In my last post I ranted about a fairy tale movie I disliked, “Into the Woods,” so now I’ll tell you about one I enjoyed a lot. “You’ll like it so much, Mummy,” said my oldest who had watched it before with Daddy, “It was, like, made for you!” The movie is called Mirror, Mirror and stars Julia Roberts as Snow White’s wicked step-mother. But rather than being just another evil old lady movie, Mirror, Mirror takes quite an interesting and humourus look at the problem of beauty.
The story is told from the perspective of the step-mother, an aging queen who is trying to hang on to the beauty of her youth with all her might. Her most intimate and honest relationship is with her magic mirror; it is the only one permitted to see her vulnerability and insecurity. Time is taking its toll and threatening to snatch away her claim to being “the fairest of them all.” As she has always used her beauty as a source of power, this loss has not only personal but political ramifications, and makes her fearful of losing her crown.
When a handsome (but this time not sleezy like the one in Into the Woods) young prince arrives at the castle, she sees in him an opportunity to solve her financial problems and gain security. The pre-ball ‘beauty treatments’ she undergoes are a painfully funny commentary on woman’s willingness to suffer for her appearance. She uses a a bird-dropping face mask, bee stings on her lips as an instant volumizer, and a horrific harness-like undergarment to squeeze her into her old dress size, to name a few.
Yet despite her physical appeal, the queen lacks warmth; she is always determined to feel superior to those she is with, even the prince whose affections she is trying to gain. While she dresses as a magnificent peacock for the costume ball, the outfit she chooses him is that of a rabbit, with silly huge ears sticking out of his hat. It is very clear who is in charge.
All her efforts at impressing him are trumped by the simple elegance of Snow White, who arrives dressed as a swan, and captivates the prince. The most charming part about her though, rather than her appearance, is how little she thinks of herself. Her defining traits are to be found in her care for others, from the palace servants to the people of her late father’s kingdom. She shines in relationship, rather than in isolation. Integrity and finding the courage to fight for the good are what make this girl attractive. Her Audrey Hepburn-like beauty is something that simply fits with the goodness that exudes from within.
She proves herself a lot more capable than even she expected she was, and finds, with the amusing help of her friends the dwarves, the strength to fight to reclaim the throne of her father from the abusive queen who is taxing the people to death to support her lavish lifestyle. While the young Snow White’s life expands as she gains in her sense of purpose and in serving others, the older queen’s life, built on manipulation and control, collapses inwards as her isolating self-admiration becomes insufficient to ensure her own happiness.
I highly recommend this movie, for being both humourus and thoughtfully done, and touching on interesting themes of youth, age, beauty, generosity and selfishness. The themes of using beauty as a source of power, and basing one’s self-worth on externals, are certainly important issues facing women in our society today, and worth discussing with our daughters and friends.
Finally, Mirror, Mirror also ends with an unexpected Bollywood style song and dance number by Snow and the dwarves which is sure to make you laugh! 😄 I sure did!