Sunday, June 3, 2012

Three Drops Of Blood: Snow White and the Huntsman

This image is particularly interesting because of the positioning of the knife, suggesting--quite plainly--that Ravenna (Charlize Theron) seeks not just beauty everlasting, but total power as well, because the knife takes on the role of a phallic symbol, meaning that Ravenna isn't just jealous of other women and their beauty/youth, but she is also jealous of men and their penis with the power it represents. Given that she uses her looks to seduce men, we shouldn't be surprised that she would want to castrate men (the knife) and make them unable to seduce her, or that she would want to exchange the power of her sexuality for the "real" power of a monarch and the state. Why is this important? Besides just making Ravenna a bad person who wants to kill her step-daughter, it also makes her a kind of hermaphrodite, a blurring of both genders, just as her person becomes blurred with the black ravens we see in this image.
(This post builds off Walt Disney & the Brothers Grimm: A Comparative Analysis Of Snow White and The Peacock vs the Swan: Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts, released earlier this year).
Snow White and the Huntsman: you should see this film regardless that it suffers from some script deficiencies, on one hand, yet is exceedingly interesting because of the script on the other. While some critics support the film as a Feminist Manifesto, it's because Snow White and the Huntsman is one more in a growing number of contemporary artistic depictions of new defenses of traditional masculinity and responsibility that I support it. What dialogue there is is good, there just isn't enough of it, with the exception of Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). The script does have a good structure, balancing and mirroring various aspects of the plot to demonstrate how both the queen and Snow White (Kristen Stewart) are opposite ends of the spectrum, leading us to another characteristic of the script I wasn't expecting: its reliance upon traditional spirituality to depict good and evil.
So, is the film pro-capitalist or pro-socialist? It's anti-status quo.  The dwarfs have a two-fold significance, as they did in the Grimm Brothers' original tale, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Mirror, Mirror. The dwarfs are unemployed, having once been the royal gold miners, meaning, because Queen Ravenna did away with the king and all of the upper class, there is no one the dwarfs can mine for now, so they became bandits, robbing and pillaging, dreaming of the men they once were and hoping to become that once again. This important fact of their identity establishes why they are the ones who, "little people" though they are (politically disenfranchised, having no stature in society) they are the ones who storm the castle first (going through the sewers to get in as Snow White went through the sewers to get out) and they are the ones who "combined weight" is able to lift the gates so Snow White's force can get through the castle defenses. The "power of the little people" is the first to join Snow White and recognize her as the legitimate ruler of the kingdom and it's with the sword of a dwarf the Snow White kills the evil queen.
The Queen.
Why does evil do, what evil does?
For Ravenna (we'll discuss her name in a moment) her beauty is her life, when she ceases to be beautiful, she ceases to be. Unlike the queen in the Grimm Brothers' version, the Disney and Mirror, Mirror versions, who all wanted to be beautiful for the sake of beauty, when Ravenna ceases being beautiful to men she can manipulate and suck dry of their power, she will die (more on this below in the spiritual allegory section). Snow White and the Huntsman is ultimately a tale of two types of leaders: the leader who has the appearance of power and prestige, and the leader who is power because of purity of intention. Everything she does, she does to stay alive, which is her sole occupation, bringing us to the "Feminist agenda" of the film.
Ravenna in her "wedding dress" as she walks down the church aisle to become the queen and glancing back at little Snow White behind her. Oscar winner costume designer Coleen Atwood talked in an interview about the "boning" used to make the sleeves of the dress to emphasize the queen's affinity to death and this scene brings it out. As the beautiful bride walks with everyone looking at her and approving of her beauty, Ravenna becomes jealous that they are instead looking at Snow White. Now we can understand why it's fitting that she has bones around her shoulders. Shoulders symbolize what weighs us down, our burdens (they are also part of our arms, which symbolize strength, so there is an interesting balance in characters between what keeps them down, what they have to struggle against, and what gives them strength). Ravenna's burden is her fear of death which is always bringing her in contact with death (those she kills and destroys to stay young). It's interesting to compare and contrast Ravenna with Emily Hamilton from The Raven:  Emily used the boning from her corset to help free her from a coffin and being buried alive, but Ravenna's dress enslaves her and buries her alive.
Many critics, as I noted, identify Ravenna with Feminism and that reveals the "death" qualities of the way of thinking. I know many Feminists will immediately jump to arms and argue with me about this, but I really don't care. As I hope to demonstrate the false images of masculinity the film confronts below in our discussion of William and the Huntsman, the film also confronts false femininity. Feminism, as a theory and social movement, views the world through the eyes of power structures (as did Zoey in The Dictator):  either the balance of power is fairly distributed, or it's unevenly exercised by men.
