*Mild Spoilers, as the skeleton of the story remains true to the original*
As soon as I saw the trailer for Snow White & the Huntsman, months ago, I was looking forward to seeing it. No, not because of Kristen Stewart, rather in spite of her ‘charms’. As you may or may not have noticed, we don’t link to the Twilight Series under our Recommended Books section. I was excited to see this movie because it looked like it would actually deliver on its visual imagery and preview-promises: a rich telling of Grimm’s Snow White, with grit, violence, intriguing back stories and perhaps even, dare I hope for it, a feminist twist? After seeing it this weekend, it definitely hit some of these marks, although my own personal high hopes led to disappointment as well. But, as we are a blog that focuses on the positive when it comes to narratives featuring a female lead, I’ll reference the shortfalls of the movie, but not linger there (for a dishy take on the pros and cons of the movie that made me laugh out loud, check out Bitch Stole My Remote’s review).
Snow White & the Huntsman is indeed dark, excavating the original myth behind Snow White; there are scenes of sparrow hearts, shriveled victims of the queen, an eerie relationship between brother and sister, references to sexual abuse, and very real loss. One of my favorite sequences was the opening that depicted Snow White’s mother as she wanders in the castle garden in the midst of harsh winter. The cinematography for this movie was breathtaking. While the story remains a fairy tale, the world feels tangible, like it could have happened in our own past. Just because I’m a fan of fantasy, doesn’t mean that I want my fantasy worlds to be aestheticized utopias, which is where Snow White hits the bullseye and gets it right (except for a strange and sort of awkward scene in a fairy glen, that is thankfully disrupted).
I was particularly drawn to the story of the wicked queen, Ravenna. When we first meet her, she’s filthy, chained up in a wagon, chattel for the marauding army waging war on the outskirts of Snow White’s kingdom. Of course, she has set up this little farce to ensnare the king, and we learn that she has an unending hunger to take things away from men in positions of power, which means essentially every man is a target. She sees young women as a threat to her position and so harvests their youth, like flowers collecting in a greenhouse. I really appreciated the attention given to explaining how Ravenna got to this point, it drew me deeper in to the story.
I only wish the director and screenwriters would have taken as much care with Snow White. Her journey to the point of savior for her kingdom is presented to the viewer, more as a natural fact instead of a transition she’s had to struggle to achieve. She’s treated as a prophesied chosen one, as opposed to a young woman of personal agency who decides to make a change. That’s not to say that this Snow White doesn’t make some decisions and moves on her own (K-Stew, I’m throwing you a bone here), because she does, it’s just that I would have loved to see even more of these moments. At least her fairness is articulated in this film by her inner beauty, which is repeatedly reinforced when she is overlooked for her features, but acknowledged when she demonstrates great sensitivity to those around her. It would still be great if Hollywood understood that yes, we want more female heroines, but we don’t need them to seem completely invincible and pure, every step of the way.
Overall, Snow White & the Huntsman moved at least somewhat closer to that vanishing point on the horizon line that is my ideal triple threat: the ultimate Feminist Fantasy Film. There’s a moment in the movie when I was worried they’d make Snow White choose a suitor, either the huntsman or the prince to shepherd her along through her reign. Thankfully, Snow White makes no such choice and instead there is a lingering tension between her and the huntsman that remains unresolved. We are at least given this gesture as a small peace offering to strong willed, independent women everywhere. I’ll take what I can get, with hopes that if the rumored sequel comes to fruition, we can see a mature, self-possessed Snow White perhaps in the vein of Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue. Hollywood needs to take notes.