Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Peacock vs the Swan: Mirror, Mirror

(This post builds upon Walt Disney & the Brothers Grimm: A Comparative Analysis of Snow White). Tarsem Singh finds himself in an unenviable position with his newest release: Mirror, Mirror utilizes a vast array of visual signs and symbols, but critics have bashed his expertise as being merely eye candy; does he come through to deliver a powerful message, or does the visual banquet overwhelm the audience? If you are President Obama, you don't want this film to mean anything, because it speaks so loudly about financial woes, taxes, the politically disenfranchised, empty promises, vanity, arrogance and corruption, the whole country is bound to get up in arms and revolt, just like Snow White (needless to say, I really liked it!).  Why wouldn't, like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, retain an aspect of the original title, including the main character's name? Because the film seeks to "hold up a mirror" to this country so we will look into it; either we will be wise and see the parable intended, or, like the queen, we will be foolish and ignore the warnings.
I know there are times when people probably think I "go too far" with interpretations, or may be reading something into some tiny detail that you question; when a film participates in its own decoding, offering its own interpretation, we are invited to come a long for the ride, and every aspect of the structure and the choices made within the film reflect a complex commentary on the American political state today.
The evil queen (Julia Roberts) and Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) at the gala the queen throws to "Sweep this kid off his feet" so he will marry her and replenish her dwindling bank roll. She's been married five times. When Prince Alcott is first presented to the queen, he's stripped down to his underpants; that he has no shirt on shows how he can "bear all" because--unlike the queen--he's not hiding anything (as the queen hides what she did to the king and her murder of Snow White). This honesty is what the queen will consider to be trickery because honesty doesn't serve her purpose of staying in power; when the prince appears before her a second time without a shirt, he's even more honest with her and that only validates his virtue and his valor in being virtuous.
Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) has just arrived in the Evil Queen's kingdom (Julia Roberts) and to impress him, she throws a costume ball where the prince comes dressed as a white rabbit. When the queen sees him, she says, "The rabbit is a sign of trickery," and deception (the queen interpreting the prince's costume because costumes should be interpreted), and she's concerned what she should be thinking of him and she's right, because the prince's heart isn't with the queen at all, but with Snow White whom he met earlier that day and during the proceeding dance, the prince tricks each dancer who should be with Snow White into moving on so he can stay dancing with her. Even more importantly are the costumes the queen and Snow White are wearing: the queen's red and white peacock dress compared to Snow's all white swan dress.
Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott; this is a good shot of him because the prince is literally divided in half, one half to the queen, the other half to Snow White. How does Prince Alcott happen into the Evil Queen's kingdom? He's looking for an adventure and is mugged by the dwarfs. The adventure he's on is to demonstrate his heroism, and this adventure surely will do that, but only after he's been cleansed of his own political selfishness (thinking the dwarfs are unworthy to fight him, for example, because they are small); this can easily be put into political terms, because Prince Alcott, after being held up by the dwarfs, vows he will rid them of the queen's kingdom then gets held up by them again. It ends up, of course, that the dwarfs are the good guys, and the prince effectively "switching sides," mirrors members of the political party of the president who have also been switching sides and, instead of fighting the Republicans, joining them. Supposedly, in Snow White and the Huntsman, a similar episode takes place with the prince, he joins Snow White's army, but he hasn't been in any of the trailers, so we will have to see if--like Prince Alcott--he has an expanded role over the original and Walt Disney's version or if he's confined to the sidelines in favor of the Huntsman.
The peacock is the symbol of royalty and associated with pride and vanity; the swan, associated with water, is a more capable bird than a peacock (which can really only strut and just barely fly, and has that terrible screeching voice). The swan is comfortable flying, swimming or walking on the land; the swan, to many, is the essence of beauty and grace, which comes to represent Snow White. The queen's red dress, in her case, reveals her anger, because getting angry about things is the only thing she's good at (red is the color of anger). What's accomplished so well with this costume are the white peacock feathers: the tail feathers of the peacock are the birds signature glory, and the "bleaching" or whitening (which fits in well with the rest of the artificiality in the film) here lets us know that the beauty of the queen (like the peacock's feathers) is as dead as the feathers she wears (white symbolizes a decaying corpse in this context).
Another well done aspect of this costume are the eyes of the peacock incorporated into the design. The eyes are filled with rhinestones, so instead of the eyes symbolizing the queen's knowledge or wisdom, the "false gemstones" reveal to us the queen's inability to see where her bad decisions are leading her; but she does have the ability to see how to make money (she thinks, which is the only important thing). The head-piece the queen wears should be emphasizing her wisdom (the way the crown emphasizes the king's wisdom), but instead it draws our attention to how she blocks out wisdom and knowledge that others try to give her (for example, the face in the Magic Mirror warns her about the price to be paid for using magic but the queen doesn't care; Brighton [Nathan Lane], tries to tell the queen she's bankrupt but she refuses to accept that). If you will, please compare the sleeves (the top part, by her shoulder, sticking up with the holes in it); in Walt Disney's version, Snow White's sleeves were blue with red fabric peeking through the slits, meaning, symbolically, that Snow White's strength came from her wisdom (arms symbolize strength, blue is wisdom, and red is love) and that her love is what supported her wisdom; the queen's empty holes, that is, unsupported, means she herself is  as empty as the holes in her sleeves, having no love nor wisdom, two virtues which Snow White does possess.
You may rightly ask, then why doesn't Snow's all white swan dress symbolize a dead corpse, too?  The reason heroes are heroes and villains are villains is because the one possess virtue, the other vice; symbols (including colors) aid the audience in realizing why a hero has virtue or what in a villain is villainous. In the case of Snow's all white swan costume, she's alive with her purity and innocence and faith and those qualities will help her to "fly" when the queen can only strut. Why is this an important note to consider? Snow White takes an important walk in the film, the first time in years that she has been outside the castle, and when she goes into the village, she sees how the queen's lavish parties and lifestyle has cost the villagers, breaking them and starving them; enraged at this injustice gives Snow White wings (like the ones pictured on her below) to "fly in the  face of opposition" and do something about the trouble and financial ruin the queen has caused.
As noted previously, there are many comparisons, especially lately, to women as swans: Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightley) in Curse of the Black Pearl Pirates of the Caribbean, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) from Twilight and Miranda from Picnic at Hanging Rock (much older film). The elegance and beauty of swans fits women as a reference to their femininity, or what they should be and are not. In Snow White's case, she is. The top hat of the prince symbolizes that in his thoughts and actions, he is a gentleman, but the large ears also lets us know that he's listening to what the queen and Snow White are telling him, and he hears more than just their words. Does it really make him look ridiculous? The prince is very tall, so he's easy to see anywhere in the ballroom and the ears only accentuate his height further; that he's so tall is a sign of his own virtue: he stands out from the others, especially in the realm of morality and doing what's right. In this sense, because he's so "snow white" himself, he does look ridiculous, but only because the backdrop for the other guests at the gala are themselves so artificial that the prince looks out of place for this reason, but so, too, does Snow White. The prince wears a dark coat covering him down to his ankles, meaning, that he's completely "dead to himself" (the dark color) and that it completely covers him means he won't do anything on his own accord, but only because it's the right thing to do. For example, the prince dines with the queen, and just before she tells him that Snow White is dead, he rips off the frilly, lacy ends of his shirt sleeves given to him by the queen. Again, arms symbolize strength, and the prince knows the niceties of the court (the expensive lace) gets in his way of his purpose (eating) and impairs his ability (his ability to move).
A questionable aspect of the film is Snow White (having been locked in her room with nothing to do but read) wanting to change the storybook ending and, instead of the prince saving the princess, she wants the princess to save the prince; in essence, this is what always happens anyway, that's how a woman reveals herself to be a princess. As I said in the previous entry comparing the Brothers' Grimm version to Walt Disney's, the princess is the woman who has fought the spiritual battles the man can't (he is destined to fight the physical battles) and she comes out in the end the moral superior of other women and the evil that threatened her.  Prince Alcott is a brave fighter, and stands beside Snow White to help her fight, but the reason she must fight the beast herself is because the beast is within her (and it echoes Holy Mary having to fight The Beast as well). So this isn't a Feminist approach, rather, it's the traditional approach and a counter-cultural statement against the way society is progressing.
The first time we see the queen in the film, and when we learn just how much she hates Snow White and loves herself. This is also the moment the queen tells Snow White, "It's important to know when you've been beat." Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the changes Mirror, Mirror takes the original is the way the queen interacts with the Magic Mirror (when she looks into the Magic Mirror, it's not like the one in the Disney version, but like the Snow White: A Tale of Terror version when the queen (Sigourney Weaver) looks into the mirror and sees her own, younger and perfect face).  Why would this device be employed? Because it's about showing a ruler who wants to see themselves in a certain light, not as they really are, and that handicaps them from being able to rule wisely, just and fair... and effectively. When the queen summons the magic in the Mirror, she says only "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall," without finishing the famous incantation and that's a sign of her arrogance. But she passes through water (like an unholy, wicked baptism into the dark arts) and enters on a long pier of two dark, gray huts. Why? The beautiful queen is like the glamorous castle on the outside, but on the inside, she's as poor as the huts (houses and homes symbolize the soul) so she hasn't anything glamorous within her. We can be assured of this because of the way she uses people. When the "woman in the mirror" uses the wooden puppets to try and take out Snow White and the dwarfs, it's indicative of how she sees people: toys. If you don't see and foster your own dignity, you don't see dignity in others. When Snow White finally leaves the castle, she wears a hood the color of gold, because she knows her own dignity, she sees the dignity of the poorest people. Gold, to the queen, isn't about dignity, it's about wealth, and she uses the dignity of her beauty to gain more wealth, and hence, loses everything.
The film (like The Hunger Games) incorporates a highly artificial world against a natural world, so that we will be lead to compare and contrast. One aspect of the natural vs. the artificial is sexuality: Snow White has just turned 18 and has not yet had her first kiss (God bless her!) whereas the queen has all ready been married five times and preparing for the sixth; obviously, the queen's out of control, but the issue in the story reflects the overwhelming commentary on how and why the prince must be saved: bondage.
The first kiss, not only between them, but for Snow White. The prince is bound because he's under the spell of the puppy love potion hence, he's literally bound to the queen and he's lost his strength and free will. Why will love's first kiss release the prince from the spell? Because the kiss is the breath of life; whereas the queen sought to rob the prince of his money and his dignity, the kiss of life Snow White restores him and wants him to fulfill his destiny in terms of his moral standing and masculinity.  It's reversed from the Disney version (when the prince kisses Snow White and releases her from the spell) because that version is religious in nature, whereas Mirror, Mirror is political: Snow White signifies "the new America," and the prince is the new leadership and direction; their kiss is the genuine love and patriotism for the land as opposed to the ruthless rule of the queen (who is not the rightful ruler; more on this below under the song sung at the wedding of Snow White and the prince). An example that both the prince and Snow White are as wholesome as they appear to be is when the prince says Snow White's name, there is a sparkle on his tooth; later in the film, Snow White will say Prince Alcott's name, and she will have the same sparkle on her tooth. The teeth, of course, symbolize the appetites, and the "sparkling" white of their teeth mean that there is no stain of sin or evil desire in their desire for each other (there is no lust, only love) and that's why the first kiss is more potent than the queen's magic.
If Prince Alcott marries the queen, he will be doomed to becoming "her puppy." It's really not a joke, because the queen used up all the love potion in getting Snow White's father to fall in love with her, the only thing left to use is the "puppy love potion," yet the truth is, that's exactly what the queen wants, not a man, but a dog. When she throws something to have the prince fetch, it goes over the side and he looks into an abyss whining, because if he "fetches after the queen," that abyss is what his soul will become. That's what Snow White has to save the prince from, just as every woman must save every many from falling to an evil, worldly queen who will destroy him.
Snow White's father, the king (Sean Bean). Snow White's mother died in childbirth, but the king raised his daughter to one day lead their kingdom, but then fell under the black magic of the future queen (Julia Roberts); after marrying her, a dark magic fell over the land; riding into the forest one day to confront the evil, the king was never seen again. It ends up that the evil queen turned the king into the beast which terrorizes the people of the village, and controlling the beast, she's able to get rid of all political "undesirables," a term used by the dwarfs in the film which clearly references the socialist Nazis of World War II and Adolf Hitler's. So instead of the king doing his job of protecting the people, the queen enslaves the people to do her will.
Since the king is the rightful ruler, and the queen banishes him to the forest and turns him into a beast to terrorize instead of protect, lead and rule the people, the king really symbolizes the founding fathers of America. That which has been demonized (turned into the beast) has to be turned back into the king and rightful ruler again; how can I support this?
When Snow White first enters the cottage of the dwarfs, they tell her she has to become one of them; she asks, "I have to become a dwarf?" and the answer to that is yes, she does, because a ruler cannot be a ruler unless they identify with the "little people" of the kingdom so they can deliver justice. Throughout the film, the people exist to squeeze taxes from to support the queen's lifestyle, whereas Snow White has gone among them and gotten their money back. But the real moment of Snow White becoming "a dwarf" (someone with no political power) is when she's running from Brighton who is supposed to kill her (but has let her go) and knowing that she herself is now without any power, she has no one but "the little people" with whom to identify and we can be confident of this because she is running and hits her head on the sign at the dwarfs' cottage entry and it knocks her out (she enters into a state of despair over what's going to happen to her but the dwarfs literally revive her and her spirit; she faces despair again when she leaves a note for the dwarfs telling them she is going to leave).  The reason the dwarfs' cottage has oak leaves on the walls throughout is because that's the only thing still living in the kingdom (the trees are all dead from winter) but in the dwarfs' cottage, they have kept alive within them what real political liberty and freedom means and that's the place Snow White finds refuge.