Ravenna's wedding dress, it looks beautiful, until you realize what it's made of.
In Dark Shadows, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) asks Victoria what she thinks of the equality of the sexes, and Victoria responds that men shouldn't be made equal to women because then they would become unmanageable; as long as women hold a greater advantage in the power struggle, then, it's okay for power to be one-sided, but not if that side falls to men. Having said this, we can understand the problems of Ravenna a little better. 
Young Greta, one of the few females in the village which the vampire-esque Ravenna hasn't drained of life, until now. Ravenna sucks out the youth and vitality of Greta, which will turn Greta into a little old lady, but once the queen has died, Greta will be restored to her youthfulness. Like a black hole, Ravenna has drained the countryside of all its resources and people; has someone else in the country been draining the economy and resources? Please note, also, the metal contraption on her thumb (which, instead of jewels, she wears on her hands). This is also an accurate depiction of what Feminists do to other women: no one oppresses women like Feminists, because Feminists don't let women really chose what they want to do, Feminists try to force women into traditionally male-dominated roles, instead of letting women who want to fulfill traditionally feminine roles do what they want (for example, stay home and raise their children). Just as Ravenna destroys young Greta above, so, too, does modern-day Feminism destroy young women.
Just as Ravenna lives only for herself, not giving birth to a child and seeking only power, so Feminists with their pro-abortion agenda and concern with societal power structures do the same. Ravenna's self-centered lifestyle drains the culture of life--because Ravenna takes life instead of giving it--so the whole land, like Ravenna's own body, becomes barren. At one point, before she realizes she has to kill Snow White, we see a whitish, watery substance coming out of the mouths of the gargoyle statues along the castle and being eagerly collected by the poor of the town. Ravenna mocks them, remembering when her and Finn were poor like that, too. Well, then why doesn't she do something to help them, knowing what that poverty is like? That's the sign of evil, a particular feminine evil because the milky substance invokes the nurturing quality of motherhood that the queen has foregone in favor of herself (we'll juxtapose this against the women of the lake village who scarred themselves for their children).
How does the queen come to be the queen? Like the original tale, after the death of Snow White's mother, the real queen, the king was heartbroken; taking advantage of his depression, a strange army attacked, driving him to war. After a phantom army was defeated, a wagon was found in which a beautiful young woman was kept prisoner. So taken by Ravenna's beauty was the king, that he married her the next day. In the image above, she bends over the paralyzed body of the king on their wedding night. As he initiated their consummation, he whispers, "You will be the ruin of me," and she replies, "I was ruined by a king like you" and speaks of how "men use women" as the king falls under a spell causing the veins in his face to protrude and he can't move. Ravenna then stabs him in the heart and proceeds to open the castle to her real army and takes control. It's a very graphic reversal of the marriage act: instead of the king's body entering into Ravenna's body to, hopefully, beget life, Ravenna's knife enters into the king to beget death. This is ultimately the power reversal in social and political relations that Feminists seek.
It's typical in re-visions of Snow White to attribute a cannibalistic tendency to the evil queen, depicting graphically how the queen robs the world of life whereas Snow White gives life. Queen Ravenna is seen eating the heart of a bird, and told by the Mirror that if she eats the heart of Snow White, she will have immortality (more on this regarding Snow White's character below). In the Disney version, the huntsman--instead of bringing the queen the heart of Snow White as proof that he has killed her--brings the queen the heart of a pig. That doesn't happen in Snow White and the Huntsman, but it doesn't need to. In The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) had dissected a human heart which a raccoon named Karl then proceeded to eat. Hearts--regardless of whether they are human or animal--don't tend be be eaten in films very often, so when two films share the same unusual act, we should take note (please see The Raven & the Raccoon: Edgar Allan Poe & Karl Marx).
So, why does the queen eat hearts?
