Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth has been my favorite movie since I was seven. For 14 years I’ve been an adamant fan of the dark children’s movie staring a young Jennifer Connelly and a not-quite-so-young David Bowie. I was entranced by the playful but undeniably sinister nature of the film and still to this day watch it at least once a week.
However, I also think that exposing me to this movie at a young and primitive age simultaneously deeply fucked up my relationships with men and also made me the passionate feminist I am today. Having a crazy strong but equally flawed female main character molded who I grew up to be in ways I never expected. Maybe this is why my parents were so tentative to let me watch Labyrinth before and after school every day.
For those of you who have never seen this cult classic film, first I say: fix that. Second, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. A 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly stars as Sarah, the young and spoiled girl who has grown tired of the way her family treats her, especially when it comes to taking care of her baby brother Toby. Obsessed with all things magical, Sarah asks the Goblin King to take her brother away in a moment of weakness, never expecting it to actually happen. David Bowie plays the androgynous Goblin King who gives Sarah 12 hours to solve the Labyrinth and get her baby brother back, all the while pining after the young girl. The Labyrinth is full of Jim Henson’s famous creepy puppets, many of which she befriends and accompany her on their journey. Henson notes that he was trying to "make the idea of taking responsibility for one's life - which is one of the neat realizations a teenager experiences - a central thought of the film."
I grew up as an only child constantly searching for an older-sister figure in my life. So when I was introduced to the heroine Sarah, who was also just a smidge too weird and spoiled just like me, I was enamored. The film revolved around this almost-relationship between Bowie and Connelly and then in the end when Bowie, while covered in white feathers, offers Connelly’s character the world and all of time if “she would just let him rule her” and she says no. THIS CONCEPT SHOCKED MY TINY MIND.
I had never seen a woman reject a man in a movie before, especially when the movie revolved around him wooing her. The film is certainly romantic but in a way where Sarah uses the Goblin King’s attraction to her to manipulate his labyrinth and find her way back to safety. While Sarah is meant to look naïve, her decisions are quick and precise and she knows exactly how to use both her friends and her enemies to her advantage. This film instantly made me want to be the kind of girl who wins the game instead of the girl who gets the guy.
That being said, the underlying sexual themes in this film were a bit too much for a seven year old to deal with. We’ll begin with the elephant in the room: Bowie’s tight and revealing pants. Throughout the film Bowie’s crotch is honestly on display, , so much that it can’t have been an accident. This along with the intensely seductive relationship between the two actors with a 23-year age difference makes a young girl very confused about what a healthy relationship between two consenting adults looks like.
I still stand by Labyrinth as a movie for kids. I mean these days kids see a lot more than the outline of David Bowie’s crotch in movies. Little girls especially need to see movies where girls don’t succumb to unhealthy relationships but instead fight for their family over for love. Yeah, it might be hard to make your kid sit through a movie with in-camera special effects and almost no post production, but it’s a vital message that made me the strange, strong woman I am today. I know I’m going to make my future kids sit down and watch it with me, probably embarrassing them by singing along the whole time.
Mary Rockcastle is a florist, illustrator, and craftswoman living in Rochester, New York. She’s the sole founder of Little Lamb Studios, and #1 biggest fan of all dogs.