Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Film Festival: 'The Last Unicorn'

Rob and I are always test-driving media for Westley. Now that he's 3-1/2 and approaching the point where I have vivid memories of myself enjoying particular books and movies, I'm all the more curious to revisit the world of children's entertainment. One of my absolute favorite films when I was a preschooler was The Last Unicorn.

Westley is not easily frightened by movies, but I wanted to re-watch The Last Unicorn on my own before sharing it with him because I remembered a few images in particular being especially dark. It turns out, my memories of the film are much cheerier than the film itself.

The film is about a unicorn who, upon concluding that she is the last unicorn in the world (this is later confirmed) goes on a quest to find the rest of her kind. And what a verbose quest it turns out to be! I had completely forgotten how talky the film is—and the dialog often comes as lengthy metaphor and grand observations. I was particularly struck by the powerful, magical female shit that goes down when the witch Mommy Fortuna captures the Unicorn for her Midnight Carnival:
Mommy Fortuna: The harpy's as real as you are, and just as immortal. And she was just as easy to catch, if you want to know.
Unicorn: Do not boast, old woman. Your death sits in that cage, and she hears you.
Mommy Fortuna: Oh, she'll kill me one day or another. But she will remember forever that I caught her, and I held her prisoner. So there's my immortality, eh?
Unicorn: Let me go. And let her go too. I cannot bear to see her caged. We are two sides of the same magic... The harpy and me, we are not for you.
After the Unicorn frees herself and then the harpy, Celaeno, and Mommy Fortuna (gladly) accepts her fate of death at the harpy's claws, I turned to Rob in disbelief.

"I fucking loved this movie when I was Westley's age!"

Rob grinned his I-know-you-and-that-doesn't-surprise-me-at-all grin.

I continued to be struck by the idea that as an adult—and the mother of a preschooler—I was finding this film incredibly challenging and mildly disturbing. This film I so adored when I was my son's current age.

I might still let Westley watch The Last Unicorn soon. He caught sight of the DVD case and was quite intrigued. ("What's dis?" he asked. Rob told him, "A scary movie Mommy and I watched last night.") But I'll want to be sure I can sit with him for the duration of the film. There's not a lot I object to in the movie. There is one awful moment during the climactic battle where the Unicorn is in danger and the film's resident "tough girl," Molly, calls out, "Somebody do something!" Rob pointedly corrected her: "Somebody male do something!"

Potentially objectionable material and general scariness are one thing, but Big Themes are another. Maybe I'm being overly cautious, but I feel like Westley might need me to hold his hand through the especially metaphorical parts.



Anonymous said...

It says "anonymous, but it's really your mom.

I'd like to know where was I when this was going on? Clearly it was your dad's watch, 'cuz I NEVER heard about this film!

Allison the Meep said...

I was also completely in love with this when I was very young. The unicorn thing did it for me. I'm sure all the metaphorical stuff flew right over my head because when I watched it a few years ago, it was nothing like what I remembered.

Except for that awesome music, which was done by America. They freaking rule.

This is a total side note, but I was discussing this movie with my film geek friend, and he insists that the entire movie is a metaphor for a girl getting her period. Haha!

Noelle said...

I think your film geek friend is partially right, Allison. The magical thing that drove the other unicorns away is called The Red Bull, which I would say is a pretty heavy-handed metaphor...except that the Red Bull belongs to King Haggard, who wants to keep the unicorns for himself. The Red Bull drives the unicorns into the sea (what is it with women and water?) where they're trapped. If there's a menarche metaphor going on here, who is the King?

However, the Unicorn has to become human to learn about love and regret (to grow up, really), and when she becomes human the space on her forehead where her horn was is marked by a star-shaped pink "stain" (for lack a of a better word—it's not exactly a birthmark).

It's definitely a story about transformation and the things that you can never un-know once you've been changed.