Friday, September 16, 2011

The Company of Wolves: Film Thoughs by Joy Spicer

The Company of Wolves

Here is our first guest post, by Joy Spicer, about fairy tale films. Thanks to Joy for being the first to share a favorite fairy tale film and sharing her thoughts on The Company of Wolves. You, too, can participate still. Read more about it at Fairy Tale Film Month.

From Joy:

This is a fab idea, discussing fairy tale films, there are so many out there! Usually I would find something like this hard, trying to choose one but this was easy as I love ‘The Company of Wolves’. My guilty pleasure, though, is ‘Enchanted’ – from dark to sort of airy-fairy! But I love the way the animation translated so effortlessly to real life and even though she presented as a wide-eyed ditz, in the end Giselle came through as a don’t-mess-with-me woman!!

I admit I like Disney, but mainly for the music. Although I would prefer a ‘dark’ element in there; even though it’s aimed at children, most do enjoy at least a frisson of danger. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as ‘age rating’ for films, so I saw some pretty scary stuff. I was afraid of the dark (still am sometimes) but it was a delicious kind of scary … it made you feel alive even if I wouldn’t have articulated it in that manner as a child. My children, now in their teens, enjoyed cuddling up to watch scary films, feeling safe with their parents … although my younger son refused to watch things like Jurassic Park, only because that could well happen so was a bit too real for him! The point there could well be, if the child can’t handle it, then don’t watch it but don’t dumb everything down and make it all sweetness and light, in the hopes of making maximum profit.

Even as a child, and especially when I was older, I wasn’t that enamoured of the Red Riding Hood story. Why? Because I minded the wolf getting killed! And Red wasn’t much of a role model, was she? Couldn’t do anything for herself, had to be rescued by a man … not that there’s anything wrong with a man coming to the rescue but in most, if not all the fairy tales – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella – the women cannot function until a man comes along. A message about women knowing their place and not stepping off the path?

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed The Company of Wolves is the part that warns against men whose eyebrows meet in the middle; at the time my eyebrows met in the middle (before I discovered the joys of eyebrow tweezing!) and I didn’t care that I was female, I liked to think that maybe there was something ‘wolf’ in me …

The film revolves around two versions of Rosaleen – the ‘real’ girl who seems to be from a rich family, who locks herself in her room, surrounded by her toys. All this points to someone who is still a child, who seems to be hiding from life, except she’s wearing very red lipstick and looking most un-childlike as she sleeps. She’s dreaming of the second Rosaleen, who is basically herself but the opposite; the dream Rosaleen is poor, she seems to be stronger and more questioning of her life, someone who gains confidence as the film progresses.

All through the film, there are constant references to the ‘path’, especially from Granny. Rosaleen must stay on the path, where it is safe; she must not stray from the path. The path is the safe way through the forest, which is dark and forbidding where all kinds of nasty things are just waiting to pounce on the unwary – just as in life. Keep to the prescribed rules of society, which will keep you safe; don’t explore or spread your wings, for you will surely take a tumble and be lost. It becomes blindingly obvious that Granny never strayed from the path, and now she’s alone with only her knitting and the stories she tells Rosaleen – stories that tell of punishment for those who stray from the path, who give in to temptation. Interestingly, when Rosaleen has a go at telling her own stories, they are positive and about the power that women have.

What I said before about fictional females being unable to function until a man comes along – I read quite a bit of young adult fiction as the stories I write are young adult fantasy, and I’ve noticed that that seems to be the way most young women are portrayed these days. They seem to wait around, seemingly helpless, for the man to save them from ‘whatever’!! The Rosaleen in the dream, however, is the opposite of these female protagonists – she is in charge of herself, she questions things; for example: when Granny says, “All alone in the woods and nobody there to save her” (referring to Rosaleen’s sister who was killed by the wolves), Rosaleen asks, “Why couldn’t she save herself?” And when Granny tells the story of the travelling man, Rosaleen doesn’t seem to be shocked by the werewolf who attacks his wife, but by the woman who fails to defend herself when her second husband hits her. By the end of the film, Rosaleen shows that she knows how to stand up for herself, unlike her sister and that woman, unlike her Granny even who never strayed from the path but still got eaten. When the huntsman changes into a wolf, Rosaleen doesn’t scream, neither does she get eaten. Instead she defends herself with a shotgun before embracing her adulthood and willingly becoming a wolf, mate to the huntsman’s wolf.

I also liked the way Rosaleen’s family is portrayed in a positive way. Yes, her mother is a housewife, a seemingly stereotypical role but she’s a strong woman, with her own views. I always wondered if Granny was her mother or mother to Rosaleen’s father, for Granny never referred to Rosaleen’s mother as her daughter. Surely Granny would have made sure her own daughter never strayed from the path … Rosaleen’s mother’s comment – “If there’s a beast in men it meets its match in women too” – doesn’t sound like something Granny would say!! That, and her mother’s seeming acceptance of Rosaleen’s wolf-transformation at the end, makes me wonder if, somewhere in her past, she strayed off the path, if only for a while? And if her mother strayed from the path and survived, maybe this gives Rosaleen the confidence to do so.

My favourite story in the whole film is the one which Rosaleen tells of the wronged woman who, pregnant, turns up at the aristocrat’s wedding party where she curses him and his guests to be wolves forever. I particularly like the part after the wolves run off, when the footmen bow to her and she bows in turn before swanning off, and the musicians play on! When the wolves come to serenade her baby, she takes pleasure in the power she has over them. Even though she was used and then left by the aristocrat, still she seemed to come out the winner.

My favourite scene is right at the end, when wolf-Rosaleen breaks out of Granny’s house and joins her mate as they race through the forest … then it becomes a whole pack of wolves (or cuddly German shepherds!) running and tumbling through the dream landscape of giant toys, through the house of the real Rosaleen, except now it looks abandoned, as if the forest is reclaiming it, up the stairs and bursting through the walls … When I first saw the film, I didn’t understand why the real Rosaleen woke up screaming; it was some years and many viewings later, when I was older, that I realised it had to do with the end of her childhood – how strange that the dream Rosaleen embraced her impending womanhood with confidence but for the real Rosaleen, it was something she seemed to fear.

I admit there are still bits of the film that I just don’t get – like when Rosaleen climbs the tree, finds the nest with the 4 beautiful eggs and they ‘hatch’ to reveal the little figures, and later, when the one she shows her mother sheds a tear … I really don’t get that at all.

I also have the Angela Carter book that has the stories that are in the film. Obviously the book is so much darker and more explicit than the film, but I enjoy both – the book gives so much more food for thought and the film is a visual treat.

I’m looking forward to reading the wonderful entries and discussions, though I shall endeavour not to wish the month away! Happy for you to use my name – Joy Spicer; I do have a blog but I don’t tend to post about my writing … though I might if and when I do get an agent and, fingers crossed, a publisher!


  1. I admit there are still bits of the film that I just don’t get – like when Rosaleen climbs the tree, finds the nest with the 4 beautiful eggs and they ‘hatch’ to reveal the little figures, and later, when the one she shows her mother sheds a tear … I really don’t get that at all.

    My understanding of this scene is that it's about Rosaleen's menarche. She climbs a tree and a stork flies away from the nest (the stork that brings babies). In the next she finds a pot of lipstick and a mirror--significantly a pot containing red stuff (vaginal) to be applied to the lips (and remember that "labia" means "lips" in Latin), rather than the more common and phallic retractable stick of lipstick. Then she looks at the eggs (the menstrual cycle being when the ovaries begin to release eggs), and they hatch, revealing babies. She brings one home to show her mother only (she does not show it to her father, though he is in that scene too) and there's a moment of bonding.

    I read this scene about Rosaleen's first period, essentially, and her initiation into the ability to conceive, make, and bear children.

    When I first saw the film, I didn’t understand why the real Rosaleen woke up screaming

    Fun fact! I met the great Jack Zipes at a reception after one of his talks, and we chatted about this movie. I mentioned that I've always had a hard time parsing this ending, and that the tone doesn't seem in keeping with the rest of the movie. He told me that Carter herself hated this ending! Apparently, she and Jordan kept going back and forth about how to end the movie and couldn't figure anything out that they both liked and thought worked. Eventually, Carter was called away from shooting, and Jordan just thought of this ending and smacked it on. Carter hated it and thought it was anti-feminist; Zipes doesn't like it either, if I'm recalling correctly, and said so in no uncertain terms.

    I just felt vindicated in my feeling that the ending was not really right!

  2. Thank you Veronica for enlightening me! That scene makes so much sense now, feel a bit of a dork for not realising it before *duh*

    I didn't realise Carter hated the ending, thanks for that too. I'm totally with her, and you, on that -- felt like it was from a totally different film, even if it might have signified the end of Rosaleen's childhood.