Snow White and the Huntsman is an appropriate name for this movie, since that is all we know about either character. She is Snow White. He is the Huntsman. The only person with even a little bit of character development is the evil Queen Ravenna, who is obsessed with Hollywood-standard beauty and youth. Ravenna hates all men except her brother; in her eyes, men use women until they are old and ugly and then replace them with someone younger. In true “You Become What You Most Despise” fashion, the queen must literally consume the life of young girls to stay young and beautiful. There is an obvious parallel to our contemporary culture, and Charlize Theron spends much of each scene chewing the furniture, but with depth in short supply, I was eager to gobble up even the slightest hint of motivation.
The beginning takes us through the familiar story with a few twists. The King and Queen live in harmony, and they have a daughter who is super pretty. Once the Queen dies, the King finds a totally hot babe “captured” by some mystical shard-guards (Ravenna), and then he marries her. Ravenna kills the King, locks up Snow White, creates a blight on the land, and then discovers that consuming Snow White’s heart is the key to remaining young forever. Luckily, Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest, where everyone else is afraid to go. (Sort of… mostly their horses get stuck in some quicksand-mud on the outskirts, so it is unclear whether or not they would have followed.) The Queen finds the only person in existence who has travelled through the forest, and since the only thing we ever learn about this Huntsman is that he misses his dead wife, she offers to bring his wife back in exchange for Snow White.
Inside the forest, Snow White encounters some beautiful and slightly ominous foliage and some shadowy Dementors or Ringwraiths that we never see again. She then inhales some spores and passes out. When she wakes up, the Huntsman is leading the Queen’s brother and a group of no-name soldiers to capture her. The movie burns through all of the conflicts it sets up pretty quickly. Snow White hides from the Huntsman, and he finds her within seconds. The Queen’s brother immediately reveals that the Queen was totally lying about that whole bringing people back from the dead thing. The Huntsman reacts exactly as we expect him to: he protects Snow White, fights all of the faceless henchmen, attempts to abandon her in the forest, and then, for no discernible reason, agrees to lead her through the forest. There is one brief moment of danger when Snow White walks into a cluster of snakes, and another when they encounter a troll on the bridge leading out of the forest, but Snow White Caesar Milans the troll into submission through her mystical connection with nature or something, and they leave.
Even worse than the pacing is the lack of development or cohesion among the disparate elements. Yes, everything is very pretty, but the prettiness doesn’t mean anything. For starters, I’m not sure what the Dark Forest is. I get that it is a forest, and it is dark and perhaps dangerous, but why? What is the mythology of this forest and how does it fit into the rest of the world? Is Snow White truly in danger here, or could she pass through unharmed? She needs to be saved from the snakes, but she is able to control the troll since she is the embodiment of innocence and life and all that. It makes no sense.
Sadly, the movie just ignores these questions altogether. It seems more concerned with moving us quickly (and then obnoxiously slowly) through re-imagined scenes of the fairy tale. It also doesn’t mind borrowing copiously from other movies, including Tolkien dwarves, the Princess Mononoke grove with forest spirit, and a Never-Ending Story-esque loss of a horse in a quagmire. Much of the movie I spent waiting for each recognizable element—ah, there’s the mirror, there’s the poisoned apple, and of course, the kiss from the prince is (surprise!) the Huntsman. Bet you didn’t see that coming! Actually, I didn’t, since there was no time spent on any blossoming romance between them.
There were also some opportunities for true darkness, but what this movie fails to realize is that darkness needs context to mean anything. True darkness is not just absence of light, but it is watching characters confront powerful external forces that often represent our own fears or tendencies. Obviously the Dark Forest was a missed opportunity. But take the fishing village, for example. The women there have scarred themselves to avoid the Queen’s gaze. That’s pretty cool, but really, the scars are old, well-healed and perfectly straight lines on otherwise gorgeous faces. How about true disfigurement? Something that makes the audience (and possibly also Snow White, the most beautiful of all) uncomfortable to look at?
Finally, blissfully, we reach the end of the movie, where the roused Snow White delivers a stirring speech to a group of ragtag outlaws in her nightie. At this point, the movie seems to forget that she is supposed to be the embodiment of innocence and virtue. She dons some armor, leads everyone into a bloody battle, and as her protectors are fighting some animated shards of glass, she stabs the Queen with her dagger. What would have been an interesting twist is to see her not heal the land, as she is no longer the embodiment of innocence. (She totally just killed a bitch, after all.) Once the Queen is dead, Snow White looks into The Mirror, and since it is a burnished shield, I got the sense that there weren’t many mirrors in this world. How cool would it have been if this was the first time she had seen herself, if the sight of her own beauty changed her? Does innocence always become experience, and is experience always corrupting?
I guess we’ll never know. In the end, some flowers start growing, which means the kingdom is healed, blah blah blah. What this movie really needed was a purpose beyond re-imagining every single element from the original story. (Instead of being green, the poisoned apple is now… furry.) One movie that seems to have accomplished this, oddly enough, is Amanda Seyfried’s Little Red Riding Hood. Since I’m not a fourteen-year-old girl, I didn’t see the movie, but the trailer seems to have captured the whole coming of age, societal expectation of purity and virtue vs. sexual experience angle. Of course, it does so with obvious color symbolism, Amanda Seyfried’s doll-like sexuality, and werewolves. Still, that sort of thing better approximates the point of fairy tales, especially our modern interpretation of them.
If only Snow White and the Huntsman could have pushed the whole beauty/youth/innocence/experience angle a bit further (and maybe developed more than one character), this could have been an interesting movie. As it stands, it is pretty but empty, just like Snow White.
Thanks to the internet age, most of us have heard about the recent controversy over Daniel Tosh’s remarks to a young woman in a comedy club. There are people who side with the comedian, suggesting that the woman was heckling and that his response was fine, reasonable, or not a big deal. And then there are those who take umbrage with the notion that a woman expressing her displeasure at rape jokes should be then subjected to suggestion that she be gang-raped by five different men.
And of course, there are those who think this is a non-story, who don’t have strong feelings either way.
I don’t think it should be any surprise this story has taken off the way that it has. Anyone keeping up with the news has seen the onslaught of sanctimonious white politicians explaining, as condescendingly as possible, how women should and should not use their bodies. Anyone can understand how intelligent, thinking women would feel outraged at legislation taking away our sense of autonomy. And thanks to the information age, we intelligent, thinking women have discovered that there are many, many of us who feel this way. We feel empowered enough to stand up to these individuals, to jokes that women should put an aspirin between their legs for contraception (SHUT YOUR LEGS, WHORES). And we are putting our foot down against the rhetoric of “rape awareness” that engages in victim-blaming. Don’t wear this. Don’t walk there. Don’t imbibe even a little alcohol. Or you deserve what you get.
So it’s really up to you if you think Tosh’s comments are a part of this onslaught. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that they ignited a storm of controversy at this particular moment in time.
What I find a little concerning, however, is the attempt by both sides to silence or censor the other. Some people suggest that rape should be off-limits as a topic for comedians. And other people suggest that if the young woman went to see Tosh perform, a comedian notorious for his troll-like incendiary comedy, that she has no right to complain.
Obviously, I don’t agree with censoring comedians or any other artists. If Tosh wants to suggest that all his female audience members get raped, then that’s his business. But it works both ways. Neither should she or anyone else be censored from their reaction simply because “that’s his brand of comedy.” Unless we’re going to start banning all negative reviews, that’s simply unreasonable. And to me, it sounds a little bit too much like the rhetoric of rape awareness.
Now, there is the matter of how and when she chose to voice her displeasure– in the middle of his act. Would it have been better to wait until after the show? Yes, I think so. But neither does this so-called “heckling” (which, if we’re being honest, is a far cry from throwing beer bottles and yelling obscene language or even talking/texting throughout his show) mean that she deserves what she got.
This notion of “if you don’t agree with what I’m saying, don’t bother to read/watch/comment” is one that I think is especially pervasive lately and really egregiously wrong. I’ve read it in numerous articles from people I both agree and disagree with on all sorts of topics. And suggesting that the only people who can or should read one’s thoughts be those that agree is silly. It is akin to shouting into a megaphone and then plugging your ears before you hear a response.
I understand the feeling, certainly. The comments section of many websites quickly turns into a den of slathering morons and internet trolls. But that doesn’t mean that we should strive to eliminate all discourse entirely. It doesn’t mean that I can’t or shouldn’t read an article from a Tea Party Republican or that I should refrain from voicing my disagreement. It does mean that I should avoid the foul mouth-breathing mentioned above, and it does mean that in a comedy club or on a website, the administrator can decide on appropriate rules of engagement. But if the only things we were allowed to read or watch were those that we automatically agreed with, we would all be calcified, one-sided stumps. And I think we can all agree that there is enough shouting from opposite sides of the fence going on in our culture already.
Of course, it is probably better for my blood pressure if I don’t watch Fox News all day every day. But it is my personal responsibility to decide what to read, what to think, what to say, what to wear. You are always free to disagree with me. I have several friends who do, and our debates can get really interesting. But suggesting that I am not allowed to read certain things or say certain things or wear certain things misses the point entirely.
In Yay Science news:
And more importantly:
And lastly, a joke:
It’s summertime, which means I finally have time to cook those not-so-very elaborate vegetarian meals I’ve been pinning to my new Pinterest board. Anything that involves chopping up more than one ingredient I usually deem Too Much Effort during the school year, but now I have endless time and energy to mince garlic and chop zucchini. I’ve discovered food is the one item I will continuously pay a solid amount of money for, whereas everything else– clothing, books (except indie presses), entertainment– I get secondhand or not at all. At first it seemed really dumb– after all, I am just pooping this stuff right out– but when I thought about it, food is correlated much more closely with mood and health, and cheap food tends to be unhealthy food, like a Taco Bell beefy 5-layer burrito.
