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Road Essays
Mapping Labyrinth (1986)
The Monster in the middle

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Mapping Labyrinth (1986): 04/29/18

Mapping Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986) is the story of a much older half sister who accidentally wishes her infant half brother be taken by the goblin king when she is once again asked to babysit him so her father and step mother can go out on a date. She must then solve the Goblin King's labyrinth in 13 hours or Toby will be forever turned into a goblin.

Through Fantom Events, I was able to rewatch the film on the big screen, though I have seen it many times between that first and current screening on television (first as a VHS and later as a digital copy). Rewatching it in a theater gave me a chance to think about the question posed by Dan in The Way to Bea (review; analysis). Is Labyrinth misnamed?

For Dan's definition, a labyrinth has one path in and out, with a central goal. A maze on the other hand, has blind alleys and a monster in the middle. I argue that the route to Jareth's is both. It has the single-mindedness of a labyrinth and the path through it gives Sarah time to realize that she loves her half brother more than she loves her stuff or her fantasy stories. There is, however, a monster in the middle, namely Jareth himself who will, if not defeated, transform Toby into a goblin.

a map of the events in the film Labyrinth

Although Sarah and the companions she meets along the way fall into traps and sometimes come across blind alleys, never is she shown truly having to backtrack. In mapping out all the spaces of the film, one comes up with a space that at first glance looks like a maze (which plays into the theme of not taking things for granted as well as the motif of optical illusions).

From the opening credits of the CGI owl, who we later learn is Jareth, to the introduction of Sarah in the park, her run through the town to home, to her transportation to the Goblin Kingdom, can all be mapped as part of the path Sarah takes. Given the film's classic three act transformation sequence of A, B, A-, B-, A', the entire path through the film, if the narrative is seen as one physical space, Sarah's path is one single spiral just like a classic labyrinth.

A: Sarah unhappy being a half sister / unpaid baby sitter. It's also implied from the things in her room that her mother left home to be with the man who plays the Goblin King on broadway. Thus her desire to invoke the Goblin King is her way of getting closer to her mother.

B: Sarah enters the labyrinth and is doing well enough to get cocky. She has figured out that it's not as much of a maze at it first appears. All paths do lead to the Goblin Town if one is willing to use some leaps of logic.

A-: Sarah is drugged by and after dancing with Jareth in the ball she has so often pretended to attend while at the park, wakes up in a garbage dump of all the things she's lost over the course of her life. She's given a chance to surround herself in a fake version of her bedroom with all her favorite things, past and present, in exchange for forgetting about Toby.

B-: Sarah and company have to travel through the worst parts of labyrinth which include a forest with fireys who want to take off her head, to the bog of eternal stench. All this culminates with a battle in the Goblin Town.

A': Sarah after a chase through M. C. Escher's most famous piece, Relativity, she finally figures out how the labyrinth works (by ignoring the paths and jumping in the direction of Toby) and thus defeating Jareth and being able to return to home. Jareth, meanwhile, is forced to return to his original shape (barn owl).

After the defeat of Jareth, Sarah and Toby are transported home and the clock strikes midnight. Since she didn't have to go back through the labyrinth and since Jareth's transformation is complete, back again to a barn owl, the narrational path is a spiral. Thus the labyrinth is both a labyrinth and a maze.

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