Jareth: All Things to All Girls
People love Jareth. Specifically, girls love him.
He's the fodder for most of the 6,000+ fanfics that exist for Labyrinth. (BTW this is an
absurd, obscene amount
of fanfic, bested only by the most popular, modern film franchises.)
Some of his appeal is obvious because Bowie is so good-looking and gives the character such life. Jareth is loud to
the cheap seats - fun to watch for his brassy energy, his moodiness, and especially his snappy wardrobe. His character is
also multilayered. He's the villain of the story but also a love interest, which creates
fascinating tension and conflicting motives - great potpourri for a Jim Henson movie that might otherwise be
confined to puppets, puppet strings, and copious amounts of glitter. (Though it does deliver on all three counts.)
But we think that Jareth's traits, and especially his dealings with Sarah and his
journey as a character, are hugely popular because they follow a romantic pattern: One that answers women's desires
perfectly, because it's been set and
proven by previous works.
Jareth = Rochester
The quote above comes from Brian Froud, who described Jareth as a Young Girl's Dream come true, and the mention of
the Bronte sisters' male leads explains why "Labyrinth" has become the Ultimate Chick Flick, however
The Brontes fully understood the wacky workings of the female mind, and their protagonists' tortured
relationships are still delighting women and confounding men, even to this day. They found The Magic Formula for "Chick Stories." Famous
among these is Wuthering
Heights, a tragic romance involving the obsessive and violent Heathcliff.
But the most potent
of their Chick Books is
Jane Eyre, an Olde English tale of a mousy governess who finds true love with one Edward
Rochester, a moody gozillionaire with a terrible secret. "Jane Eyre" went on to countless versions (some good,
some godawful) for TV and Film, has earned its place among the greatest chick stories ever, and Mr. Rochester is
the most desirable male figure of the Bronte novels.
At the time of Labyrinth, Rochester's latest and greatest incarnation was
Tim Dalton, who had already done his turn as Heathcliff in 1970.
He's a singular actor to have played both of these
iconic romancers, and his path would be charmed even further. (Within a few years, he earned the
role of James Bond (!) for completion of a seemingly impossible Romantic Trifecta.)
The BBC's 1983 Jane Eyre was (and is, by many camps) considered the best version. So, maybe this Rochester was fresh
in everyone's minds when
"Labyrinth" was conceived. It was 1984 and Britain had Dalton-inspired,
gothic beefcake on the brain. Whatever, the die was cast and Rochester found his way into Jareth's psyche.
Jareth does have a bit of Heathcliff in him, too, with the wild streak and the immaturity, but he's much more like
Rochester in method. The images above depict their shared penchant for deception. Edward pretends to be a gypsy and cruelly plays Jane for personal information and a laugh.
Then we have Jareth in the tunnels, who dons a gypsy-like disguise, also for manipulative shock value.
Labyrinth follows "Jane Eyre"
point for point !
1. Selfish Men of Power
Jareth and Rochester are Lords of their respective realms and/or manors. They're also immature and selfish.
Jareth is King of the Underground and even owns property there (his castle). Rochester is a super-wealthy egomaniac
with his own castle, Thornfield Hall.
2. Women Who are Powerless
Both Sarah and Jane start out as children and come from unhappy homes with dysfunctional, adoptive parents. Then they make their grand escape to another world:
Sarah becomes a nobody trapped in Jareth's Labyrinth, committed to a 13-hour quest to find an obnoxious little kid.
Jane becomes a nobody who actually *works* for Rochester and lives at Thornfield, tutoring his obnoxious little kid.
They are both under the power of domineering men that they must obey.
3. Love Hurts and is Confusing.
Both dudes are in love with said women. But this can't work out. They're not right for each other, because they're
not at equal stations in life.
Sarah doesn't belong in Jareth's world, and Jane is ugly and impoverished. Neither one is quite right as a bride for the
Lord of the Manor. These relationships are
doomed, but the Guys still love these girls and can't admit it or face it. Everybody's weirded out.
4. Guys Respond by Doing Crazy Shit
These morons don't know how to deal with love directly. So, like typical men, they construct elaborate lies and
schemes to mask their feelings and/or express them indirectly.
Jareth makes the entire Labyrinth for Sarah and deceptively assumes the villain role to her exact specifications, thinking that this
will win her heart.
Rochester pretends that he has a girlfriend. He leads another girl on, faking that he's in love, and follows the ruse
until he's supposed to marry her (!). Then he dumps her and comes clean with Jane; it was all done in the hope of
making her jealous.
5. Both Guys have a Weakness, a Scary Monster, a Dark Secret
These dudes have serious problems. Turns out they're not the powerful icons they appear to be. They're both
slaves to something else.
Jareth doesn't really have control over Sarah. It's quite the opposite. His whole world is actually very fragile now that
Sarah's towing him by the heartstrings, and he wants to keep that a secret.
Rochester doesn't have control over Jane either. She leaves him when she finds out that he has a female Frankenstein monster chained up
in his attic. (Yes, really.) He's stuck with this beast and has to keep it a secret.
6. The Scary Monsters Get Loose and Destroy Tokyo
These guys can't stay in control of their various monsters, secrets, and problems.
Eventually, shit goes down and they lose everything.
