Snow White and the Huntsman is not your traditional fairy tale. Too dark for children but using many of the themes of fantasy literature, it is nevertheless powerful storytelling. The strength comes not only from the complexity of the tale with its classic struggle between good and evil, but also through the special effects that do not distract but enhance the telling. Directed by Rupert Sanders in his first feature film, the writing is based on a story by Evan Daugherty who was assisted by John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini in creating the screenplay.
The ensemble cast is well suited to the tale. Charlize Theron, as the demonic queen Ravenna, is believable both as the most beautiful in the land as well as darkly evil enough to take the lives of others in order to sustain her beauty. This desire for immortal beauty at all costs due to the power it gives her is the central theme of the film. But this theme does not come simply from her pride or vanity, we discover it is her beauty as a child that caused her mother to give her this dark power in order to protect her. About to be taken as a slave by a conquering king and forced to be his wife, her mother cast a spell that gave Ravenna the power to avenge herself and take his life. But once on this course, she became the hunter and killed twenty other kings as well as innumerable young women to steal their youth and beauty.
Obviously, not all beauty is evil, as there is also beauty that is pure and innocent as new-fallen snow. Appropriately cast as Snow White is the alluring star of The Twilight Saga, Kristen Stewart. Using the same formulae that works in Twilight by having two men in love with her, the starring ensemble is complete with the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Snow’s life-long friend William (Sam Claflin).
Though the characters of the story are familiar, the tale is more a creation of modern cinema than of traditional children’s stories.
Although the struggle between good and evil expresses a clearly Christian worldview, with Snow White praying the Lord’s Prayer and being willing to risk her own life to save her new friend, we see her led to freedom by a bird and soon discover that these birds who guide her in her journey are inhabited by fairies. It is the fairies who lead her to the seven dwarfs, but these dwarfs are more like the dwarfs of the Fellowship of the Rings than they are of Disney’s vintage. Although the dwarfs are warriors, they don’t live in the caves as in the Rings trilogy, but rather in a place that has the mystical feel of Pandora. The evil queen Ravenna snacks on the hearts of birds and becomes a flock of ravens to transport herself, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Even Snow is told that she is “the One”, reminding us of The Matrix. These and other elements make the complex elements of the tale come together in a familiar but intriguing way.
Although the tale is a love story, that is not its central theme nor its conclusion. Though it is an epic tale of good and evil, even the evil queen is shown in reality to be a scared little child trying to survive a dangerous world. Love is a healing force, and life itself is preserved by a purity that transcends evil’s temporary attempts to control it.
A fairy tale for adults that will satisfy heart, mind and senses, Snow White and the Huntsman delivers a powerful message of love and life triumphing over evil and destruction.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The Christian worldview is reinforced when evil attempts to take life in order to achieve immortality rather than to give one’s life so that others might live. Why do you think it is so obvious to our artists and storytellers but so difficult for our world’s governments to understand this truth?
2. The hatred which Ravenna had toward all people was based on her being used by men because of her beauty. Do you believe beautiful people find it difficult to believe people love them for who they are and not merely for their physical attractiveness? Is it a burden to be beautiful or a blessing? Why do you answer as you do?
3. It was clear that Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) participated in the evil by using women and killing them just as Ravenna was doing to men. Have you ever had anyone use you and discard you? Have you ever done this to someone else? How have you dealt with this evil? Have you found forgiveness for your sins and the sins others have done to you?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklinis former mayor of Santa Barbaraand Denny Waymanis pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.