Well, I don't think I am the only one observing that the Constitution (the ultimate symbol of the identity and rule of the land has wisely bequeathed to us by the founding fathers) has been demonized by the current political administration, because in January of last year, it was decided by the GOP to read the Constitution aloud as a guiding principle for the upcoming political terms. Given there are 21 impeachable offenses against President Obama's acts against the Constitution, seeing a political film in which the founding father has been turned into a monster by an unlawful ruler (Obama), and needs to be saved is a clever method of commentary.
The kingdom where Snow White is destined to rule but has turned into a barren, never-ending winter. In the bottom, left-hand corner is a black area, that is the wedding party for the queen's sixth wedding to Prince Alcott and to the right of that, still on the lake, is the queen's wedding procession arriving to get married. Once the spell over the king has been broken, the kingdom comes back to life.
There's an excellent chance that you believe I am just reading my own political position into the film, and being too hard on President Obama. There are the facts, however, about his political woes which are "mirrored" by the film: America's credit has been downgraded for the first time in history, government has shut down several times and the deficit is at an all time escalating high, and he wants to continue spending money, just like the queen, and none of it actually has done any good (but that hasn't stopped him from taking vacations). When the queen arrives at her wedding, the gentry want her deposed because her administration can't administer justice; does Obama administer justice, or does he run over it, like the queen?
Who else has gotten too big for their britches as they are hoping for a "new marriage" that will assure they can continue to rule? The metaphor is an apt comparison for how "big" government has become and can't fit into the new dress for the upcoming "wedding" in November's elections.
The next question is, is the queen really that bad? We know the queen is rotten because, when she's getting ready for her wedding, she goes through "the treatment." It really invokes Demi Moore and "leaching," with bird poop smeared on the queen's face, a bee sting on her lips to make them larger, a scorpion sting, worms and all kinds of nasty things put on her because to her, those are the things that make her beautiful, but to us, we see her beauty as being only skin deep and that skin deep comes from nasty bugs and filth, compared to Snow White's natural beauty which comes from faith, purity, innocence and genuine love for all people.
The queen arriving to her sixth wedding, this one to Prince Alcott. Let's talk about the strange outfits her guards wear, first. The castle of the kingdom overlooks a lake, and that lake has been frozen ever since the queen got rid of the king. When the queen consults her Magic Mirror, she steps into a wall of water to enter another dimension then comes out some place completely different, through water, so water is an element associated with the queen (she also sits upon a sea-shell like throne when we first see her). The gold masks of the guards are very much like the creature face from The Creature From the Black Lagoon and, since she herself is surrounded by them, we might say that instead of the woman carried off by the creature of the black lagoon, the queen is the creature carrying off a prince. In this shot, her all white dress means that she is thoroughly dead, nothing is left alive in her and that is apparent from action she decides to take.
While I contend the film is about the need to depose Obama just as the evil queen is deposed, and the rightful rulers be returned with the king (the founding fathers) being the source of justice, the film provides us with an imperative lesson, and one we absolutely must heed (and this is where knowing the two past versions will aid us in discerning this lesson).  When the audience first sees Snow White and the queen interacting, the queen tells Snow White, "It's important to know when you've been beat," and in the end, after Snow and the prince are married, and the (deposed) queen makes her last attempt at regaining power (pictured below) the queen offers Snow the poisoned apple from which Snow has to take only one bite; Snow doesn't take the bite, but looks at the queen and tells her, "It's important to know when you've been beat," letting us know that, actually, Snow White did bite the poisoned apple, because Snow is now (slowly and only a little, but definitely) stooping to the kind of arrogance the queen would have displayed, and that poison from the apple is the potential for a "stain" upon Snow White; in political terms, if the Republicans are going to win back the government in the November elections, they had better not  do to the Democrats what they did to the Republicans, or there will be the same problems we have had the last four years.
