So, supernatural entities have been invoked and provoked, and our heroine is off on a dream quest to restore her baby brother to his rightful home.
And, speaking in generalities, Labyrinth is a dream quest in the fine old style. Inhabitants must be befriended, puzzles solved, fears overcome. What's more - as so many have pointed out - Sarah's journey takes place through an echo of her childhood room, through the country of her unconscious mind. The baby's cry becomes a call to her, and she journeys towards it and – the makers of the film would have us believe – responsibility.
But the implications of what is happening here are much more subtle, more interesting that that. We are not simply dealing with a dream landscape, we are dealing with the territory of childhood turned against its rightful ruler. A dark force is in Sarah's imagination, controlling it, manipulating her through it, and at every turn, Sarah forces it back, with courage, with kindness, with ingenuity.
|This should really be a picture of the party at the end.|
Still, so far, so Hero's Journey. It brings her right to the centre of the Labyrinth, where she faces her shadow and speaks those immortal words, “You have no power over me.” The malevolent force is banished, and she can return, as she does, to the real world.
But to leave it there would be to forget the magical puppet party where the heroes and villains get together to throw confetti and be friendly. I'd always been bothered by that, felt it was a cop out. Felt that she somehow got both worlds, that she turned down magic, but still got to play with it. Then I thought about it properly, thought about what it means: she's safe getting down with the Fire Gang, Ludo can party with his ex-tormenters. What it means is that this isn't hostile country any more, that she isn't dealing with enemies. What that means is that Sarah's imagination is hers to control. That she is the queen of all this, like she always should have been. She's in charge now - not that rat who calls himself Jareth.
Come on, that's a brilliant prize. And she deserves it.
Still, if this were all it were, then the makers of the film would be right. A coming of age story, a powerful one, a beautiful one, but nothing particularly special. A girl grows up and overcomes the dark side of her imagination. Yes, she takes control, and by implication, learns to be less selfish, accepts her role as a surrogate mother. But I said this story was special, and two things make it so: the first is Bowie's performance as Jareth (more of that later), the second is a sequence that occurs just before the final confrontation.