Perhaps the second most interesting character in the film is the Magic Mirror. In the Walt Disney version, when the evil queen summons the voice of the mirror, she calls it "Slave in the mirror," and in Snow White and the Huntsman, it's Ravenna who is the slave to the Mirror. As Ravenna imprisons Snow White in the tower, so Ravenna imprisons herself within the flat surface of the highly polished gold surface from which the god of the mirror comes forth to answer her. When we first see the Mirror, it's a large, flat disk with only a slight inversion in the very middle, just like an enormous cymbal of a drum set, and like a cymbal, the mirror is a "symbol" for the queen's interior life: flat. The Mirror, then, is the opposite of the White Hart symbolizing Snow White's interior life: the Hart is living, the Mirror only appears to be living; the Hart blesses Snow White, the Mirror curses the queen with knowledge of her demise and withering beauty; the Hart lets Snow White see what her destiny is, the Mirror shows the queen how to hasten her own ruin by committing the atrocities of killing and black magic. When the Mirror "appears" to the queen, it comes out in a kind of thick, liquid form, like melted gold, pooling on the floor and rising up to a hooded human form (above) because that's how the pronouncements of the Mirror are, they come out merely as words that Ravenna gives meaning to ("body" symbolic of the structure of her understanding that she is fairest in the land, so she will live another day, etc.). The mirror "reflects" the other statues within the queen's court room, hooded religious figures like the famous ascetic monks and hermits from the early history of the British Isles, but their natural stone figures counter the "fool's gold" of the Mirror because Ravenna pursues that which will fade and pass, unlike the true gold of heaven the saints pursued.
The heart is the seat of the soul, to devour the heart is to--at least allegorically--devour the soul. This might seem like a stretch, but when Snow White confronts the queen towards the end and Ravenna steps into a fire pit, her skin blistering from the heat but no apparent harm coming to her, and she exclaims, "I will give this wretched world the queen it deserves!" you believe she's the devil. Which adds an interesting dimension to her ability to "heal wounds," such as those her brother Finn receive (or herself, for that matter). It's not so much that she can heal, as she can undo the good that has been done by a person in trying to stop her and her evil.
Another fabulous example of the queen's perversity: the royal milk bath. Well, we can't be sure it is milk, it has such a thick viscosity, unlike the milk we are used to seeing. The thickness of this milk, against the thin, watery milk we just saw coming out of the mouths of the gargoyles to the poor townspeople below demonstrates how Ravenna is keeping the best for herself, which is not a typical female virtue. Whereas a mother is supposed to give milk to her young, the queen bathing in it shows how she tries to cover up her black soul to be "white" like snow. As Ravenna goes into this "bath" her selfishness only makes her dirtier and more evil, while Snow White (as in The Shawshank Redemption) takes a "bath" in the sewer but comes out cleaner for it because it's an act of faith, and precedes the even greater act of faith in going into the Dark Forest.
For example, a young man and an old man are brought in before her for ambushing her supply train; the young man takes a guard's knife and stabs Ravenna in the stomach (an act that could be said to be like an abortion, because of the "evil fruit" Ravenna has borne as queen, barrenness, and an attempt to undo what she has done) and Ravenna immediately "heals" herself from it. The evil within Ravenna is stronger than the good in the young man, it still hurts her, that's why she requires the life from the heart of the young man to re-generate her beauty (invoking Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom). Snow White's purity and innocence, however, is far stronger than Ravenna's evil, hence, the reason Ravenna can't overcome her except in Snow White's one momentary weakness when she kisses "William."
Finn in the background, the queen's brother and henchman the way the Huntsman is Snow White's guardian. He has two important characteristics: his hair and a scar on his forehead. His hair, pale and in a Dutch boy cut, indicates his immaturity, literally, his lack of development. When he goes into Snow White's prison to fetch her for the queen, Snow White makes the comment that he watches her but never comes inside the prison, indicating for us--as he touches her--his frustrated sexual development that has been re-directed towards carrying out evil on behalf of his sister. White is the color of faith, innocence, purity, but also the color of a corpse, a body devoid of a soul animated by those virtues. Finn's unnatural sexual desire for Snow White makes him willing to turn her over to the queen so she can be killed  because watching her die then becomes the climax of his desire for her (the domination of her through her death). Just as Ravenna reversed the "marriage act" with Snow White's father, so Snow White reverses it with Finn: although she's lying in bed, the nail she uses isn't a phallic symbol of her own power--like the knife Ravenna uses on the king--rather the twisted, rusty, bent nail is a recognition of Finn's phallic power over her, and her "reaching" for this knowledge through the window of meditation, allows her to "expose" what Finn wants with her to "deface him" (she uses the nail to scratch his face) freeing her from her prison (more on her imprisonment below).
Why does the queen's magic not work in the "Dark Forest?"
