While I was stranded in Chicago due to Sandy (aka Frankenstorm), I watched Snow White and the Huntsman and I have got to say, this ain’t your Disney princess movie. Snow White leads an army and there is no (not really) Prince Charming, no singing dwarves (dwarfs? silly English), no dragon, and no overpowering love story (but love is a big part of the whole thing).
Some important caveats: I have not read Snow White (Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge) from the Brothers Grimm I have the German around and the English is en route from Amazon). As far as I can tell, Disney might have done better at sticking to the German fairy tale than Rupert Sanders and the writers of Snow White and the Huntsman (Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini). However, I prefer this latest incarnation over the singing dwarves and the glass coffin.
Here is a quick summary of the movie:
So, you have a perfectly innocent child, Snow White (Kristen Stewert of Twilight infamy), her father is betrayed by evil witch, Ravenna (Charlize Theron of Prometheus), the witch kills adult child by tricking her into eating a poison apple, the child rises from dead, then the child leads army with the Huntsman who saved her life, Eric (Chris Hemsworth of Thor), to defeat witch and bring prosperity to the kingdom….in other words, Snow White is Jesus!
Before she dies, Eleanor, Snow White’s mother tells her, “You posses a rare beauty, my love, in here. Never lose it. It will serve you well when you are queen.” It is important to see that Snow White’s beauty is not just on the outside, it is most clearly on the inside. Her heart is beautiful, “fair” as they say later in the movie. The dwarves see it in her long before the Huntsman is able to see anything. One of them tells him, “You have eyes, Huntsman, but you do not see. You, who have been with her the longest.” In fact, for some time in the movie, Eric is asking “Who is she?” and he isn’t willing to follow her until he fully realizes just who this Snow White is. Eric is the doubter but, in the end, he is able to see who she is and it is his faith in her that raises her from her slumber. It is not Eric’s kiss that awakens her – it is pretty clear that William is the one she loves – but it is his story about his dead wife Sara. He tells the sleeping Snow White:
“I once had a wife, Princess. Sara was her name. When I came back from the wars I carried with me the stench of death and the anger of the lost. I wasn’t worth saving, that’s for sure. She did so anyway. And I loved her so much. I loved her more than anyone or anything. Then I let her out of my sight and she was gone. And I became myself again. A self I never cared for. Until you. See, you remind me of her. Her heart, her spirit. But now you, too, have gone. You both deserved better and I’m so sorry I failed you.”
Snow White “is life itself. She will heal the land. She is the one.” says the dwarf to Eric and the others. She brings life to those around her. She enables even the most broken of men to love and show compassion. She is so perfectly innocent and pure that her very presence brings hope. She inspires followers “gold or no gold.”
In contrast to Snow White who is “life itself” and brings strength to those around her, Queen Ravenna’s strength comes from the life of others. When she was young (actually young), her mother casts a spell on her to make her young and beautiful forever. However, she warned her: “Your beauty is all that can save you, Ravenna! This spell will make your beauty your power and protection.” So, in order to keep her power, she saps the life out of young beautiful women in the kingdom in order to heal herself and maintain her youth. It is made clear in the story that only Snow White is fair enough, pure enough, perfect enough to defeat the spell of Ravenna. Ravenna tells her, “You were the only one who could break the spell and destroy me. And the only one pure enough to save me.” Ravenna needs Snow White’s heart, the fairest heart of all, in order to live forever young. She is not life, she is death. In the same way, Ravenna is not capable of love – real love – because of her disdain for men. She tells a story to King Magnus right before killing him: “I was ruined by a king like you once. I replaced his queen. An old woman. And in time I too would have been replaced. Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us they toss us to the dogs like scraps.” Later in the movie, right as she is killing Snow White, she says “You see, child, love always betrays us.” Ravenna does not have the heart necessary to love, to fully and completely trust and care for another person. She even betrays her own brother by letting him die so that she can live and remain young and beautiful. Although she is able to maintain a façade of outer beauty, she has no inner beauty. Ravenna has no heart to give so she must have Snow White’s.
In the build up to the final battle, I am reminded of Revelation. The Lamb that has been slain comes riding on a white horse leading an army against the Beast who has usurped power from the Lamb and killed his followers. The followers of the Lamb have been made white with the blood of the Lamb, they are made pure by the fairest of hearts, perfect love and sacrifice. Snow White inspires the people to rise up on battle with a speech with echoes of theophantic language in the prophets and Revelation:
We have rested long enough. Frost to fire and fire to frost. Iron will melt. But it will writhe inside of itself! All these years, all I’ve known is darkness. But I have never seen a brighter light than when my eyes just opened. And I know that light burns in all of you! Those embers must turn to flame. Iron into sword. I will become your weapon! Forged by the fierce fire that I know is in your hearts! For I have seen what she sees. I know what she knows. I can kill her. And I’d rather die today than live another day of this death! Who will ride with me? Who will be my brother?
So the battle rages and William and Eric follow Snow White through the castle. They defend her and help her fight through the army of Ravenna. In the final confrontation, Snow White is able to defeat Ravenna and tells her “You cannot have my heart” in final defiance against her. “It is by fairest blood it is done and by fairest blood it is undone.” Good conquers evil, life triumphs over death, love wins all. All hail the Queen. Roll credits.