Jareth's weakness gets out: Sarah learns that she has control over him, and she inadvertently destroys his castle, the whole Labyrinth, and much of the Underground.
Rochester's Monster gets out: Frankenstein destroys his castle (Thornfield Hall) and reduces to rubble most of what Rochester cares about.
7. The Dudes Finally Get Humble and Get Real
Now that their lives are ruined, the guys aren't pompous anymore. They've grown, and they're on equal footing with the
once-incompatible chicks that they still love.
Jareth is spent, has lost his competition with Sarah, and is desperate to make her his in what little remains of the
Rochester is broken, scarred for life in the altercation with Frankenstein,
and feels worthless now that he's no longer a wealthy big shot.
8. The Girls Get Empowered and Get to Choose.
After all their hardship, both Sarah and Jane have a good turn. Sarah finds out that she's in control of the Underground and has all the power, and Jane gets rich (!) through a sudden inheritance. They are helpless waifs no
Then it's time for Happily Ever After! Or not. Each man gathers the last of his courage and asks if the girl
will have him, and they make their decisions.
The message seems to be that men consider themselves worthy of women based on their material goods, their
perceived power, and their status compared to other men. Only as a desperate resort, when they have little to lose
and no other cards to play, will they offer themselves as actual people with needs and feelings, and with no illusions or schemes to protect them. It's this raw expression of themselves that women can't resist.
The King of Hearts
We think that Labyrinth's crossover with Jane Eyre is a subconscious thing. They set out to make Jareth similar to
Rochester, but the *identical character arc* was coincidence of a sort - feminine understanding speaking from some
quiet but universal place. Maybe Charlotte Bronte was the first to publicize this origin, but Jareth certainly wears
it like a pro.
He has all the pomp and confidence of Rochester. He's something of a brat, used to getting his own way, and he
enjoys having fun at others' expense. At the same time, he's handsome and debonair; he can
affect a perfect gentleman when he needs to, and he even has emotions. We love all of Jareth's qualities and he's
compelling from his first scenes, but perhaps he's never more attractive than in his final sequence, when he explains himself.
Admitting that he's tired from having done it all for Sarah, he has a depth of need and becomes real and complete,
even self-sacrificing as a Male Hero Figure.
"Jane Eyre" has a happy ending. It tells us the best about ourselves, that love can be
blind, and that we can reach for each other and find something genuine, even when we've lost everything else.
Jane knows this because she's had
a rough life and come through it truly wiser. She's better for having known the extraordinary character of
a guy like Rochester or Jareth. This is the only significant place where these two stories diverge.
Because unlike Sarah, Jane is not retarded.
This brings us to...
The Paradox of Labyrinth
Sarah actually REJECTS Jareth ? Sarah is a maturing character who's supposed to be wiser.
She's supposed to learn from her trials and hardships, but she
says No to him, deciding to go back to her ordinary, boring reality with a screaming baby and vacuous parents with badly-looped dialog.
The writers of the film would have us believe that this is the correct decision, but it isn't.
90% of Mature, Adult Women would say YES to Jareth.
And this is the right answer,
because they're experienced enough to appreciate a man of such passion and flawed character, and know that
no better will ever come along. They also know that what Jareth offers is a million times better than what
their "real" lives will provide. Sarah could never understand this, because she lives in a limited world of
homework, babysitting, and after-school-special rhetoric about what it means to "Make the Grown-up decision." And
that's the illusion. It's an idealized, Hollywood moral that has little bearing on real life, but Sarah
is just naive enough to believe it.
Adults know what reality is actually like. We've lived it long enough to know that it sucks, that
it's nothing like the fulfillment you imagine when you're a kid. We go through life:
Chasing our youth, wishing we could go back, wondering where the years go and why so fast, living an ordinary life that was supposed to be so much more. Reality is
all about paying bills, not sleeping, fighting gray hairs, struggling to stay in shape, trying to survive in a horrible economy,
being stressed out all the time, having way too many
being afraid of war and cancer and tragedy, and getting a day older every damn day until the last one, when you look
back on it all and say,
"That was It ? Either they sent me the wrong brochure, or I'm the
World's Biggest Chump."
What We've Learned
Rochester is an attractive creation, but of discrete origin. He's limited to context, place, and
time period - Which is a fine option if you want to spend eternity there. (Plenty of people do.)
But Jareth is so much more. He offers a totally flexible reality. He can modify himself to be what we want and to make us happy. And in the end, happiness is
the only important goal in life. Unfortunately, it takes most
people a lifetime to learn that there's little of it to be had, and it doesn't matter
how you get it, or whether it's "real."
But now that you've all seen "Labyrinth," you can take your lumps and be smarter for it.
If Jareth ever shows up in your life (you should recognize him in some glorious costume or another), he's your ticket to
happiness in the Underground. This guy is Mr. Right, designed just for you. The precedent is already established, so there's no reason to doubt. He's the eternal superhunk, the knight, the gentleman, the White Duke, a boy's rascal in a man's nobility, with your dreams
waiting in a perfect crystal. He
may be smiling mischievously, or looking haggard like this because he's tried so hard to get through to you because you've
been a tard up until now.
So remember, The correct answer is:
"YES! - Daddy, Get me out of here !"
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