Bowie’s “Labyrinth” – Esoteric Analysis, pt 3

By: Jay Dyer Previously, we saw that Jareth had a kind of attraction towards Sarah, reminiscent of the angelic attraction towards the "daughters of men" of Genesis 6. Sarah entered this mystical realm of fantasy/psyche, seeking to figure things out. What she has so far found is that the world is not really as it seems, and doesn't operate like an adolescent thinks. So, on one level, the Labyrinth is Sarah's psyche, and at another level, it's her interpretation of the world as she passes from youth to adulthood. This process itself is conceived of as an alchemical transformation, since the body itself "transforms" as it grows. This is the reason for the continual emphasis on bodily functions. As Sarah leaves the fierys, she enters the Bog of Eternal Stench. The fascination of children with bodily functions in a Freudian sense need not be mentioned, but is clearly what is at work here. The world seems simultaneously gross and appealing to Sarah, as she enters puberty.  Sarah encounters Sir Didymus, the British fox. As with Sarah's questioning by Hoggle for the right words to enter the Labyrinth, she is here asked by Sir Didymus for the right words to pass the bridge. This may have a masonic reference to it, as Masonry asks its "seekers" for passwords and the purported "lost name."

Sarah is then tricked into eating a forbidden peach, reminiscent of Eve in the garden. Sarah trips out, and begins her fantasy with Jareth – evil, or more specifically, sex, is simultaneously repulsive and appealing to her.  Sarah is trapped inside an “orb” and the ballroom scene becomes one of veiled orgy.  Phallic references are rife amongst the adults who wear demon masks. At one level, this is Sarah passing into the realm of adulthood, whose pleasures don’t make sense to her. Jareth, as the devil character, decides to take the virgin bride for himself (as Sarah is dressed in white). While drugged, she is initiated into Jareth’s cult in a “dance” that clearly hints at orgy.

One is reminded of Phantom of the Opera and Eyes Wide Shut:

Sarah breaks from this fantasy/trip and is dazed and confused. She can’t recall what she is searching for, and is tempted by the Junk Lady to stay a child immersed in pretending and toys. Sarah discards these as trinkets and junk and rejoins her companions to face what reminds one of a golem, guarding the gate to the Goblin City. After the battle, Sarah enters the M.C. Escher patterned palace of Jareth.  Bowie treats us to some campy lyrics, while defying gravity. Seeking to seduce Sarah, he distracts her from finding Toby.

Sarah decides to take a leap of faith, and the Labyrinth falls to pieces, where she faces Jareth in his owl costume. Jareth claims he has done all that Sarah has wanted. Sarah, responds by reciting the words from the book, The Labyrinth, and Jareth offers her dreams if he can rule her. This scene echoes the temptation of Jesus on the mount by the serpent.  However, in this non-theistic version, Sarah realizes that she must merely assert herself to be “saved.”  As soon as she realizes she is her own “god,” Jareth’s power appears to fail, and he must leave. All is then apparently returned to normal, Toby is back, and Sarah puts some of her fantasy items away.

Her fantastical friends then appear in a big party in her room – including the “bad guys,” such as the goblins.  The last shot shows Jareth in his owl form watching over the whole thing – in other words, Jareth had all along planned the scenario of Sarah’s transition from youth to adulthood, and at a deeper level, Sarah’s transition from seeing things as absolute – good and evil, to now being “friends” with both good and evil. Sarah has been “initiated” into a false worldview, where she now sees good and evil as relative and manifestations of her own psyche. He then flies off under the sign of the moon. Thus, in the end, the theme of quest and defeat of evil has, unfortunately, been relativized. We will see this same notion in another underground Henson film I will review, The Dark Crystal.