Ravenna is named for an ancient Italian city that was, for quite some time, the seat of Christian rule in the early Dark Ages. Importantly, it's the famous medieval forest of Ravenna which inspired the forest in the beginning of Dante's The Divine Comedy (and Ravenna the city is mentioned by name in Canto 5 of Inferno). The Dark Forest symbolizes, as in Dante's work, the inner labyrinth of sin and darkness within a person that we must each overcome; because Ravenna does not use her Mirror for proper reflecting and self-meditation, rather, for the application of her power and appetites, Ravenna fears the Dark Forest because she fears seeing what lies beneath her own facade of evil, which leads us to the only character who has been through the Dark Forest: the Huntsman.
The importance of the Huntsman to the story can be surmised by the fact that he is also the narrator of the story. In a unique and well-played twist, Mirror, Mirror had the queen (Julia Roberts) telling the story, not Snow White and the importance of the voice speaking the words carries over to this film as well: instead of a wealthy, corrupt ruler telling the story, it's a poor, working, broken man telling the story, a man usually confined to the margins of the audience's attention.
We discover that the Huntsman is the only one who has been into the Dark Forest and came out and that he would rather be killed by the queen's guards than return. The queen's promised reward to the Huntsman is to bring back his wife, resurrect her from the dead; Finn spills that his sister can't; why not? The Huntsman's wife's life went to fueling Ravenna's power and beauty like all the other murdered women in the village; to bring the wife back from the dead would be to relinquish power all ready spent and that, for Ravenna, would require an act of love, of which she is incapable. This "economy" of evil is important to note because of how it is used against Snow White and how Snow White uses it against Ravenna.
After deciding to protect Snow White rather than turn her over the the queen, the Huntsman makes an agreement with her for a reward, spitting in the palm of his hand before shaking hers; why? Two reasons: one, the spit comes from his mouth, the place of his appetites, so the Huntsman seals their deal by assuring her that the promised gold pieces is appealing enough to him for him to fulfill his agreed part of the bargain; two, since he's poor, his word is all he has (he's also the narrator in the beginning of the story, so he has a valuable word, but that's all) and his spit is the water from his mouth, so it nearly takes on a religious oath (since water can symbolize the sacrament of baptism and the Holy Spirit) so the spit adds a religious dimension to his end of the bargain to which he has pledged himself.
Why has the Huntsman been into the Dark Forest? As discussed with Ravenna's name, and the meaning of the Dark Forest in terms of inner spiritual contemplation and how the forest illustrates the life of sin and being lost in general, the Huntsman has been into the Dark Forest because of the death of his wife, as we discover later during his monologue at Snow White's side as she lays in state ("dead"); the self-realizations which come to us through suffering are the same virtues the Huntsman tries to drown with drinking. The suffering of the Huntsman seems to have been for naught, but permits him knowledge so he can escape the traps of self-meditation the Dark Forest presents (again, this will make a bit more sense below with Snow White, and it all ready does for those who have read the comparative analysis of the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney versions).
Snow White and the man-eating troll in the Dark Forest. Snow White encounters two creatures in the forest, the troll being the first and the White Hart the second. This is accurate: we all are supposed to encounter at least two creatures in the Dark Forest (Dante encountered more) but the one is the image of the devil within us, the second should be the image of Christ within us. Just as Snow White stabbed Finn with the nail, so she uses the Huntsman's own knife to stab him in the shoulder. Is this a reversal of the sexual act, as the queen did to the king? No, because it's in the shoulder. Again, the shoulder, as being a part of the arm, balances what gives us strength with what weighs us down, by stabbing him in the shoulder, she makes a virtuous act in protecting herself from him, but his strength (the goodness in him) is strong enough that it doesn't overcome him, in other, words, it's the inversion of the episode when the young male prisoner stabbed the queen in the stomach and she healed instantly. The royal personage stabs the commoner but he is not overcome by it, physically or emotionally (he doesn't abandon her because of what she did). Snow White's appeal to the Huntsman not to turn her over is mirrored in her silent appeal to the troll not to destroy them, because if the Huntsman (of which the troll is symbolic) gives into his lesser emotions, he will destroy them both. It's not that Snow White really overcomes the troll, but the Huntsman is good enough to allow the "troll within him" be overcome by her goodness.
The virtue of the screenplay is the balance of psychoanalytic doubles it provides to the characters, for example, as stated, Finn is to the queen what the Huntsman is to Snow White. What is evil and perverse is Finn is natural and healthy in the Huntsman, although he requires purgation because of his depression and bitterness over the loss of his wife (which is natural). As the twisted nail Snow White uses to "deface" Finn symbolizes Finn's unnatural and immature sexuality, so the troll symbolizes the Huntsman's sexuality and his increasing desire for Snow White, even at the moment he denies it to her.Just after the Huntsman tears the skirt off Snow White's outfit so she can move easier, he reads the fear on her face--fearing a sexual assault--and he tells her not to flatter herself. They are then in the heart of the Dark Forest, crossing a stone bridge and they encounter the troll, a suitable double for the Huntsman, twofold.
The outfits of the two travelers are well contrasted. Snow White's wearing of finished materials, textiles woven, indicates civilization and achievement (despite the poor condition) whereas the Huntsman wears leather, animal skin, indicative of the "animal passions" which his drinking and brawling (his life before he met his wife) reveals. Why does the Huntsman tear Snow White's skirt off? It reminds the audience of Romancing the Stone when Michael Douglas' character cuts off the heels of Kathleen Turner's character's shoes ("They were Italian," she laments; "Now, they're practical," he retorts).  It's not because of a sexual advancement, nor is it because of practicality, rather, the leggings the torn skirt reveals makes her resemble him more, and his "manly courage" (she just got tangled up in the branches that turned to snakes and threatened to psychologically destroy her) is meant to aid her in the rest of her journey, which it does. A characteristic validating this interpretation is their hair: Snow White's is loose and wild, symbolic of her thoughts (the Dark Forest really takes its toll on her) but the Huntsman has his pulled back, a sign of disciplining his thoughts, which he has done so he can keep his wits about him (as when he throws Finn on the tree stump, perhaps a reference to the M. Night Shymalan film The Village when Noah (Adrian Brody) falls to his death) and the Huntsman knows to cover his mouth so he doesn't inhale the hallucinogenic air arising from the bog.
First, trolls are notoriously dumb and, regrettably, this fits the Huntsman. When a woman in the lake village dresses his wound and tells him that he has carried a heavy burden, she refers of course to the sorrow caused him by his wife's death, instead, the Huntsman replies that Snow White isn't very heavy. The "obtuseness" of the Huntsman's intellect enforces that, regardless of how smart one is or is not, we are all bound to make the journey through the Dark Forest, but this becomes an important point of interest of why the Huntsman's kiss awakens Snow White and William's does not.
The Huntsman and dwarfs, watching Snow White and the White Hart, just before Finn attacks them again. "You have eyes, Huntsman, but you do not see," but the Huntsman does feel, and the characterization of him as being rather big and dull-witted enhances the depths of his emotions he expresses to the "dead" Snow White later on. The balding, white haired dwarf on the Huntsman's left, Muir, is blind; when we first see him, he wears the medieval mask of a doctor during the plague times (the long beak and large eyes, from which fake doctors get the nickname "Quack doctors"). The plague costume of the blind dwarf deepens the meaning and symbolism of the "darkness" of which he speaks of Snow White leading them out of as being both the economical and psychological darkness as well as spiritual plague that sweeps the kingdom since the king's death.
We can argue, further, that the enormous figure of the troll suddenly turning on Snow White is like the Huntsman hunting her which she managed to lead him into betraying Finn rather than turning her over to him. Originally, I didn't think this beast was a troll, I thought it was a minotaur, which has been making the rounds in films lately because it symbolizes the darkest aspects of male sexuality that can't be controlled. It's possible that it still does, since the scene just before is when the Huntsman tears her dress and denies he has any sexual intentions towards her (then proceeds to show her how to defend herself, and it might be because he wants to make sure she can defend herself against him, too); well, come on, he couldn't deny a sexual interest if it didn't exist, could he? But just as the Huntsman defends Snow White from Finn, so he defends her against his own desires as well; this, too, is part of the reason why his kiss will awaken her when William's does not.
Without a doubt, there is a political/class meaning to the Huntsman delivering Snow White from death rather than the Prince. In Walt Disney's version, the Prince was the Christ figure who freed the soul of the beloved with the breath of life, the kiss (the same breath of life Ravenna steals from Greta because Ravenna requires life but only God can give life and Ravenna, like a parasite, has to feed off what all ready exists). In this election year, when the current administration has stirred up class warfare, the poor and unemployed flocking to the ranks of the new, returning ruler to overtake the corrupt ruler, is a message of substantial importance meant to reach audiences far beyond the limitations of a fairy tale.
Why does the Huntsman leave Snow White at the lake village? We wouldn't really be able to know, except the thug which the Huntsman was fighting when we first see him get thrown out of the pub is now a part of Finn's gang and the Huntsman has to fight him again. In short, the thug alerts the viewer that this is a double for the Huntsman and the way the Huntsman was when he was fighting this man--lowly, base, drunken, concerned only with himself, nothing higher--is what has come back to haunt him again now that he knows who Snow White really is (it's the Huntsman being his own worse enemy and the inner battle he's waging). It's only a momentary weakness, however, because the thug is easily overcome, but it was sufficient enough to make the Huntsman realize he was putting her at greater risk being with her and falling into temptation of turning her over to the queen, than she would be on her own, defending herself. This is another clue as to why the Huntsman is able to revive Snow White rather than William: as the lake village burns, the Huntsman is able to get to Snow White because he has "cleared the obstacles" between them (symbolically and spiritually speaking) but a structure on fire falls between William and Snow White, meaning that "something on fire" (lust) stands between them and he can't get to her.
Which leads us to William.
William finding Snow White after the queen has poisoned her and he kisses her. We shouldn't doubt that William is good, but William isn't good enough to counter the strength of the queen's evil, even as she weakens from Snow White's growing power. It's important to fully understand this, because the film makes the point that a man is a prince by his worth, not by his birth, and the bravery of the Huntsman (not just in protecting Snow White from Finn and the queen, but protecting her from his own desires) elevates him above other men and makes him worthy to protect her, in more ways than one.
William is a very able warrior, brave and skilled, willing to risk his life to save Snow White and conscious of what his duty to her is. Why, then, when he discovers her, is he unable to awaken her, according to the legend, with his kiss? William is in a state of sin. William disobeyed his father and went to find Snow White instead of staying at the Duke's castle; in consequence, Gus the dwarf dies defending him from an arrow of Finn's men (if William had not tried getting Snow White up on his horse with him, she and Gus could have made it to a safe hiding place, but his attempt at rescuing her meant he put her in harm's way by slowing down her escape).  William exhibits virtue, and those virtues make him strong and capable of fighting, but Snow White and the Huntsman makes the case that William's virtues aren't as important as those of the Huntsman's (it was disobedience which led to the downfall in Eden). But Snow White is the means of weighing that balance, so it's time to turn to her.
In her prison talking to Greta. The physical description of Snow White is important because it mirrors the interior reality of her identity. In the original, her hair is as black as an ebony window frame, she is white as snow and red as blood. In Snow White and the Huntsman, her hair is black as the raven's wing; why this change? Partly because ebony is not as familiar of a luxury material today as it was in the days of the original fairy tale, but also, too, because of the emphasis the film makers want to put upon her particular characteristics. The ebony frame of the window in the original meant the mother of Snow White wanted her daughter to possess the gift of meditation (the window) and meditation on death, i.e., the things of the world are passing, to cultivate that interior beauty that will not fade. In both accounts, Snow White is "red as blood" because blood symbolizes love: the love is deepest that is willing to be shed for what it loves, and Snow White is willing to die for the right and just cause, which is indeed virtuous and noble. Why, then, does this film change her hair, symbolic of thoughts, to the raven's wing, a bird associated with death, even with Queen Ravenna (who turns herself into a raven)? There are many spiritual states of death, and Ravenna is in a state of death, and so, too, is Snow White, even until she is crowned queen.  Snow White, with her virtue of innocence and purity her "white as snow" soul gives her and her willingness to die for right and just causes, is able to meditate and glean from death (the raven's wing) what Ravenna cannot (Ravenna fears death, which causes her to kill others to preserve herself whereas Snow White loves and is willing to die to save others) and Snow White's ability to meditate on death strengthens her against that ultimate human fear of dying so that, as she announces after waking from the Huntsman's kiss, that she has seen what the queen sees and knows how to kill her.
Just as Ravenna has a magic mirror, so too does Snow White: her prison cell. The queen fails to "reflect" in her Magic Mirror to see herself for what she truly is, evil, but the solitude of Snow White's prison leaves her with nothing but reflecting upon herself so she can nourish that inner beauty her mother commended her for. We can be confident of this interpretation because the first words we hear from (the grown) Snow White are the words to the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer, which she says for the repose of the soul of her mother and father (the two "dolls" she holds). She then lights a fire, to keep warm, but also because that fire is the "fire of hope" which keeps her soul alive that she is being kept alive for a purpose.
When she sees the bird outside the prison cell window, and reaches out to the bird, the window symbolizes her meditation because the window is the window "into her soul" and the bird, black and white, like her black hair and white purity, she recognizes as a part of herself that she must trust. Even when she sees the birds over the town sewer, she trusts that is where she is to go and does it, symbolizing, again, the remaining filth within herself that must be overcome so her purity can become ever greater to defeat the ever greater growth of the queen's evil. By going through the filth of her soul, like Dante going through Hell, Snow White emerges stronger and purer. (We can be assured that the sewer is only a symbol because sewers weren't developed in the largest cities--and certainly not small ones--until late in the 1700s if that; sewage was literally tossed out of the window and onto the streets where everyone walked).
