Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle, beyond the goblin city…
These words still gives me chills, and a latent feeling I should really remember them in case I need to face off with David Bowie.
I can certainly see why they are loved by Sarah, the heroine of the 1980s movie Labyrinth. At the beginning she says them dramatically while prancing around the park in a princess dress, taking the silliness seriously as only true theater people can. Her whimsical self resents that she has to come home and babysit her brother, and hates that he took her stuffed animal out of its appointed place.
Her fantasies come to bite her in the butt, however, when she wishes goblins would come take her little brother. To find him again she must go through a bewildering, ever-changing Labyrinth before her final showdown with Bowie, the Goblin King himself.
Along the way she encounters scenes by now classic in their own right: the talking hands, the riddling doors, the bog of eternal stench. She makes cute friends and dances with the heads of fire monsters in a song that always feels like it goes on two minutes too long.
To save her brother, however, she must do more than get through a maze and long song. She has to move beyond her childhood room by realizing some of it is junk, she has to reject a fantasy of herself dancing with David Bowie at a masquerade ball – all to accept the real life job of caretaker.
I’ve always thought of the movie as a classic coming of age, and of course it is. But really it isn’t simply that Sarah must reject her fantasy or even her childhood. After all, at the end she calls all her fantasy characters back for a dance and a romp. Rather, what Sarah must get beyond is a stubborn insistence on things being the way she thinks they should.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie comes after she whines to the Goblin King that something isn’t fair, and he replies, “you say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”
It goes without saying my children have quickly tired of hearing me say that one.
Sarah resents that things aren’t working out the way she has thought that they “should.” But where does this notion of “should” come from? Just her previous notions, formed largely as a child. Her stuffed animal “should” be in its place. Paths “should” stay straight. But the Labyrinth doesn’t care about her “should”’s – and neither does life.
It all comes to a head at the end, when the Goblin King explains to Sarah that all the awful things he has done have actually been according to her wishes.
Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked that child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, and I was frightening. I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me.
(Now he didn’t sing “Dance Magic Dance” at her request, in his magnificent pants and wig, goblins leaping all around, but I’m going to say that one was for our benefit.)
When Sarah finally stands up to him, and says the long-anticipated lines that finish her first quote, the ones she always forgets, it’s tremendously satisfying: “For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me.”
But this is no Handmaid’s Tale moment. David Bowie is not the patriarchy (that should go without saying!). He is the manifestation of her own fantasies, of her world the way she thought it “should” be. She is actually telling herself that she can move on – her super ego is taking over her id.
That’s still growing up, but it’s an even more mature version of growing up than throwing away old dolls. Keep them or not, quote princesses in park if you like, but they are only props, not the whole stage. Life won’t conform to the stories you’ve told yourself, so realize the stories for what they are and be open to new ones.
It brings to mind the excellent song in season 4 of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, where Josh Groban comes in randomly to sing to a crestfallen Rebecca (the main character):
So this is the end of the movie, Whoa, whoa, whoa
But real life isn’t a movie…No, no, no
You want things to be wrapped up neatly the way that stories do
You’re looking for answers but answers aren’t looking for you
Because life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time
It’s not some carefully crafted story, it’s a mess, and we’re all gonna die
If you saw a movie that was like real life you’d be like, “What the hell was that movie about? “It was really all over the place.” Life doesn’t make narrative sense.
In that spirit of being open to rejecting our old stories and “should”s, and accepting the new ones life throws our way (I for one really hope Josh Groban is in my new story!), I get into Half Lord of the Fishes pose. It’s a twist in which you have one leg folded over the other, fairly comfortably. But your arm is perched on one side of your leg, with her hand up and gaze looking away. You are basically waving hi to your new possibilities.
So whenever you are in this pose, think of yourself turning away from the things that no longer serve you – possessions, maybe, or ideas or even beliefs. Or just think of yourself in a princess dress dancing with a masked David Bowie. That works too!