14 Comments on Bowie’s “Labyrinth” – Esoteric Analysis, pt 3

  1. Great review as always. Can’t wait for the one on Dark Crystal. It’s crazy how much we were spoon fed the notion of the concordance of opposites/beyond good and evil b.s, while we were growing up. Even dualistic religions like Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism, that believed Good and Evil to be on a level playing field, at least understood that Good was to be desired over Evil, but the modern occult dualism insists that we must have a balance of both. If this is the religion of many of our elite over lords, no wonder they subject the world to so much unnecessary suffering.

    • I interpreted the labyrinth to be of a Christian message in a media outlet where Christianity is not openly accepted. It was my assumption that Toby represented her innocence once she did not have her way as a child often feels she is beset by pride and anger which caused her innocence to be lost in this dimension of a material or. so the 13 hours of homework she is a lot of to find her innocence once again she is attacked but psychologically and spiritually through many methods of party and drugs with the basketball head characters, falling in love which is actually a trick by share or Satan to distract from what the real purpose of our existence here it is, the junk lady who attempts to distract and shoes someone in distress with trinkets and possessions which of course didn’t last very long, the boggest inch which I think represents the judicial system and that is why the dog is actually a magistrate of sorts because the stench is the stigma of crime which the legal system also being a trap would make sense. Then there are the door knockers and the upside down people on the wall basically indicate that you can’t trust people everything that they say is more than likely ask you or at best half truths. there’s also the old man who has the bird on his head so he is double minded and can’t really do much for you anyways even though he appears to be wise. Intern the big machine must be the war machine from which really only a few individuals control to keep everyone in line. the rocks that little cuz I believe have something to do with prayers and the Word of God magically assisting. The friends that she makes on her past represent or different personalities and masks that we develop for our survival and that deep down underneath we do find some good friends in this world even though we are completely different. At the end when she is in the labyrinth I believe after she has seen through all of the other tricks is that she cannot approach the situation with her intellect but only spiritually or in other words she cannot trust on her own understanding but laying on the God at all times. Then

  2. Really good comment, thanks for posting this.

    Here is one point I would like to make:

    Actually, if you let the presence of the “evil” characteres in the party be just a way to showcase the muppets, with no particular meaning, the overall inerpretation can be quite different.

    Sarah was attracted to Jareth in a way that she couldn´t understand, but, being pure as she was, was able to reject him without a hint of doubt. In the ball scene, she recognises that there is something wrong and escapes instantly. She is able to get over the obstacles thanks to her kind spirit that wins her friends. In the final scene, she says her will is as strong as Jareth´s, and her kingdom as great (as neither of them have nothing but fantasy. She refuses to “be ruled” by the evil because she knows that the rewards are not true, and because her own freedom is sacred to her.

    I see the message as a very optimistic statement about an innocent heart not being conquered by evil.

    • I do not think Jareth is evil. I see him as a manifestation of her growing sexual desires, except that he becomes self-aware and resents being trapped in that limited role (“I can’t live within you”). So he orchestrates her growth and his own release.

      • That is true, insofar as in the story, he isn’t not evil per se, but a manifestation of her voyage into womanhood. However, I argue that on a wider, totality scope of the overall message, it is a deeper esoteric agenda, if you will, where what is promoted is a kind of Jungian gnostic worldview where Jareth represents external “imprisoning male deities,” like the biblical G-d. In this vein, Jareth represents something Sarah needs to cast off.

  3. Or maybe something she is not yet ready to accept.
    Hey, check this out:

  4. Your analysis is very interesting. I have been rewatching the movie recently myself (while playing the technical details of transcoding it from my blue-ray disc into a format that will work on my telephone, in Linux of all operating systems, because just downloading it is too easy).

    I also interpreted it as a transition from childhood to adulthood, on the basic premise of Sarah being selfish and myopic in the beginning, longing for the protection of her mother (as evidenced by the newspaper articles in the beginning, which also help explain her penchant for theatre and fantasy) and the rejection of the baby, into responsibility and the ability to look out for the good of others, which seems to begin when the first enters the Labyrinth (the scene with the leafless trees and dry earth).

