Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Through the Looking Glass: Fairy-Tale Cinema and the Spectacle of Femininity in Stardust and the Brothers Grimm

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Through the Looking Glass: Fairy-Tale Cinema and the Spectacle of Femininity in Stardust and the Brothers Grimm

Article excerpt

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman Rises toward her day after day like a terrible fish.

- Sylvia Plath, "Mirror"

In the conclusion of the 2007 film Enchanted, a gently parodie and self-referential retake of Disney animated fairy tales, Giselle must make a choice between contemporary Manhattan and the animated fairy-tale world of Andalasia. Although she chooses Manhattan, the film makes clear that the influence of the Disney fairy tale has pervaded the contemporary world.1 The film attempts to outline a clear distinction between the two until Giselle's influence begins to be felt. In an early scene immediately before their meeting with Giselle, Robert (solicitor and love interest) informs his six-year-old daughter, Morgan, of his decision to propose to his current girlfriend, Nancy. In order to soften the blow of the announcement, Robert gives Morgan a present of a book titled Important Women of Our Time, which Morgan does not appear to be overly impressed with - she had wanted a book of fairy tales. Robert states that Nancy, his prospective fiancée, is a lot like the women in the book. However, it is a woman from a different type of narrative that instead prevails in the life of Robert and Morgan: Giselle, the fairy-tale heroine. As domestic ultra-innocent child- woman (several references are made to her ignorance of sex), Giselle is positioned as the ideal wife and mother for this family. Although we later see Giselle reading Important Women in a scene that could suggest the book's influence on her later heroic action in dispatching the evil Queen Narissa, the tension between the "important women" and the world of Disney fairy tale is ultimately resolved in favor of the latter. Career-woman Nancy and the "important women" of the book are, in the overall logic of the film, deemed unimportant. Nancy abandons her job and Manhattan for the animated fairy-tale world to become Prince Edward's bride. The evil Queen Narissa is defeated. The world of the Disney fairy tale wins out against cynicism, "important women," and the wicked queen.

It is the tension between older "important women" and the youthful heroine that I want to explore in this article in relation to two films, The Brothers Gñmm (2005) and Stardust (2007), which, like Enchanted, initially appear to challenge fairy-tale conventions but ultimately revolve around conflict between female representatives of age and youth. In Stardust and The Brothers Gñmm, these confrontations are staged explicitly in terms of the visual and its emphasis on female beauty.

Jack Zipes contends in Why Fairy Tales Stick that "we use the classical fairy tales in mutated forms through new technologies to discuss and debate urgent issues that concern our social lives and the very survival of the human species" (xiii). If these films suggest anything about contemporary concerns, they point to an abiding anxiety in relation to regulating the spectacle of the aging female body. The relationship between telling fairy tales and inculcating obethent behavior, particularly gendered behavior, through inciting fear has a long history. Critics such as Zipes and Marina Warner have explored the role of fairy tales as socializing narratives that inculcate adherence to contemporaneous gender roles.2 However, it is also true that women writers such as Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, and A. S. Byatt, among others, have used the fairy-tale genre to engage with and uproot patriarchal representations of femininity and sexuality. The fairy tale thus offers a potent space in which to negotiate questions of gender and gendered representations.3 It is this tension between the conservative/patriarchal impulses of the fairy tale and the subversive potentials that the genre can also offer that this article examines, with specific focus on two recent films. Stardust and The Brothers Gñmm both play with the fairy-tale genre and gender and exhibit various similarities in their themes, their reuse of particular fairy-tale tropes, and their positioning of female protagonists. …

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