Labyrinth, the demonic, and Lent 

The movie Labyrinth, directed by Jim Henson, and starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, was a weirdly fantastical movie that came out in 1986, the year of my birth.  It was a favorite movie of my sister’s generation that grew up in the 80’s and has become what some people would call a cult-classic; I remember watching it with her and some friends as a kid.  It featured a bizarre arrangement of puppets (from who else but Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets), magic, and takes place in a fairytale land of goblins, talking animals and statues.  The main character Sarah (Connelly) is obsessed with the fantastical, and spends most of her time reciting lines from her favorite book/play Labyrinth. 

In her book the brother of a young woman is taken from her by the Goblin King named Jareth (Bowie), and she must go on an adventure through the maze of the labyrinth, past the Goblin City, make it to the castle, and rescue the brother.  In order for the Goblin King to get the brother she has to wish for him to come and take him.  Sarah is very selfish in the beginning of the movie, only wanting to play and make-believe.  She even gets upset that one of her parents had given her teddy bear to her baby brother Toby to help him fall asleep and runs into his room dramatically and takes it away.  Later she is frustrated having to babysit Toby and he is crying and crying, so she wishes in real life for him to be taken away.  Well Jareth then actually does come and take her brother Toby and so the story becomes reality, and Sarah is transported to the land of adventure she had read about so much in her book. 

I recently had the opportunity to watch it with my family, although maybe saying I forced them to watch it might be more accurate.  It was even a stranger movie than I remembered and my children made sure to let me know!  However, now when I watched it as an adult, I noticed some very profound messages and deep imagery in the movie that I never would have realized at a younger age. 

In one scene of the movie getting nearer to the end, Sarah eats an apple given to her by Hoggle, a friend she made on her quest (after Jareth ordered him to do so).  She ends up basically in a trance, and Jareth then sends a bubble like object floating toward her as she is sitting down staring off into the distance.  As the bubble passes by her Sarah sees a vision inside, and as she looks at it she ends up becoming a part of it.  She finds herself dressed up in a fancy dress, and is pursuing Jareth who is also a part of it.  She is at a party with a lot of other people and most of them are wearing masks with demonic shapes, including the Goblin King who has the most Satanic mask of all.  She sees him a ways off in the party and goes toward him (where he is surrounded by other women) but she can never quite reach him, until finally she does and they dance together. 

She starts to realize something is wrong, that she was searching for something, and at that point the bubble bursts, and she ends up in a large area with piles of garbage all around.  An old woman comes up to her, she is walking around with all kinds of junk and garbage piled up on her back.  The old woman gives her the same teddy bear she had refused to give to her baby brother earlier in the movie and then directs her through a door that she enters and finds to be her own room.  She thinks, wow, this must have all been a dream, but no, she goes back outside and everywhere is still the garbage.  The old lady brings her back in her “room” and starts to point to all of the toys and things she has, saying how important they must be to her.  All this stuff she had accumulated that she cared so much about, which she did not even want to share with her brother.  The garbage woman starts piling up all these items onto Sarah’s back, just like her own back is piled high.  Sarah still cannot quite remember what it is that she is looking for.  All of a sudden she does remember her brother Toby and she escapes out of the window and there are the friends she made journeying through the Labyrinth, and they help her continue the quest.  She makes it all the way to the castle with their help. 

Finally at the very end she must face down the Goblin King in order to retrieve her brother and some interesting lines of dialogue ensue.  Sarah says to Jareth (following the lines in the play she had been practicing earlier): “ Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen.  For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great…”. 

But she cannot remember the final line that she is supposed to say, just like she had trouble remembering it before.  Jareth says to her:  “Everything that you wanted I have done.  You asked that the child be taken.  I took him.  You cowered before me, I was frightening.  I have reordered time.  I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you!  I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me.  Isn’t that generous?” 

At this point in the story Sarah realizes that the Goblin King never once was able to do anything to her that she herself did not ask for or allow.  He had no real ability to control her or her actions.  In fact everything was going along according to the way it was determined to do so.  At the end of the day she had the power to finish the story and bring it to a close and with that knowledge she remembers the final line: “You have no power over me.” 

Imagination and creativity are wonderful creations of God.  But so is responsibility, caring for those in our charge, and making sure the world is a better place because of our presence in it.  Those good things from God can become corrupted over time, because of our selfish nature, and because of the rule of evil and Satan in this world.  We can start to focus on the things that we have, the trinkets and toys that we have accumulated over time, more than the relationships that we have with others.  We can get lost in our imaginations, in flights of fancy, to the point that we no longer are living in the real world.  We want to just have a good time, and not pay attention to the responsibility that we all have to care for others.  We let these things have power over us. 

Yet as Christians we know an underlying reality:  Satan has no power of us that we ourselves do not give him.  In Lent we are moving forward on our journey of life in the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  It is a quest to rid of ourselves of the demonic, selfish nature that all of us at some point or another fall victim to, and even welcome in!  In Christ we have a new life that is not bound to the fallen nature of our selfishness and greed.  In Christ’s love we can go a new direction.  Sarah realizes at the end of the movie that she does not need to give up every single one of her toys (though she does finally give the teddy bear to her baby brother Toby), but she needs to prioritize the things in her life.  To put them in their appropriate place of importance.  She can therefore still enjoy them properly, and she grows in maturity as she does so.  God does not take away our imagination and creativity or even everything we have necessarily, but God does help us use it in ways that are productive for us and those around us.  As we go through this adventure of life, especially in these days of repentance and reflection of Lent, let us remember that in Jesus, Satan truly has no power over us. 

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.’” - Revelation 12:9-11