    My mind is not attuned to thinking of obelisks and towers as phallic symbols, despite the fact that authorial intent might be for them to be so, so I regard them more as symbols of power, or maybe reminders for Sarah to look upward, toward what is right.

    I read another interesting review (I forget where it was) whose author contended that while many interpret Jareth as representing Satan (I don’t, but I have talked with a couple people who do), he represents the Christian God better because he basically says, ‘If you love me and be my slave, I will give you everything’. The author then explained that his goddess was better because he was free to take or leave her, and that she did not require him to be bound with her. The important detail that he left out is that according to the Bible, the Christian God created the universe and has the right to do as he will, whereas Jareth (as far as we have reason to believe) did not create the universe and has no authority to demand such obeisance from creatures he did not create.

    One speculation that I find interesting is this: If you consider the movie purely in terms of plot, Jareth stole Toby because he wanted a successor to become Goblin King. I saw Jareth’s reign as a quasi-hereditary role in which each Goblin King was stolen as a baby from the human world, and each in turn needed to steal his successor as well, becoming, in effect, the successor’s stolen/adopted father.

  5. “I read another interesting review (I forget where it was) whose author contended that while many interpret Jareth as representing Satan (I don’t, but I have talked with a couple people who do), he represents the Christian God better because he basically says, “If you love me and be my slave, I will give you everything.”

    I think the Jareth=Satan idea comes from the monothiestic image of Satan as tempter, with the whole Faustian “give me your soul and I will give you great power” setup. Anyways, I don’t think Jareth really wants to rule over Sarah in an authoritarian way; he just does not understand any other sort of relationship.

  6. Very interesting interpretation.

  7. Interesting article, but I would like to point out a few things:

    “Ending up in an oubliette, a place of forgetting things, she is able to haggle with Hoggle, who appears to be an image of the typical ‘Jew.’ Hoggle has a prominent nose and is crafty and deceptive, welcoming Sarah’s bribery with fake ‘jewels.'”

    A thorough review of the folk-tales and legends of Europe will affirm that dwarves, gnomes, and trolls all tend to have prominent noses. Does this mean that all myths and legends are anti-semitic? I don’t think so, unless you assume (falsely) that all Jews have prominent noses, and that they are the only ethnicity known to exhibit prominent noses. Also, in myths and legends, dwarves and gnomes are miners. Hence the fascination with jewels.

    “Sarah is then tricked into eating a forbidden peach, reminiscent of Eve in the garden.”

    Actually, while the fruit in the Garden of Eden was merely forbidden, the peach that Sarah consumes is a poisoned gift–one that has parallels throughout European fairy tales–most famously, Snow White. The makers of Labyrinth acknowledged that they drew much inspiration from folk and fairy tales. So in these cases, the evidence would seem to bear out exactly what they are saying–rather than more obscure, tenuous references to 19th/20th century race theories, the Biblical era and the occult.

    • Thanks Ben. This was one of the first ones I wrote years ago from an Oder blog, so it bears a lot of marks of amateur analysis. Since then, they’ve gotten considerably more indepth. Your comments are very good. Thanks!

  8. Just to add to your interesting bodily functions/phallic thesis – I think “Sir Didymus” is so called to resonate with the epididymis, which would probably resonate with a certain British public schoolboy type humour of a certain generation (thinking Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who wrote it).
    And your comment about revisiting childhood films (the cool uncle who actually turns out to be an alcoholic) was bang on – I thought this film was magical and creepy, aged 8. Rewatched aged 36 a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly bored, and felt that the only creepy thing about it was Bowie’s tights. I was spellbound aged 8 – aged 36, I gave up after the first ten tedious minutes!

  9. Great article. But there’s a detail in the ‘adult party’ that’s missing. The movie makers purposefully made sure to obscure it (probably to avoid overoffending parents in the 1980s audience). There us a woman speaking to Jareth. The audio is not heard but watch her lips, she says, “She’s to young for you”.

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