Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Meaning of Mirrors

A Review of Mirror, Mirror

I think it's safe to assume that those who are going to see Mirror, Mirror have by now, and the rest won't care if I spoil it with a review.

First, I amend my statement that Monica Keena is the most ideal-looking portrayal of Snow White so far in a movie.  Lilly Collins does nothing short of embody her.  Her coloring is spot on, her features wide and youthful, and the sweet innocence inhabits every limb and movement.  Even after her graduation to a spunky, active heroine, she successfully integrates these traits.

Second, what a beautiful visual experience--from the unique color pallet of the over-the-top costumes to the the wicked Queen's balcony-like bedchamber, opening up onto a pristine lake over a precipice and illumined with stars, it's a feast for the senses.  I haven't enjoyed looking at something so much since coming face to face with Boticelli in Florence.

The winter wood, rather than a grimy, tangled wild land, takes the form of an archetypal snowy forest.  The trees are bare and uniform, the snow pristine, and both are the only things within eyesight in every direction.  This gives it a sense of a depthless otherworld, without normal spatial bounds.  The constant snowfall combined with the fact that near-naked characters never appear to be cold highlights the dream-like experience.

As for the story, it is unabashedly straightforward.  Mirror, Mirror relies on the fact that the Snow White fairy tale is already well-known, and it chooses to concentrate on the details rather than the whole.  

The characterizations breathe and blossom; not that there is depth and psychology but a freedom for the actors to give unique performances.  Julia Roberts as the evil Queen is humorously neurotic, and I have already touched on the Lily Collins's excellent Snow White.

There is an extraordinary scene in which the wicked Queen goes through a mirror and emerges in another dimension. Here, the notorious talking mirror is housed in a hut suspended, swamp-like, on water--perhaps the place that houses the hag-as-witch side of the Queen?  It's a visually stunning scene, with pure pleasure in the experience of the not knowing what next to expect.

Still, there seems to be an absence of symbolism in these beautiful expressions.  The snowy wood is just a wood, despite its suggesting otherwise.  The Queen's descent to her mirror could be infused with meaning, but it's not.  The feeling of meaning is absent from the narrative.  If the creators of Mirror, Mirror believed in them, they didn't infuse those beliefs into filming.

In having these potent images devoid of suggestion, I wonder if Mirror, Mirror doesn't come close to the nature of true fairy tales; in which, it seems, there is no explanation or deeper motivation behind a witch wishing to eat a child or a prince compelled to dance in Fairyland each night.  Perhaps we, as viewers, are invited to bring our own experiences and instincts to the pure images.  

Or perhaps these things defy analysis, because they resonate within us somewhere primordial and instinctual, so old and buried, we've forgotten what they're for and why we have them.



  1. You touch on a question that I am pondering a lot these days (someday I'll wrote a blogpost about it :-)). I keep wondering why the fairytale traditions work, and last, and keep their magic, when more modern fantasy and fiction tropes don't. What is the difference between an archetype and a stereotype? Why is there something satisfying in stories about third sons and persecuted maidens, but the soap-operatic conventions of modern, reluctant heroes and feisty heroines become boring?

  2. Great review. I felt similarly. Lily Collins really was beautiful in the role... watching her was my favorite thing about the movie.

  3. This article, and Anna's comment about it, is a good reminder about telling stories. I know this is something you mention quite often, but it is something that needs to be mentioned often. If we believe in the imagination of our readers - about what is contained in it and can be evoked as it exercises itself - we are released from the need to fill in all the gaps. We can write stories that are only half the story, the other half being inside the reader. But part of that means writing about things we've found, not invented. If we write about our own inventions, we have to explain them in detail, if we write about what we've found, we know our readers have probably also found it and probably just need hints and indications to remind them.

  4. I think the absence of symbolism must be what I felt was lacking. I wanted to like it. I love all things fairy tale, but I just wasn't engaged. Though I agree with you about the beautiful visual experience.


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