I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman last night. I go to the movies a lot, and I always love it – but last night I felt like a kid again. Actually, I don’t remember how I felt going to the movies as a kid, so let me rephrase. I felt ambushed by the kind of childish delight that you forget you’re allowed to feel as an adult.
I can’t say what made me so particularly excited for this movie. I haven’t been looking forward to it for ages, or watching trailers and interviews. I had no great expectations. The only half-reason I can come up with is that I’ve been reading a lot of Loki fan fiction lately, and more than anything I want big, magical characters in big, magical landscapes.
The movie was…almost an amazing thing.
It felt like one of those camp adventure movies from the 80s, but with better effects. It’s like the anti-ironic, anti-hipster movie, without being unintelligent or more naive than it had to be. It took itself seriously – in the best possible way. Not seriously like, “see what we did there, audience, see how awesome we are?” – seriously like, “it is the most important thing of all time ever that she get her throne back.”
I like that kind of serious. We haven’t seen it in movies in such a long time. It’s the kind of serious that opens itself to ridicule. There’s something about earnest emotion that’s silly unless it’s pushed to its most extreme expression, and then it gets you despite yourself and becomes great.
I liked that, above all else, this was a story about a woman becoming queen. Snow White lets people and beasts sacrifice themselves on her behalf, because she’s a true queen at heart – she loves all her subjects and understands at the same time that it’s more important that she survives than they.
Which gave us a kick-ass heroine who yells back at trolls with her puny human lungs.
It also made the male characters…confusing.
Given that they stuck the huntsman’s name right there in the title, I think I can be forgiven for assuming he was going to be the romantic lead. And they set him up beautifully for it. He’s drunk and a widower, and thanks to Chris Hemsworth’s face we get the depth of his grief for the wife he’s lost. He dismisses Snow White as nothing more than a girl – and entirely misunderstands all her inner pain and her importance.
When he asks Snow White why she didn’t tell him who she was Snow White, in my favourite kind of heroine move, tells him to his face that she doesn’t trust him. She trusts in her own judgement and keeps her own counsel.
I enjoyed this romantic set-up a lot. You can see how she prods the tender wound of his dead wife, and how she challenges him to risk caring again.
But then her childhood friend William turns up.
At first I thought this was brilliance. Every narrative impulse says she should end up with the boy who was forced to leave her behind when they were children. I loved the idea that she’s grown up in the meantime, and the huntsman is the man for the woman she’s become, through adversity.
Give the huntsman’s fear that everything he cares about will leave him eventually, I could already taste the moment when William comes for Snow White and the huntsman is forced to watch her “leave” him.
Instead, William turns up and they all kinda become travelling buddies. It’s probably not coincidental that the traction all dropped out of the movie for me at this point.
I respect the fact that even these men who love her ultimately become pawns in her quest for the throne – while never belittling her true human feeling and loyalty for them. But the title of the film and the great romantic set-up demanded something else, which the narrative didn’t fulfil.
If anything, it should have been Snow White and the Queen. Those two have the most to gain and lose from each other, and the most complex relationship. The men felt secondary, and I wonder whether it was just too radical to have them well and truly shunted to the side, or whether the writer wasn’t entirely conscious of the narrative promise he made and broke.