Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” (2012) has been hailed as a feminist fairytale by some critics, praising it’s strong, female heroine, Snow White. However, to claim that Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” is a feminist film would be to miss a disturbing undertone throughout the tale; one that tells us giving women power is a dangerous act; one the patriarchy relies on to maintain it’s stability. Singh tells us that, when it comes to power, its “better the devil you know,” whilst spectacularly missing the oppression of the patriarchy.
Singh’s tale begins by telling us of Snow’s childhood. As a child, Snow lived under her father’s reign; one which saw singing, dancing, and general happiness that, for now, there were no ovaries in power. However, the King soon seeks out a wife, known solely throughout the 106 minute feature as “The Queen”. Even as the active narrator, we are sold a dehumanised character, void of a name, and limited to only two qualities which could be deemed anywhere near redeeming; her intelligence, and her beauty. Look, when I said anywhere near redeeming… I meant in the patriarchal sense. After the king is lost in battle, we’re told that the Queendom becomes a destitute and lifeless place; after all, according to the patriarchy, society can not flourish with a woman in power.
The Queen’s personality throughout the film hinges on several narrow factors; The Queen’s fear that one day, she’ll no longer be “the most beautiful woman in the land”, her jealousy of Snow’s beauty (something that factors in The Queen’s decision to have Snow locked in her room from the age of 8, until the age of 18), her lust for Prince Alcott, her deceptive nature, her greed, and her lust for power. In fact, the Queen’s sole traits throughout the film hinge on the seven deadly sins. Even sloth is hinted at, through her unwillingness to actively fix the country’s financial crisis. Yet again, we’re being told that women in power are dangerous, vicious, reckless, and in keeping with the Wicked Witch Complex, imprisoners of (good) women. In a rather dangerous manner, fairy tales tell us that men, on a whole, save women. In Mirror Mirror, Snow is repeatedly saved from The Queen’s clutches by men, even if, at the climax of the film, it’s by default. Men, the patriarchy would have us believe, are our liberators from the women who would otherwise oppress us. Fairy Tale Land, it seems, is an entire reversal of reality, where men routinely oppress women. Oh, and the Magic Mirror? It’s a portal. What was it I said about Wicked Witches?
What is most telling about Snow’s character is that, although, ultimately, it is her who defeats The Queen, she is only able to do so because she is enabled to, by men. When The Queen orders Snow’s death, Snow doesn’t escape due to some cunning plan, but instead, as a result of Brighton’s pity on Snow’s plight. Instead of killing her directly, he instead leaves her to The Beast. Snow manages to run to the dwarves’ hideout, although collapses at the entrance, where, I’m assuming, the dwarves pull her inside. Although Snow develops throughout the film, she only develops through the aide of men; men are consistently seen as a necessity for women’s development, and rarely a hindrance.
There are redeeming features to Singh’s feature, though. He doesn’t make the mistake of providing an inactive heroine; Snow is very much a dominant character throughout the tale, and her resolve continues throughout the film. Singh also provides an amusing commentary on women’s beauty rituals; the Queen’s routine is implied as being self torture. However. a couple of proto-feminist quips does not a feminist film make.
I’m personally waiting on a feminist fairytale. I’ll be waiting a long time, I suspect, but I’m awaiting a fairy tale which tells us of a woman in power, without a male influence, who is deemed a good character. I’m awaiting a self-rescuing, self-improving female protagonist. And I’m waiting for Hollywood to stop telling our children that “Men = Good, Women = Bad”. Preferably in this lifetime, please?