The Hidden Meaning of 'Labyrinth'
What's really going on in 'Labyrinth'? The Goblin King's a man on a mission...
God, I was obsessed with Labyrinth as a young girl. I still am as an adult, but for rather different reasons – and no, it’s nothing to do with the contents of the Goblin King’s trousers. The main reason this film continues to captivate grown-ups is that it’s laden with hidden meaning. Seriously. Watch it again, you’ll see what I mean!
The Overall Concept
Most people get that Labyrinth is a metaphor for a young girl growing up, and a modern fairy tale too. It’s right there for all to see, and it doesn’t take too much of a leap of imagination to figure it out. Sarah starts the film quite literally dressed as a princess, spouting childish nonsense from a book. She even has a fight with an evil step-mum, for goodness sake.
However, the film is way more than a simple ‘coming of age’ tale, or a retelling of a Grimm story. It’s about an older man seducing a younger woman – and about the risk she faces losing her innocence.
In this instance, Sarah’s innocence has a physical embodiment – in the form of Toby. Incidentally, the name itself is Hebrew and means ‘God is good’ – can’t get much more innocent and sweet than that! Sarah feels bogged down by this innocence (yes, I’m talking virginity here) and flirts with a rather dangerous older man in a bid to get rid of it. Cue the arrival of Jareth.
Interesting, isn’t it, that in their first meeting, Jareth offers her a gift – a common ploy when seducing someone. That gift, when refused, transforms into a serpent. I mean seriously, could this be any more Biblical at this point? He’s quite literally spelling it out. Agree to my terms and you’ll lose your innocence. Simple as that.
Sarah, being a gutsy young thing, refuses him. Then begins the epic quest to protect her virginity (Toby), before it’s too late. Jareth tries everything to win her over. He traps her in an oubliette (a place to forget about things) – which could be a metaphor for getting her drunk or something similar. He uses violence by sending ‘the Cleaners’ after her—who ride a horrible circular thing with rotating blades, which used to scare the hell out of me when I was little. He even tries to drug her (with a poisoned fruit) then seduce her. In short, there’s nothing this dude won’t attempt to get his wicked way.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Sarah chases Toby around a nightmarish Escher-inspired room, filled with gravity-defying staircases. Again, the Goblin King is toying with her, confident that she won’t be able to see through his tricks. However, he doesn’t foresee her willingness to quite literally make a leap of faith – which leads to his downfall.
The final scene is, of course, the most telling. Sarah begins to recite the words from her storybook (echoing back to the opening moments), but as ever, can’t remember the all-important line. Yet it’s the one that matters the most – the one all women need to remember when they find themselves in this type of situation with a man… You Have No Power Over Me.
It’s especially interesting that the film concludes with Jareth (in owl form), sitting outside Sarah’s window, watching her. He hasn’t been defeated – he’s merely waiting until she’s ready to let him in again – when she’s good and ready for it.
What About the Other Characters?
The supporting cast of Labyrinth are also laden with meaning. Along her journey, Sarah makes three friends – Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus.
The greatest clue about Hoggle’s character is emblazoned on his back the very first moment we see him. Most are distracted by the fact that he’s having a wee in a pond, but if you’re eagle-eyed, you’ll notice that there is a face on his waistcoat. Yes, Hoggle is quite literally ‘two-faced’. I’d say there’s more to this than meets the eye. He’s a little like the god Janus, with a foot in both fields, working for Jareth and helping Sarah. He looks forward, but also looks back.
He also represents cunning and wile – qualities Sarah needs to have if she’s going to defeat the Goblin King.
Ludo (who I loved as a kid but find slightly irritating these days) is a ‘friend’, as he so often reminds us. He offers unquestioning loyalty and strength, plus a link to the natural world, by being able to summon stones. If Sarah is going to beat Jareth, she needs steadfast kindness and loyalty too.
Lastly, Sir Didymus represents bravery in the face of adversity – the final quality that Sarah must have to win back her innocence.
There are many other meaningful characters dotted throughout the film. The revolting ladies living in the garbage dump are the fallen women – the ones discarded by Jareth in the past, who are jealous of Sarah’s youth and attraction. The Fieries (which also used to terrify me) represent the unadulterated pleasures of losing your innocence (quite literally ‘losing their heads’), but also the danger that goes with it. No wonder they live right next door to the dreaded Bog of Eternal Stench.
Type in ‘Labyrinth theories’ into Google, and you’ll come up with a wealth of alternative ideas – from Jungian mind control to the ‘multiple Sarah’ theory (now that’s a mind-bender, trust me). It’s testament to the film that it still captures people’s imagination – and I personally love that it is so open to interpretation.