Once I’m firmly ensconced in summer, I always wish I had this amount of free time all the time, so I could make these tasty, healthy, elaborate meals every week and have so much time to write. But today I met with two colleagues to discuss a new final exam over lunch, and I realized, weird as this sounds, that I would miss the academic puzzles and community atmosphere of teaching. And I would probably get sick to death of cooking so damn much anyway. So it’s probably for the best that the summer remain the summer.
It is difficult, even so early on in the summer, to force myself to any kind of writing routine instead of slouching permanently into the couch cushion to watch old episodes of Community. The program Freedom has helped me focus for more than a page at a time (as well as highlight my obvious internet addiction). But as Roxanne Gay said, writing is synonymous with internet fuckery, so there’s that. Plus, it’s still early enough in the summer that the never-ending onslaught of screaming children and daily loitering of the ice cream truck makes me wistful and not homicidal.
On a completely unrelated note, a book I highly recommend is Myfanwy Collins’ Echolocation. Speaking of which, time to stop the internet fuckery and get back to reading.
As an instructor of English at Wor-Wic Community College, I’ve had the privilege to work with extremely talented and dedicated faculty and staff in the four years I’ve been at the college. More recently, however, I’ve had the opportunity to co-sponsor the Arts Club, co-edit Echoes & Visions (the student literary journal), and co-sponsor the Echoes & Visions series. Not only have I been able to bring a host of talented writers to campus (including Sarah Rose Etter and Laura Ellen Scott), but I’ve also been able to have extended conversations with these talented ladies that I might not have had otherwise. Meeting other writers in tandem with my own burgeoning writing career has helped me branch out and interact with even more writers I admire, including Ethel Rohan and Anna March.
Because I teach at a community college where creative writing has no place in any of the two-year degrees offered, I’ve been thrilled at the burgeoning literary community I’ve encountered, from fellow faculty to students. When Laura Ellen Scott visited last month, she was nice enough to host a small writing workshop for interested students. While we only had five students attend, those students were engaged and peppered LES with questions, which LES answered with aplomb.
In September, we will begin the year with the annual Echoes & Visions reception where student writers read alongside a keynote writer. This year, our writer is Michael Kimball. And while the submission period hasn’t even closed for our tiny journal yet, still, I can’t wait.
My husband bought me a copy of 1Q84 for Christmas– a book I had been looking forward to for quite a while. Sometime last year, I had read Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and fell immediately under the trance of Murakami’s bizarre characters and enigmatic plot. It was one of those rare books that I actually had trouble putting down. Every time I would place it on the nightstand, I would pick it back up to read just a few more pages. The last time that happened to me was with The Keep by Jennifer Egan. While A Visit from the Good Squad was arguably a more stylistically daring and culturally resonant book, it didn’t captivate me with the same power. When I finished The Keep, I felt the heart-pitch of disappointment that there weren’t more pages.
So it was with a heady anticipation that I began Murakami’s latest. I knew that too much expectation ultimately leads to disappointment– after all, I had had zero anticipation when starting Bird Chronicles– but still, the small cult that has exploded into an international audience seemed equally excited for the book.
And the first 200-300 pages went well. They were engrossing and fairly well-paced (even with the huge blocks of back story). Then, somewhere around page 400 or so, the book began to lag, and it became more difficult to slog through page after page. I started to notice poor stylistic choices: the enormous amount of pace-obliterating back story, the bizarre and convoluted similes and metaphors, the tedious descriptions of every single item a character was wearing or eating. (Yes, that “simple” dinner that Tengo is making sounds delicious, but I don’t need the run-down every time he eats.)
The character of Aomame, likewise, was obviously written by a male writer. She was obsessed with her small, mismatched breasts, she considered physical strength and a lack of emotions the epitome of strength, and every once in a while, she just needed to get laid. Tengo, on the other hand, was allowed a set of more ordinary flaws, like his struggle as a writer and his attempt not to bang a seventeen-year-old girl.
But all of this was secondary to the main problem: the story staggered and fell stagnant halfway through the book. Except for a thrilling resurrection during the storm scene, getting through the final half of the book was difficult. The most disappointing part was seeing, in rare glimpses of brilliance, how amazing the book could have been. There are the little people who travel out of a dead goat’s mouth. There is the creepy cat town. And towards the end of the book, several different plot points begin to converge in an interesting way. Instead of resolving any of those plot points or character arcs, however, Murakami rushes the two protagonists to an unsatisfying climax and denouement, leaving several loose threads. I never imagined feeling rushed at the ending to a 900-page opus, but there you are.
I’d still like to read Kafka on the Shore or After Dark, but I think I might read some reviews first. And I certainly hope Murakami hasn’t become such an icon that he ignores his editors, because ultimately, what that book needed what a serious editorial make-over before any volume was actually published.