Snow White and the prince have just been married and all is happy and prosperous again; the evil (deposed) queen comes in this brown cloak and offers Snow White the apple and to take "just one bite." The design of Snow White's dress invokes the original story from the Brothers Grimm when, therein, the evil queen had tempted Snow White with bodice laces that the queen cinched up so tight, Snow White couldn't breathe and it wasn't until the dwarfs returned and freed her that she was saved. Snow White's wedding dress is more than a wedding dress for Prince Alcott; it symbolizes how Snow White has wedded wisdom (the blue) and purity (the white) but also she has wedded herself to vitality and growth (the orange bow). In the beginning of the film, Snow White gives a slice of apple to a bird as a sign of her willingness to share, but in the end, when she gives a slice of the poisoned apple and offers it to the queen, it's a "taste of her own medicine," and dishing out what the queen dished out to her. This is the lesson that Republicans cannot do what has been done to them, but must take the high road.
This act of arrogance on behalf of Snow White (which, again, serves as a lesson for us all to heed), should have been picked up on in the very first few lines of the film: the original Grimm Brothers' version stated that Snow White's hair was as dark as the ebony frame of the window her mother was looking through when she first wished for the little girl, after pricking her finger and a drop of blood falling onto snow; in Mirror, Mirror, the "redness" of Snow White's traditional features are never mentioned (a vague reference to a strawberry only) instead of black as ebony for her hair, her hair is either dark as night or "raven," to use the queen's expression. Ebony is a black wood, when polished, very shiny and ornamental, a luxury; the queen in the Grimm Brothers' version looked through a window framed in ebony, and that wood is the Wood of the Cross and the window is the window of contemplation and self-realization, so a child who would be a perfect Christian and exercise all the values of Christ. But Mirror, Mirror, changes this.

At the beginning of the film, the castle in the snow globe could be taken as Snow White's world, sheltered, since she's locked up; by the end of the  film, however, the snow globe means that the kingdom is now her world and she's going to protect it from anyone who would want to harm it.
 That her hair is likened to a raven, by the queen, means that the queen believes Snow White has thoughts of death towards the queen (the raven is the opposite of the dove, a symbol for death); that those who love Snow White say her hair is black as night, refer to the darkness of her trails, the loss of her father, being locked in her room, ordered to death by the queen... while still admirable, it's not quite as meaningful as the original, and that was intentional. (The lack of "redness" attributed to Snow White in Mirror, Mirror, reflects an unwillingness to be martyred; that Napoleon the dwarf puts a strawberry upon her lips means that her love comes for the "sweet things" in life; politically, that demonstrates how we as Americans have lost the "sweet things" in life and are seeking after them once more).
Part of this can be contributed to the dwarfs, who are thieves, and what have they stolen? Snow White who would have advanced in greater virtue had she been given the chance, but  the dwarfs are not "the masters of the house" as the dwarfs are in the original tale, nor the miners in Walt Disney's version, so Snow White becomes like what she is living with: a thief, and is threatened with digressing further because she missed out on the sleep of death meant to further perfect her and she's slowly, at the end, turning into the "mirror image" of the queen.
The closing song of Mirror, Mirror has struck some people has odd, but given the way the last scene plays out, I think it's quite appropriate. I Believe (In Love) appears to be about the triumph of Snow White's and the prince's love, but more importantly, it's about people loving their country and believing that the Constitution is still the law of the land and this country still has a future (but not a socialist one):
In conclusion, Mirror, Mirror contains timely encouragement for those of us hoping to depose Obama in November, but also lessons on not doing what we complain about the Democrats doing; if we want to return to the natural world of dancing and singing as it was, then we must put far from us the cynicism of the Democrats (characterized by the queen's sarcasm in the story) and not treat them as they have treated us: locking us in the political closet as Snow White was locked up in her room.
An example of the artificiality the film presents and the unnaturalness of the people under the queen's reign. Why does Mirror, Mirror do this? For eye candy and spectacular visual effects? No, because this is how unnatural people are under Obama's reign.  The unnaturalness of the costume (their hair, for example, which symbolizes thoughts and thinking) reflects unnatural sexuality (the man on the left proposes marriage to the queen in the opening scenes, so sexuality can definitely be associated with him and unnatural sexuality because the queen talks about how much older he is than she is, which is also unnatural and when the queen proposes marriage to Prince Alcott, he mentions how much older she is than he himself, which is also unnatural). The support of the unnatural "gay marriage" movement, as well as abortion, are all unnatural, because only the evil queen doesn't want children (having been married five times, she must be using the black magic of birth control to keep herself from having children and hence, thin [like Scarlet O'Hara getting into her corset in Gone With the Wind and not wanting anymore children]). But this can also symbolize the unnaturalness of turning America from a capitalist country into a socialist country.