Friday, March 30, 2012

Mirror Mirror [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Mirror Mirror (directed by Tarsem Singh, screenplay by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller) is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm [IMDb] fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves [IMDb] (Grimm's-text/Eng trans).

The film follows the longstanding tradition of putting traditional fairy tales on the screen and then revisiting them as times and culture/tastes change.  Over the past several years, there have been several such re-tellings/re-imaginings of popular Grimm fairy tales.  These have included Disney's Tangled [2011], the Twilight-feeling Red Riding Hood [2011] (and for good reason as it was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who also directed the original Twilight [2008] film) and even Hanna [2011] which does not recall any particular Grimm Fairy Tale but makes use of a number of such fairy tales' conventions.  Of these fairy tale re-tellings, Mirror Mirror's lightness and nod to the broad cultural shift toward female empowerment makes it closest in spirit to Tangled [2011] or perhaps Enchanted [2007].

Regarding this cultural shift, I've found it almost universal.  Even the otherwise most conservative/traditionalist of parents want their daughters to be happy and to succeed.  IMHO, a beautiful 3 1/2 minute encapsulation of what has happened in the United States over the last generation and what really has happened all around the world can be found in pop/country singer Carrie Underwood's song/video All American Girl [2008]).

This spirit then can be found in this re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale.  First and foremost, Snow (played by Lily Collins) no longer particularly needs Prince Charming (the very regally named "Prince Alcott" in the film and played by Armie Hammer) to "save her."  She does just fine on her own and arguably saves the hunky if not particularly bright prince a few times.

Indeed, the Prince's "hunkiness" makes-up part of the story's retelling.  He is "Prince charming" after all ;-).  And even the Evil Queen/Step-Mother (played WONDERFULLY throughout by Julia Roberts) asks at Prince Alcott at one point (who she's also scheming to marry) to "put a shirt on ... it's just so ... distracting" ;-).  Why didn't the Prince have a shirt on?  Well, he keeps getting attacked and bested by the Dwarfs (quite literally "the little people" ... ;-) whenever he enters the woods, and they keep "taking his clothes" :-).  So he keeps coming back to the castle with just his "long johns" on ;-).

Then, why are the Dwarfs in the woods anyway?  Well they, again literally "the little people," had been literally "marginalized," that is kicked out of the village by the Evil Queen / Step-mother as "undesirable."  So besides being short, the Dwarfs are also multiracial, more blue-collarish ("Half-Pint" played by Mark Povinelli who is otherwise easily as hunky as Prince Alcott if only 3 feet tall...), and at least one of them, "Napoleon" (played by Jordon Prentice), is "gay-ish."  Why would the Dwarves go by names like "Half Pint" and "Napoleon?" Well it was Disney that invented the Dwarfs' names like Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy and so forth in the 1937 classic.  And so there it is ...

I am positive that some people will not like some of the re-imagining done in this film.  But there is a fascinating and indeed FUN logic to it.  (I also liked the insight in the recent Red Riding Hood movie about the grandmother in that story.  Why would "grandma live in the woods, far from the village" in that story?  Well, according to that movie, she was kind of an "out there" new agey, half-witchy, wierdo ;-).

So I get the "dwarf" Napoleon.  Remember that some 5% of any population (except apparently in Iran ... ;-) is gay.  Pretty much every adult knows, works with, or otherwise is friends with someone or even a bunch of folks who are gay.  Again, times have changed and the gays not only in the United States but throughout the whole world are rightfully refusing to remain "in the closet" or (in the metaphor of this film) "marginalized, out in the woods" anymore.

Further, the marginalized often end up being the most creative in society.  So one could complain "Why are these previously marginalized, indeed, often invisible people appearing now in so many of our films?"  Well, welcome to our actual world/society.

And this then meshes quite well with the scene that I personally found most irritating in the film: At the end of the film, Snow's father, the King (played by Sean Bean), comes back after "many years away" and marries-off Snow and the Prince.  In doing so, he says "By the power vested in me, by ... me <laughs> ... I pronounce you ..."  Thirty years ago, the King's character would have said "By the power vested in me by God ..."  Now one could get upset about this (and initially I was ;-) but then one needs to consider that the director, Tarsem Singh, is of Indian descent.  It'd be a lot to force someone of Indian descent to apply "traditional Western/Christian terminology" to the film that he's making when he himself is not of Western/Christian extraction.

So we live in a pluralistic society and in a pluralistic world.  And with that we do have to accept language will often be different from what we'd prefer.  But we also gain much by accepting the gifts of others.  In the case of this film, Tarsem Singh gives viewers a true "Bollywood ending" with an extravagant happy dance number involving pretty much the whole cast at the end.

Would I recommend the film to others?  Sure. It's cute, it's nice and it is of our times.

The presence of the "gayish" dwarf Napoleon may irritate some.  But my sense is that virtually all families in the United States are dealing with (and yes accepting) homosexual siblings, cousins, nephews, coworkers, friends etc already.  And Napoleon is merely among the other previously marginalized "little people" in the film who were "chased out of the village and into the woods by the Evil Queen" because he/they were "different."  So yes, it may be irritating to some.  But then, imagine if you were one of the "marginalized" in the past (gay or "merely" of the wrong skin color/ethnicity ...).

Inclusion is a "Sign of the Times."  At times it may seem like a real challenge.  On the other hand it also protects us.  If we truly believe that we all come from the same Creator and hence are brothers and sisters to each other, then it becomes harder to exclude/marginalize _us_ as well.  For there are always plenty of folks who would like to "push us aside"/marginalize _us_ and for any number of reasons: too big, too short, too skinny, too fat, too this way, too that way ... But (if we believe) God remains the Father of us all.

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  1. Excellent review and I love the social analysis that you did on this film. I'm looking forward to seeing it!

  2. Good commentary again, Father. You really hit some good ideas in pointing out that the dwarfs illustrate the politically disenfranchised. I wish I'd noticed that!

  3. Thanks folks! I learned how to do this (analyze the symbolism/archetypes in stories and therefore films) while writing my final thesis in the seminary. Fairy Tales, Sci-Fi Fantasy, Comic Book/Superhero stories all fun to analyze in this way ;-). Note that one doesn't have to agree with a particular author's use of symbolism but I do believe that it's very useful to analyze the symbolism present. Such analysis helps us to understand why particular stories/types catch our attention/are attractive to us.