“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” If you’re talking about the two Snow White movies that have hit theaters in the last several months, the resounding answer is Snow White and the Huntsman.
Sure, it can occasionally be difficult to remember that you are actually watching Snow White and the Huntsman not Bella and Thor in Medieval Europe. At times, the movie’s tone of epic grandness can come off as a bit too much for the not-quite-as-epic-as-it-thinks-it-is story playing out in front of us. And while enchantingly creative in bringing much of its magical world to life and drawing you into it, when its artistic choices don’t quite hit the mark, let’s just say that instead of the awe they are fishing for, they get laughter instead.
For the most part, however, SWATH gets things right in a way that is not only reminiscent of the magic that drew me to Snow White as a child but also the deeper themes and implications of such a story that I have only come to understand as an adult.
From its armor-clad, sword-fighting Snow White to its very real depictions of battle scenes and acts of violence, SWATH is a darker, grittier, and more realistic version of the fairy tale most of us have known since we were children. Even without her magic powers, Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen would be terrifying on a purely human level, stepping into the movie not just as a vain and jealous stepmother, but as a woman with a seemingly unfounded hatred for all men who literally stabs Snow White’s father through the heart in the movie’s first fifteen minutes.
What is most impressive about SWATH, however, is how it merges that gritty realism with its magic in a way that transforms it from fairy tale fantasy and slap stick clownery into another level of reality in which the forces of good and evil, life and death, and light and darkness truly do engage in battle on a regular basis.
As I said, the Queen is far more than just a vain woman, a jealous mother, or an irresponsible spender happy to take advantage of others and squander their resources in the interests of only her own pleasure and comfort. Like a bully from your worst nightmare, the Evil Queen pretty much expends all her energy taking power and life from others in order to ensure that she retains all power herself. Throw in the fact that she can literally suck the life out of people, transform into pretty much any form she wants, and has turned the entire landscape surrounding her into one of death and decay, and let’s just say that her nature, her motives, and her effect on the world around her are reminiscent of the devil himself.
Enter Snow White. Sure, she may not be quite the same sweet innocent we remember from Disney lore. Barely introduced to us as a child and locked in a tower until her adulthood, we know next to nothing about who she is when she finally escapes and enters a world that she has not seen in years. However, as soon as she escapes, she quickly sets herself apart as the Queen’s opposite.