After her swim and she's on the beach.
Once Snow White comes out through the raging waters, the purifying grace that is its own form of cleansing, she walks on the beach and her shoulders are exposed (pictured above), which juxtaposes nicely against the "bone sleeves" of Ravenna in her wedding gown, because this moment is like Snow White's wedding to her destiny, to the Holy Spirit: the white horse has long been a symbol of the Holy Spirit because of its role in the Book of Revelations (it symbolizes the purity of intention, motivation, drive, the vehicle of the pure heart's desire to fulfill its purpose). That's why, as Snow White walks along the beach to see the white horse "waiting" for her, her shoulders are bare: she has no will of her own, but is willing to do what God intends for her. Getting upon the horse, she lets the horse take her to where she needs to be, but is not necessarily where she wants to be... the Dark Forest.
A way to distinguish between a good person and a virtuous person is in terms of the body: a good person might be thin and appear to be in good shape, but that doesn't mean they can run a marathon, or lift a great weight; a virtuous person can. The challenges each day a virtuous person endures makes them stronger in the virtues so they can exercise heroic acts of virtue that a (merely) good person cannot. Towards the end, when Snow White has stabbed Ravenna and she's dying, Snow White says something that sounds odd: "You can't have my heart." Why does she say this? In a film where there is so little dialogue, why bother to say the obvious?... unless it's not so obvious what she's really saying. Earlier, Snow White confesses that she feels sorry for Ravenna, and that's a sign of compassion in Snow White, but for a woman who is destined to become queen, and hence the executor of justice, she comes to recognize that all Ravenna has done is through Ravenna's free will, hence, Ravenna is not deserving of any sympathy, or, Snow White's heart (Snow White in effect is saying, I don't feel sorry for you nor do I regret killing you, this is justice).
If Snow White's so pure, why does she have to go through the Dark Forest? We can say that the Dark Forest is the opposite of the Garden of Eden: whereas everything was green and prosperous, orderly and nourishing food for our souls in Eden, in the Dark Forest, which feeds off our fears and sins, shows the disorder sin has caused within us, the death as the scars of Original Sin which plagues us all and the weakness of will brought about by sin weighing us down. Snow White's good, just as the Huntsman is, but as we have seen, good isn't good enough to overcome the evil of the queen, there has to be heroic good.
I don't think this scene actually made it into the film, yet it demonstrates the symmetry of the film's structure so well, I would like to include it in our discussion. For Ravenna to engage in any "reflection" would mean that she would shatter like the mirror in this image, because she has become so hard and brittle with her sin, she's incapable of withstanding the good within Snow White. Question: why did the queen let Snow White live all those years instead of killing her when she killed her father? Twofold. First, Ravenna probably thought she could, at some point, use Snow White as a bargaining tool in diplomatic relations should she ever need to. Secondly, and this supports the first reason, she never saw Snow White as a threat because evil always always always underestimates the strength and power of good and always always always overestimates its own strength, power and invincibility. The queen always asking the Mirror who the fairest in the land is means more of a validation to her security rather than a warning of potential threats because the queen doesn't really believe anyone can threaten her.
Let's briefly discuss the women of the lake village because they are one example of heroism which Snow White is destined to surpass. The women are a kind of double for Snow White by revealing to us a lesser path of heroism. The sacrifice these women make is for their children, and they put their inner beauty above the outer beauty Ravenna values, so they are heroic women; it's the cultivation to perfection of what you have, however, that is the source of real, genuine power, and Snow White not marring her beauty to save herself is the empowerment which she is capable of. The women of the lake village really don't have this option, so they choose the difficult but heroic path of marring their exterior beauty for the sake of their children (and it saves themselves both physically--because Ravenna doesn't kill them so she herself can live--but spiritually as well so they don't become vain of their beauty as Ravenna has become of hers).
The great white Hart: what is it and what does it mean?
Of course it is a symbol of Christ not only because of earliest Christian depictions of Christ as the "Deer longing for running water," but because an enormous white Hart would be the ultimate in the population of deer, it being the rarest and most noble of any deer ever encountered (which is what the one of the dwarfs tell the Huntsman, "No one has ever seen this," and that refers just as much to us, the audience, and whether we will see what is happening but not truly see what is happening). Snow White needs to see the Hart for only a moment so it can "bless" her (which validates the Christ imagery because you can only give what you have all ready received and Christ has received all power from the Father so He can give the blessing so she will be able to fulfill her destiny). It's from this blessing that Snow White will be able to gain the knowledge that she is capable of overcoming Ravenna.
