Some spoilers for the film Labyrinth ahead
A few nights ago, I decided, as I am often to do on a rainy night with nothing better on my agenda, to sit down and watch Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, commemorating the anniversary of his death with some of my favourite Henson creations, Labyrinth being close to the top of the list.
I get something a little different out of Labyrinth each time I watch it. When I was enjoying it as a child, I learned to love oddity, puppetry, and David Bowie’s music. As a preteen, I discovered Brian Froud’s wonderful artwork. As a teenager, I appreciated Sarah’s rocky journey towards accepting greater responsibility and learning to be less selfish (as well as David Bowie’s magnificent tight pants) When I watched it as a college freshman at the local theatre, I learned the power of shared nostalgia and childhood memories. Watching it during a difficult period of my life when I was trying to find the right way to break out of a toxic relationship, I gained strength from Sarah’s declaration to the Goblin King: You have no power over me. And now, as a twentysomething, much happier and better adjusted than I was before, I gained another lesson from Labyrinth: Learning to let go of both physical and mental baggage which holds you back and weighs you down.
Throughout the film, Sarah’s established as a girl who treasures her childhood possessions and memories, clinging to the past in a variety of ways. Her room is decorated with costumes, children’s fantasy books, toys, and play make-up, which is partially credited to missing her dead mother, who is never spoken of, but whose death and importance in Sarah’s life is made known through photographs and newspaper clippings. She is so fanatically attached to them, she practically throws a screaming fit at the thought of one of her teddy bears being taken from her room. When the Goblin King first meets her after stealing away her younger brother, he mocks her attachment to these trinkets, telling her, “Go back to your room and play with your toys and your costumes”. But Sarah persists in order to find Toby. She takes small steps towards learning to be less self-centred and more aware of the importance of paying attention to the present and letting go of trinkets. She gradually gives up small items, like plastic bracelets, so she can move forward in the goblin city and rescue Toby.
Sarah’s attachment to these toys, her past, and a fairy world of sorts culminate in a scene towards the end of the film, when she loses her memory and gets lost in a junk heap outside the goblin city, inhabited solely by withered creatures who carry all their worldly possessions on their back, like hermit crabs. One particular “Junk Lady” takes Sarah into an exact replica of her room at home, and begins piling possessions on her back: Teddy bears, a candy-making kit, costume jewellery, and music boxes, praising each one and the value it holds to Sarah. Finally remembering why she came there in the first place, Sarah sweeps aside all of her toys, declaring “This is all junk!” The illusion is shattered, and the false room comes down, while Sarah frantically cries, “I have to save Toby!” If she had continued to passively allow her past and her possessions to define her, she may have ended up just like the other junk people, weighed down by holding onto too much.
By the end of the film, Sarah’s learned to not let her past and her possessions be her only treasures in life. After being returned safely home with Toby, she gives him the teddy bear she’d previously pitched a fit over him having, and enters her room to find her friends from the other world telling her they’ll be there for her, should they need her. Sarah acknowledges that “from time to time”, she’ll always need them. That’s a very Henson lesson: You childhood may not define you, but now and again, it’s good to look back and not forget it.
What I learned from Sarah’s journey through material and mental selfishness and egotism is important to me, as a twenty-something with nerdy inclinations; the drug of choice for many of my kind is nostalgia, remembering things fondly through the lens of popular culture and media, and proudly declaring that we won’t ever grow up from that, and forming cliques around pop culture from the past.* I’m guilty of that myself once in a while. It can get to ridiculous amounts sometimes, which I usually end up seeing the result of on Tumblr. Some people can get rather viciously defensive of their pop culture, even declaring that something critical or unusually interpreted can “ruin their childhood”.
Nothing will ruin my childhood though**. It’s in my past, and, like Sarah post-Labyrinth journey, I would prefer to move forward by not dwelling on a past of mythical carefree times and lack of responsibility, but instead, remembering it fondly and calling to it in a moment when I need to remember a simple lesson in bravery, logic, friendship, or independence, all of which Sarah learned in the Labyrinth.
* If you’re over 35/not from North America and find this claim dubious, try googling “90s kid” or “80s kid”.
** Please do not take that as a “challenge accepted”.