Guest post written by Rachel Redfern originally published at Not Another Wave. Cross-posted with permission.
The fairy tale redux is the latest vogue in Hollywood and poor Snow White has been remixed and redone twice in the past year. I didn’t see the Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane adaptation, about which I heard unpleasant things (I wonder though, can anything with the brilliant Nathan Lane ever be that bad?), but the trailer looked promising, despite the presence of Kristin Stewart.
I’m going to go off on a tangent here about Kristin Stewart: really, Hollywood? You like Kristen Stewart that much that you’ve decided to continue to feed her roles? Can’t you just admit that she’s a horrifically, terrible actress? She has literally one expression she uses: surprised fear. I have stuffed animals with a greater range of displayed emotion.
That tepid, surprised fear bleeds its unfortunate paralysis into the rest of the film, which had an otherwise legitimately promising cast and a script with some real potential. The film, and most notably Stewart, fails to commit to anything. Is Snow White a herald of action hero bad-assery intent on her destiny to kill the wicked witch? Or is she an angelic innocent saint, so pure that her goodness can overcome the queen’s toxic, kingdom-killing evil? Stewart definitely has no idea and so neither do the characters who interact with her, making her role (the title one) the most boring and confusing part of the film.
This leads into one of my main feminist concerns with the film, the fact that Stewart’s Snow White is supposedly only powerful because of her “innocence and purity.” Again we have to go back to ideas of innocence and purity for women, without which, we can apparently accomplish nothing, nor be of any value. This is, of course, in direct opposition to the male characters in the film who are drunk, unethical and constantly killing something. This kind of clichéd, stereotype reinforcing portrayal of the wounded, nasty, albeit powerful warrior, who falls in love with the gentle, sweet maiden (always pure), is without a doubt the most annoying thing ever.
In a supposedly “enlightened” society, why do we insist upon returning to Victorian ideals of female purity and a demeaning “innocence” (meaning lacking in life experience and child-like)? I am neither pure nor innocent, yet I manage to hold my own in life and (hopefully) do some good.
However, that doesn’t mean that the film is wholly without any redeeming qualities; the film has a strong focus on the evil queen and gives her a powerful back-story, one that explains her obsession with youth and beauty. The reason she’s so obsessed with beauty? It has been her only means of gaining power and protecting herself from men. This plotline made a great parallel to our own rich and famous and their fascination with cosmetic surgery: in order to stay powerful and current, they must stay young and beautiful or be eviscerated by the media and potentially lose their jobs.
The plotline can be taken even further though. Not only is she conscripted into a life of damaging narcissism because of her beauty, but other women are similarly used. Recognizing that their beauty is both their power and their undoing, we meet a commune of women who have scarred their faces in order to protect themselves from the queen, a plot line that reminded me of the current situation in the Middle East where rules governing women and their clothing have reached new heights. There, some people believe that women should hide their tempting eyes
as a way to save men from being forced to ravish them in the streets.
Instead of exploring that plotline further however, the filmmakers decided to move on to another nonsense scene of Stewart looking scared and confused while running through a field.
However, the costume design was amazing, the sets inspiring, the music beautiful (I can say with absolutely certainty that the new Florence and the Machine song, “Breath of Life,” which was created for the film, is awesome), and the cinematography inspiring.
Charlize Theron did a good job as the tortured queen and Sam Spruell as her creepy brother was excellent; their relationship was one of the best parts of the film in my mind. Chris Hemsworth was fairly bland, but nice to look at, so I personally forgive him for being a bit boring.
All in all, the film was a gold mine of good-filmmaking and feminist potential, but which came up short because of it’s inability to either fully embrace its traditional fairy tale values or its modern ones.
Rachel Redfern has an MA in English literature, where she conducted research on modern American literature and film and it’s intersection, however she spends most of her time watching HBO shows, traveling, and blogging and reading about feminism.