of sad spectacle we make out of women.

I hate that the message is lessened because 1) it’s a summer blockbuster, you’re not supposed to think when you watch those 2) the story is so classic and engrained in our heads now that it doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to learn anything from it’s supposed to be common sense.

But as I was watching, I was reminded that at the core of it, this is just a story about how only one kind of woman is acceptable. I was getting worked up by things I didn’t like about the Queen characterization, but she’s really just an extension of the kind of woman we as a society don’t like to see.

In this movie version, the Queen is someone who had no choice but to use her beauty as a shield against forces she couldn’t control, and that somehow evolved into a kind of megalomaniac desire to retain youth and beauty at all costs.

Other than a brief scene that informed us how the Queen was able to wield the magic she does, her character is just not someone you’re meant to empathize with. But the reason why not being able to empathize with her bothers me more than it does for other villains is because as a viewer, I’m not just supposed to shun the Queen, I’m supposed to shun this kind of woman and feel disdain for her existence.

As the story goes, the Queen married into the family after the King’s first wife dies, and after the King dies, the Queen has sole reign over the kingdom. She treats Snow White badly, but never felt threatened by her until the day she’s told by her magical mirror that she is no longer the fairest of them all. Snow White is the one who can undo the Queen’s beauty, and with that knowledge, the Queen sets out to get rid of Snow White.

The whole story is just a long drawn-out one of two women battling for supremacy because only one woman can win. It’s a shitty story because what they’re fighting for are essentially the traits that are used for the betterment of themselves in the eyes of men. It’s not even like they’re fighting to be the better, smarter, more caring person, or negating evil with goodness. They’re fighting to be the more physically beautiful and youthful woman, and trying to be the right kind of beautiful and young.

And of course this very basic idea of proper femininity is echoed ad nauseum in our pop culture and media now. Women cannot be friends, there has to be one! winner! I know worse stories have been built on less, and this is fiction (!), but there was a BATTLE in the movie because one woman had to be the fairest of them all, and another woman had to prove that she was not. How ludicrous and depressing.

Time to crawl back into my hole of don’t-think-just-consume. I think there’s some ice cream waiting for me in there.

(Image via Tumblr)

  • Stacy

    interesting discussion. I’ve been wanting to see this and I think I will. Leading up to it, I’ve been asking people about it and no one touched on this at all.

  • theleenbean

    Interesting. This comment might be somewhat spoilery, for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the movie. I also thought the movie was visually stunning, but I was disappointed overall because I felt like the movie had so much unfulfilled potential and wasted a great premise. And I agree, I also found the emphasis on attaining beauty/being beautiful to be rather jarring, more so because it’s dealt with so superficially in the movie, as if “authentic” physical beauty, whatever that is, were some sort of virtue that would allow good to triumph over evil, and that the loss of it meant that life was no longer worth living. Even the relatively simple leap of exploring a person’s “inner beauty” isn’t really made – Snow White’s main conflict throughout the movie is essentially whether or not she can bring herself to kill the Queen; she isn’t really shown to be good or deserving other than that she’s the titular heroine and we know we’re supposed to root for her; that and 3/4 of the movie’s other characters telling us that “SHE”S SPECIAL!” The movie does a much better job of exploring the Queen’s character and making her more shades of grade, which is ironic, given that ultimately, she’s so off-hinge and eeevil that anyone could have killed her off and replaced her, and it’d be a step up – and that’s really all the credit I can give to this version of Snow White’s character. But the scenes that show us how the Queen came to be this way (i.e. from suffering through war herself, of the Queen’s mother’s desire to protect her children, of the root of the Prince’s loyalty to the Queen, however twisted its become) make her character far more sympathetic than I originally had expected her to be. I felt that Charlize Theron was great at being deranged, as well as showing those moments of vulnerability, and by the middle of the movie I felt sorry for her character, and almost wished there could have been some sort redemption for her. As the movie progresses though, she’s so sick and so far gone that perhaps the only practical solution in that fairy tale world would be to kill her, but that seems like a choice you make when faced with ugly realism, rather than it being the fulfillment to some fairy tale prophecy where the “real” pretty girl kills the fake one.

  • mkhan

    I find myself agreeing with the leenbean on my thoughts of the movie. The Queen is a more sympathetic character with a back story that makes her more layered and interesting than Snow White, who could have benefited from a personality and an opportunity to earn her status. The way everyone just assumed she was amazing and *special* got annoying fast. I was also bothered with the weight placed on being a pure, young, virginal woman (and the lack of people wearing helms in battle). The movie was beautiful though and I loved the Queen’s outfits.