Why isn't she protected from the apple?
When Finn's men shoot the Hart in the side (referencing Christ being pierced by the spear) it breaks up into a myriad of white butterflies; does this suggest that it's the same as when Ravenna turns into a myriad of ravens? No, for the Hart to transform into the butterflies means that it's power and strength which it symbolizes has not diminished but is taking a new form to be everywhere it needs to be. Ravenna turning into the ravens means she has been weakened and is breaking apart (when she returns to the castle, she's like a pool of tar, injured weak and trying to pull herself together).
It's important to note that, in spite of all this extraordinary stuff going on, Snow White is still not "spotlessly" white; she's got dirt beneath her nails. When Snow White walks with "William" (the queen disguised as William) Snow White touches his face and we see that her hands have dirt on them; what does it mean? It's ambiguous how Snow White fells about William, and that's probably the answer: she's not sure if she loves him, but her taking a bite of the apple and then "wasting it" so he won't get any, like their childish game, means she's "playing" with him now, and her kiss isn't the kiss of love. Ravenna can trap Snow White in the trap that Ravenna herself would have fallen into as she told the young handsome captive earlier in the film just before she took his heart from him. Hands are symbolic of our strength, and this childish prank Snow White plays on William, unbecoming for a queen, reveals the "dirt" on Snow White and what keeps her power from being as pure as her name suggests, and what she needs to have in order to overcome Ravenna.
When Snow White looks down at the apple and sees it turn black and moldy, the apple "reflects" like a genuine mirror that spot of sin still within Snow White that the queen can capitalize upon and use to her own advantage. Why didn't the Hart's blessing protect her from the sin/Ravenna's trick? Snow White actually gains more strength from this time of "death" than she would have if she had not had the apple. If she hadn't eaten the apple, she wouldn't have overcome this blemish within her soul, leaving it there to grow and show up at another time--perhaps leaving room to take pity on Ravenna instead of dispatching her, which is what happens in Mirror, Mirror. All of us receive our destiny from Christ, the Author of Life, and it is our free will if we accept or reject it. In accepting it, Snow White accepts the charge which we all have: defeat the evil that tries to rule the world but we cannot free others until we ourselves have been made free.
In truth, the Huntsman's genuine, sincere and purified love (that is, free of lust) for Snow White is what makes up for the spot of sin still upon Snow White's soul at this point. How is that possible? The religion in the film is that of the Roman Catholic Church (other denominations didn't exist at this time, all Christians were Catholics) and when we saw Snow White praying for her mother's and father's souls in the beginning, she was offering prayers on their behalf that any debt of sin which they still owed God from the life on earth might be repaid by her prayers (if there is even one shade of imperfection upon a soul when it dies, it goes to Purgatory to be freed from that imperfection before it can enter the presence of God; by loving prayers offered up on behalf of the deceased, the living can aid them in shortening their time in Purgatory and entering heaven for eternity). In effect, when the Huntsman gives his monologue about the better man that Snow White has inspired him to become, this is what he has done because he has freed himself from sin, so even though Snow White's virtue is greater overall than his, the depth of his love overpowers that blemish remaining on her soul.
Snow White in her armor like Joan of Arc. The White Tree invokes the White Hart and White Horse, her destiny and the vehicles of it, meaning the kingdom is hers by right and justice.
Finally, what did Ravenna's mother do to her daughter?
Whereas Snow White's mother blessed her daughter, telling her that her beauty was inside and to always guard it, Ravenna's mother bestowed a "pagan" blessing upon Ravenna. For pagans, what we would call a spell, was a blessing as a "king" came to put to death the old ways of paganism in Ravenna's village and bring about a new order, i.e., Christ through his missionaries, Ravenna's mother invoked the pagan gods to watch over her daughter and her daughter, as she grew, accepted the black power the pagan gods (devils) gave her. The film's landscape, Celtic knot decorations on the castle walls and runic writing along the edge of the Magic Mirror's frame all indicate that the film takes place in the Dark Ages in the vicinity of the British Isles. Ravenna's mother, then, pledges her daughter to their pagan deities as Christian missionaries came to drive out the darkness and bring forth the Light of Christ. If you get a chance to see it, please do; it's not the perfect film I was hoping for, but it is good and an important social document for this election year.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner