"I am not afraid... I was born to do this." St. Joan of Arc
Snow White has come a long way. No longer a soft cartoon character, this reinterpretation of the timeless classic shows us a new kind of woman: unafraid in the face of danger, unwavering in her single-hearted perseverance, and unwilling to let evil have the find word.
Snow White and the Huntsman surprises us not only in its revisionist storytelling, but also in the way it connects its two titular characters. One might imagine that our heroine (Kristin Stewart) would spend a movie with a title like that pining over the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) sent to kill her; instead, right from the beginning, the two becomes comrades in arms - with Snow White in the lead.
It's a refreshing take on the action adventure genre, typically dominated by men in the hero's role. Even more impressive is that the other major person of interest in this tale is the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who takes the prize as one of the most villainous characters to be seen on screen.
In a sense, the huntsman, despite his name on the movie poster, becomes a minor player in this drama - as do most of the other male figures in this film. This one, then, is all about the women.
In this retelling, the height of Snow White's journey is her evolution into a Joan of Arc-like soldier, leading her troops into battle against all that is evil in an outfit that resembles most of the statues, paintings, and movie costumes we've seen of the popular French saint. She rides upon her horse at the front of the charge towards the castle, inspiring the dwarves and townspeople alike to take back their kingdom and undo the injustices of a tyrannical regent. And just like St. Joan in her own trial, this Snow White pauses for a moment in her prison cell to recite The Lord's Prayer in an appeal to her Creator.
Another group of female characters shine brightly in Huntsman: these are the women of the village in the woods we meet halfway through the film who have taken it upon themselves to disfigure their faces so that Queen Ravenna cannot grow more powerful (backstory: she drains the age and beauty of young women to keep herself young with each passing year).
And despite escaping from the queen's grasp and hiding out in the wilderness, these refugees are anything but weak. They possess a wisdom and strength that the visiting huntsman can only hope to attain. They also realize that the value of a woman goes far beyond their appearance, standing up to and fighting the evils of vanity and narcissism (embodied in a witch who stares endlessly into a mirror) through the values of self-sacrificial action and self-giving community.
For a pleasant change, it's great to see a film where women truly steal every scene. They aren't dependent upon the men to save the day, which seems to be the case in many other films, especially in this genre.
So for me, this movie called to mind all the strong women in my life. I thought about those women who serve as role models not just to other women, but to all people, who defend and protect those in their care, and who take on the mantle of leadership with both humility and confidence.
It also stands as a testament against the objectification of women. Too often in my own moviegoing experiences, women are relegated to being the "damsel in distress," the "temptress," or the "arm jewel" to the male protagonists. Not that all these depictions are trying to objectify women, but they don't leave a lot of room for women to be seen above and beyond these supporting roles.
In a fairy tale originally focused around the "fairest of them all," it seemed of all the characters on screen, the fairest were actually the ones who disfigured themselves. They remind us that true beauty is found in those who stand against the evils of selfishness, corruption, and belligerence.
Who are those women in your life who possess the strength, conviction, and leadership that inspire you?
Who are the women who look into the face of conflict and evil today, and say, "I am not afraid... I was born to do this," like St. Joan of Arc?
Who are the people who embody the spirit of strong women of faith like Mary Magdalene, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Who act like historical female leaders and role models like Empress Theodora, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Helen Keller?
In my life, I think of my wife and mother, strong women who have inspired me by their words and actions throughout my life. I think of several teachers in high school, college, and graduate school who have not just opened my mind to new frontiers, but taught me life's most important lessons. I think of my colleagues in ministry and in the church who have stepped forward despite the obstacles and out of a deep love of God and others. And I think of my friends, family members, classmates, and others whom I have encountered over the years who have made an impact on the world that I can only hope to emulate.
Let us pray for all those wonderful women in our lives who stand out in their own right, dependent only upon the grace of God in all they do. Through the intercession of strong saints like Joan and others, we look forward to all that they continue to do to illuminate our universe.