Like The Dark Crystal, there are few people my age who didn’t watch Labyrinth while growing up. Labyrinth was my introduction to David Bowie’s music and — almost by default — becomes the measure by which I evaluate Bowie’s albums.
The film follows a teenager, Sarah, a whiny brat who fantasises about being a lady. She plays dress up in the local park, reciting dramatic lines in a costume dress and neglecting her duties at home to babysit her younger brother. After an emotional outburst, she accidentally summons Jareth, the Goblin King (Bowie), to abduct her brother. Thus begins her quest to navigate Jareth’s labyrinth to reclaim her brother from him.
As Sarah progresses through the labyrinth, she meets a variety of strange characters, three of whom become friends: a selfish and cowardly dwarf called Hoggle; a frightening but gentle monster called Ludo; and a pretentious but well-meaning knight called Sir Didymus. Initially, Sarah is frustrated that things in the labyrinth don’t go her way or meet her expectations, but she learns not to take things for granted and to understand the reality of situations. Spoiler: she saves her brother.
What is perhaps overlooked in the film is how rich it is for interpretations. Sady Doyle points out that the film can be read as Sarah trying to find the strength and knowledge to deal with an emotionally abusive lover. Jareth has dominated the relationship between them, yet continually claims that he is only doing what she wants. The term for this kind of abuse is ‘gaslighting‘. The only way for Sarah to resolve the problem is to recognise Jareth’s behaviour and assert her independence.
The film has a natural mirror in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The Minotaur was an abomination who was kept in the middle of a labyrinth on Crete. Theseus needed to discover a way to navigate the maze in order to combat the Minotaur and escape. In Labyrinth, the Minotaur is replaced with the Goblin King who, in a way, is a kind of abomination. Where the other goblins are deformed and twisted, Jareth is sexy.
While gender and Greek myth are wonderful grounds for interpretation and exploration, I want to focus on the three friends: Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus.