Snow White and the Huntsman

(NOTE: anything I’m going to say on this blog carries with it a big SPOILER WARNING for any of the stories, books, or films I’m talking about. If you don’t want to know plot details, stop reading right now.)

So I skimmed through Snow White and the Huntsman yesterday, both the movie and the book (a YA novel written after the book). I say “skimmed” – I didn’t really watch it carefully, because this version of the story is what a friend of mine calls “violence pornography”, and that’s really not my shtick. I find battle scenes boring (clash, bang, crash, boom – just tell me who won already, and let’s get on with the story, shall we?), and this movie has more than its fair share of them, with plenty of blood, gore and nastiness to illustrate. It’s a version very heavy on violence and pain, and somewhat light on real characters; so gritty it sometimes nearly grinds to a halt.

Let me summarise the plot: The queen walks in the snow, and pricks her finger. Three drops of blood fall to the ground, and she wishes for a child as white as snow, as red as blood and as black as ebony. She gets the kid. Then there are some lovely pretty scenes of Snow White as a little girl, being nice to animals and playing with a duke’s son. (Enjoy it; those are the last pleasant scenes you’ll get in this movie.) The queen dies, the king is heartbroken. The kingdom is attacked, the king goes to battle. Carnage ensues. The king meets Ravenna, the evil witch. He marries her. She kills him on their wedding night, and has her armies attack the castle. Carnage ensues. Snow White is imprisoned in the dungeon for the next ten years, to give her a chance to grow up into Kristen Stewart (who is pretty, but hardly the stunner the role calls for, and most importantly, not really white-skinned and black-haired and red-lipped. In fact, she’s mostly kind of brownish – dark brown hair, pale brown skin, brown outfits. Snow Brown? Hmm.). Oh yeah, meanwhile the queen causes carnage to ensue in the kingdom, killing off everyone, and sucks beauty out of pretty young girls. Okay. Next part of story: Snow White runs away. The queen sends the huntsman after her, also her evil brother with his armies, because she’s only just figured out from the magic mirror that she needs Snow White’s heart. (I’ve probably missed a few instances of carnage in the meantime; pardon me if I didn’t keep exact count). The huntsman, who is A Tortured Soul on account of his wife having been killed in an instance of carnage, decides to not murder Snow White. The two of them together stumble through the scary woods, run across some suffering people, get chased and occasionally found by evil-witch’s-evil-brother & army (carnage ensues), meet the dwarfs (carnage is threatened, but averted by wise old blind head dwarf), and the duke’s son who’s all grown up. The dwarfs, Snow White and the huntsman meet with the evil army (carnage ensues), witch’s-evil-brother gets killed by huntsman. Witch sneaks into their camp, disguised as duke’s son, and tricks Snow White into accepting the poisoned apple. Snow White dies, witch disappears. Duke’s son’s kiss doesn’t work. Snow White’s body gets taken to duke’s rebel hideout castle. Huntsman kisses her, she wakes up. She leads the rebel army against the queen in her castle. Carnage ensues. Snow White meets the queen in hand-to-hand combat, while her minions in the background get slaughtered by the witch’s demon knights (duke’s son and huntsman survive, however). Snow White stabs the queen, queen dies. Final scene: Snow White is crowned queen, but doesn’t look terribly happy about it. Huntsman gives her significant glances from the back of the throne room. Oh, yes, and the coronation scene is remarkably free of carnage. The end.

So, as far as comparison with the Grimms’ tale goes: this movie version has been praised for emphasising the “dark elements” which are present in the original. Perhaps. The Grimms are certainly darker than the Disney-influenced version of the tale that’s commonly known. But as far as I’m concerned, only the dark elements were left in this story, and overly elaborated into a tale of blood & gore which loses several of the points of the tale. One point I find particularly interesting is that, as I mentioned above, Snow White is not particularly beautiful in this version. She certainly does not come across as “the fairest in the land”, just a moderately pretty girl who looks quite scruffy for the most part. The interesting bit about this is that in the original tale, it’s her beauty which is the deciding factor in everything that happens to her. Because she’s more beautiful than the queen, she is ordered killed. Because she is beautiful, the huntsman takes pity on her. Because she’s beautiful, the dwarfs don’t kick her out when they find her sleeping in their beds. Because she’s beautiful, even when she’s supposedly dead, the prince falls in love with her. Everything depends on her beauty. So why did they scrap that aspect from this movie?

Another interesting bit is the prince, or rather the absence of one. You’d think they were working up to having the duke’s handsome son be the princely love interest, but he isn’t – his kiss does nothing for her. It’s the huntsman with whom there’s something going on, but even that doesn’t really turn into much of anything. This Snow White doesn’t really get a romance, much of a happily-ever-after at all. But then, in a sense, that’s in keeping with the whole tone of this film – the emphasis here is on violence and battle; a white wedding at the end would spoil the tone. At least they’re being consistent – or did they leave the door open for a sequel? The look exchanged between Snow White and the huntsman at the very end could certainly suggest it.

Well, if they do make another movie, we know what will be an important part of it: carnage. Snow White and the Seven Bloody Battles. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the bloodiest of them all?” No, don’t answer that, I think we already got the message.

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2 thoughts on “Snow White and the Huntsman

  1. Funny, I see that movie as very different. In fact, although I am one who really can’t handle carnage in movies (or real life) I was not put off by the carnage in this movie (although there were times I averted my eyes) because I was so moved and touched by the deeper and compelling themes. I loved it. The reason I love it is because I see in it a return to the real reason and need for myths. The tale of Snow White is much older than the Grimm bros who were more of recorders and gatherers of folk tales than creators. To me it is a tale about the destruction wrought by greed and the obsession with power and youthful, superficial beauty. Sure, you can say that Kristen Stewart is not a stunner. I suppose that is a matter of taste. But I think more to the point, she is a beautiful person by how she acts less than how she looks. She is kind and brave despite being dirty and dishevelled. I particularly love the part where she is presented to the White Hart who, to my mind, represents mother nature. Of course the White Hart is shot by the evil men pursuing Snow White but what I particularly love is that it cannot be destroyed. It simply turns to butterflies. And yes, the emphasis is not on the romance between Snow White and the Huntsman. To have that all tied up neatly would have been too trite. But there is enough there. You know they get together. The emphasis was more on a strong woman whose power was in her kindness who didn’t actually need a man to complete her quest.

    What I saw in the movie was an ancient myth made relevant to our own times. The themes of greed, power-lust and superficial beauty were always there (in the original tale) but they were more attuned to our times in this telling. North American and Western culture has laid waste to the rest of the world in our greed and lust for power and youth. Its not such a stretch to compare the poor suffering people to ‘developing’ countries today, is it? The slums of India? And the phantom army – not so different from the phantom ruses we set up so we can attack and dominate oil producing nations, is it? Under the disguise of partnership, we take over.

    Anyway, I loved it and saw much more in it than gratuitous carnage.

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    • Thanks for your reply! And for the food for thought.

      Of course you’re right that the tale isn’t from the Grimms; they just wrote it down. The reason I keep referring to theirs as “the original” tale is that it’s the first written version we have (or that I know of right now, anyway), and that it’s the one that’s become known in Western society (except that we don’t actually know all the bits of the Grimms’ version, but the ones that Disney chose to retain – but that’s another post).

      You’re right, these tales are deep myths, and they have a role to play in today’s world as much as they did 200 years ago. So in a sense, we can do whatever we want with them. But I do find it kind of puzzling what the movie has done with the theme of “outer beauty”. They’ve pretty much stood the theme on its head. Snow White’s physical beauty is what counts in the fairytale; she’s actually kind of dimwitted, and not particularly brave – but none of that matters because she’s beautiful. In the movie, they’ve almost entirely dropped that idea – outer beauty is irrelevant (except to the queen, apparently, who was taught by her mother that “beauty is all that can protect you” – another puzzling plot point. But I probably missed a thing or two in my skimming; plus I’m mixing the film and the novelisation).

      One minor interesting point of comparison between the novelisation and the movie is that the movie’s white hart is a white horse in the book.

      As far as the lack of romance, I have a whole bunch more to say on the “prince” theme. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is by no means the only Snow White movie I’ve got scathing comments about. I wasn’t trying to say that she “should” marry anybody (prince, duke’s son, huntsman); I was just noticing that this version has the least romance. Each of the tales/movies treats the “prince” idea differently. But that, too, is a topic for another post.

      I guess we could argue about what the main point of this story is until the cows come home. Is the Snow White story about the problem of greed and the superficiality of outer beauty? Not to me, it isn’t. But there’s nothing to stop you (or the film makers) from reading it as such, and telling the story in such a way as to bring out those elements. And I don’t have to like that telling any more than you have to agree with my opinions on this.

      Thanks again for sharing your views on it, you’ve certainly given me another perspective on this movie.

      Like

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