This post manifested from a rather animated discussion with a friend in which many ideas were shared. 🙂
Is the Labyrinth real or an exploration of Sarah’s psyche?
Everything in Sarah’s room becomes part of Labyrinth, in literal terms or under the guise of something else (the ball gown, her toys, even her Jareth doll). They are all a part of her, so Jareth, the temptations, and the conflicts within the Labyrinth may be elements of her psyche or metaphorical extensions of her emotional state as she transitions from childhood into womanhood. If everything she encounters in the Labyrinth is part of her true Self, each character represent an element of Self that is growing through these trials; the chivalrous dog learns to become more flexible and think outside the box (“You cannot pass without my permission!” “Then may we have your permission?”). Hoggle finds courage. After his rescue from a state of helplessness, Ludo becomes warm and loyal. All of them also make mistakes, showing shortcomings in her nature – cowardice, selfishness, laziness, haste. This may speak to impulse needing wisdom to transform it into restraint through collaboration by all the characters involved in Self.
Though Sarah sees the Labyrinth as cruel and confusing, it strengthens her with each new obstacle… and whenever she needs or wants assistance, something conspires in the environment to assist her. Her view of the Labyrinth is negative, revealing her resistance against Struggle (desiring an easy path, rather than one of discipline). In her negative view of the Labyrinth, she is inventing negative adversaries, believing their intention is to prevent her from reaching her goal (just as she sees her family as an obstacle to her ambition). She is in teenage rebellion, the stage of “the world is against me,” but she is wrong; the Labyrinth both helps and hinders. Entrances and answers exist in front of her, but she cannot see them because she is not looking for them, like how we can get stuck in our own perceptions instead of looking externally for the truth. We hold the answers but don’t see it, even as we also create our own problems.
Such is Life.
If the Labyrinth is real and not an extension of Sarah, Jareth has created what she encounters from his observation of the elements in her room, constructing them to force her to confront her weaknesses and shortcomings in order to grow in maturity and test her resolve. Since there are hundreds of goblins in his castle, and stolen away babies become goblins if they are not rescued, this is a story and a temptation that has happened hundreds of times over the centuries. Jareth has visited other people in the past, and they either chose their dream over the child or failed in the quest.
Jareth offers her everything she wants – her brother to be gone, and her dream. She can give in to it, become famous, and “become [his] slave” … or she can save her brother. Here, too, is a diversion of possibilities: maybe she accepts his crystal and Toby is missing, but she gets to become the rich and powerful actress she dreams of… or she accepts the crystal, and Toby is still there in the morning, but she is now a “slave” to Jareth. She gives free reign to her wit, sexuality, and passions, but she is selfish and cruel. She sacrifices family for ambition, and the dark side of her soul enslaves her, because she let her inner ideals, whimsy, and gentleness die.
Because she made the right choice, Sarah ends the story in a different emotional state than she began. She abandons her anger, selfishness, and ambition, while still holding onto her friends from Labyrinth. It is a journey of self-exploration and transformation, which begs the question: is Jareth real or the darker side of herself that would renounce family for ambition? Is he an external force or an internal one?
Jareth, the Goblin King
Is Jareth good or evil, Satan or God? Is he constructing the Labyrinth to tempt her to sin or is he making her stronger, purifying her soul, and transforming her into the Divine? Is the Labyrinth representative of Life on Earth (how we rarely see far ahead, run into many temptations, distractions, and sometimes difficulties), or can it be seen as Purgatory in an atonement for her sins? Sarah offers her brother to the Goblin King, and must go on a quest to redeem him. Might Sarah’s perspective on Jareth emulate many people’s view of God – as a distant, malevolent force, constructing hardship in life in order to torment us and prevent us from attaining our desires?
Is Jareth continually blocking Sarah from finding “the child” that holds the key to her redemption; and her struggles against him are what refines her into the woman she is truly meant to be, much as our struggles in life to find Christ ultimately transform us into our greater selves?
How evil is Jareth? It depends on which view you take: his rescue of the child is humane if Sarah intends abuse. He never harmed the baby. He urged Hoggle to prevent her from making her way to the castle, but his most violent action was unleashing the Cleaners on them in the tunnels. He uses illusions and distractions more than cruelty. Arguably, Jareth is asking Sarah to prove that she really wants her brother, so that when she gets him back, she has a new appreciation for him. Is it his test of her resolve to transform her into a better person? He does attempt to prevent her success but there is always a solution out of his traps; does Sarah invent the solution or does Jareth leave it for her to find?
If he is a manifestation of a darker side of her nature, he can represent her struggle against that portion of her true Self. She is fearful of him at first and feels like she is at his mercy (rather like those of us struggling against some less-favorable element of our nature) yet when they meet at the end, he pleads with her to love him and fear him, and in doing so, he will become her slave. It is as if this side of herself is asking her to relinquish fear and surrender to it; and only then can she master It. (What is it? Darkness? Sexuality? Ambition? Intelligence?) Such things can be beautiful or dangerous. The healthiest emotional state is to both love and fear self, to be neither slave nor master.
Jareth’s boredom may represent an adult element of Sarah’s psyche in need of awakening. His task is to keep the goblins under control, which might represent human impulses. They need “governed” by a superior mature and intelligent being, thus the goblins are part of Sarah’s nature curbed through maturity. Yet, inside Jareth is a cynical force who scoffs at Hoggle’s love for Sarah, while craving it himself. He is not idealistic, and his lack of idealism fights her blatant idealism throughout. Their conflict may be Sarah trying to figure out how to hold onto her idealism while embracing reality and finding maturity in mastering her impulses. Jareth might also represent the idea of “selling out” in that people believe that maturing means letting go of ideals and personal standards.
Maybe Jareth is what Sarah might become, if she had left her brother behind in the Labyrinth: he is cynical, cold, keeps hold of the goblins (impulses) but in a harsh, irritated manner, ruling them out of practicality rather than enjoyment. He has control but also unhappiness. He longs for love and humanity. She fights her impulses for a higher cause, which intrigues him. Perhaps Jareth was once a cynical child in a faraway land who made all the wrong choices, ultimately to the extent that his curse is to be King of the Labyrinth. She shows him higher path. His final temptation may not be to distract her, but a method of attaining her for his own salvation, which would damn them both; she has to let him stay lost, to save Toby and herself.
The Masquerade / Female Sexuality
Many have written about the layers of metaphors for sexuality in this film; I will not be redundant except to say this is the first time Sarah is deliberately put into an adult situation and context and is clearly uncomfortable; by the closeness, the guests, the intimacy of their embraces… and by Jareth stalking her through the ballroom, his face often hidden behind ghoulish masks. His presence is predatory. That everyone is masked hints that she may think sexuality is a front to conceal darker intentions. In the ballroom, she is face to face on equal footing as an adult with Jareth for the first time. In dancing with him, she embraces her sexuality, her power as a woman, but since she is not yet ready to embrace that side of her nature, she flees from him.
Here more than anywhere else is blatant evidence of inversion in this story. Had Sarah been a male character enchanted by a Goblin Queen, her dreams at the start may have seemed less frivolous; it would have been seduction and sexual awakening more than cast in a fearful predatory light. Stories are replete with tales of heroes on quests, but this time it is not something to be found but to reclaim something she has lost–a child, the ultimate symbol of motherhood. Is her rejection of Toby representative of her lack of a desire to become a woman, with all the sexual temptations and responsibilities (including potential motherhood) that entails? Does it tap into ancient archetypes about female sexuality as a dangerous thing, or is it a denunciation on the condemnation of female sexual awakening?