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Cult Films: Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth is a 1986 Jim Henson movie starring David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King.

The story centres on Sarah, a young girl who accidentally gives her little brother to the goblins. Sarah must go on a quest through the treacherous labyrinth, through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, to fight her way to the castle beyond the Goblin City.

Along the way she’ll have to face the Bog of Eternal Stench, and all kinds of traps, beasts, and goblin tricks. But we think that there is more to the movie than Bowie, oversize codpieces, and awesome mullets…

A barn owl watches fifteen-year-old Sarah Williams, reciting lines from the film’s eponymous book. As she struggles to remember the final line of her monologue, the town clock chimes seven o’ clock and Sarah rushes home to babysit her brother Toby, and quarrels with her stepmother about the way they live. After her father and stepmother leave, Sarah realizes that her teddy bear, Lancelot, is missing from her room. She finds the toy in Toby’s room and cries out in anger. Toby is screaming, so Sarah tells him a story representing their own lives. And that the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the poor girl of the story (presumably Sarah’s character) and given her powers. Toby continues to scream and Sarah wishes the goblins would come take him away. Abruptly, Toby vanishes from his crib and the barn owl flies into the room frightening her. It then transforms into the Goblin King Jareth. He reveals that he has granted her wish, and offers her a crystal that will show Sarah her deepest dreams. Sarah declines the offer, saying that she didn’t intend for the wish to be real and begs for him to return Toby to her. Jareth transports Sarah and himself to the Labyrinth and promises Sarah he will return Toby to her if Sarah solves his Labyrinth and make it to his castle within thirteen hours. If she doesn’t make it in time Toby will be transformed into a goblin forever. And he leaves Sarah to start her quest.

At the entrance of the Labyrinth, Sarah meets Hoggle, a grumpy and obstinate dwarf who refuses to help her. She advances through the labyrinth alone and overcomes a series of obstacles during her journey, including a Knights & Knaves logic puzzle, before eventually trapping herself in an underground oubliette. Hoggle comes into the oubliette and offers to help Sarah get out of the Labyrinth. However, Sarah makes a trade with Hoggle while in the oubliette, and convinces him to take her as far as he can through the Labyrinth instead. Jareth appears before them and threatens Hoggle for helping Sarah. And takes away three hours of Sarah’s time when she says the Labyrinth is a piece of cake. After escaping from Jareth they get back above-ground. Sarah finds a group of goblins tormenting a gentle beast named Ludo, whose roars frighten Hoggle and lead him to abandon her. Sarah saves Ludo and travels with him but the two become separated. Hoggle encounters Jareth again who gives Hoggle a peach, telling him it’s a present for Sarah and that Hoggle must give it to her. A gang of creatures with detachable limbs called the Fire Gang harass Sarah until Hoggle comes to rescue her. Shortly afterward they pass through the most foul smelling Bog of Eternal Stench where they are reunited with Ludo and add another to their party: Sir Didymus, a fox-like knight who guards the bridge that leads away from the bog. After passing over it, Hoggle fears the peach could be dangerous and try to drop it in the bog but Jareth’s voice warns him not to. Hoggle knows he will be thrown into the bog himself if he does not obey.

Sarah becomes hungry so Hoggle regretfully gives Sarah the peach. Upon biting it, Sarah falls into a trance and finds herself in a dream-like ballroom where she sees Jareth. He dances with Sarah revealing his love for her. The sound of a striking clock reminds Sarah that she needs to save her brother and she frees herself from the vision to resume her quest. Upon awakening in a junkyard her memories of all the previous events have gone. An old goblin junk lady tries to make her to stay in a recreation of her room filled with all the discarded possessions she outgrew over the years. But Sarah’s memories return when she sees her Labyrinth book. She rejoins Ludo and Sir Didymus, and the three of them approach the Goblin City that surrounds Jareth’s castle. Hoggle appears and disables a giant robot that guards the city gate. Sarah forgives Hoggle for his earlier betrayal of offering her the enchanted peach and continues with all her friends through the city. They successfully defeat all of the goblins of the kingdom who have been sent to stop them and enter the castle.

Upon reaching Jareth’s throne room, Sarah sees she hasn’t got long left and decides to go forward alone. She finds Jareth and Toby in a vast, star-filled room. She sees Toby too and attempts unsuccessfully to find a path to reach her brother. She takes a big leap of faith to reach him but she is magically interrupted by Jareth. He confronts her face-to-face telling her that he has been generous to her all this time. He asks her to abandon her quest and to stay with him forever (because he still loves her). Sarah, however ignores his request and begins to recite the monologue from the beginning of the film. Jareth offers her the crystal from when they first met saying that he can offer Sarah her dreams. Sarah still ignores him but can’t remember the line she always forgets. Jareth becoming desperate tells her “Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.” She finally remembers the last line “You have no power over me.” With that the thirteenth hour strikes.

Acknowledging defeat, he returns Sarah and Toby to their home and transforms into his owl form. As Jareth flies out of the window the clock strikes it’s final chime revealing it is now midnight. Sarah finds Toby sleeping peacefully in his crib, apparently oblivious to the previous events. She gives Lancelot to Toby and returns to her room. Sarah discovers that she can see Hoggle and the rest of her friends from the Labyrinth her through her mirror. But when she turns to face them they are not there, only in the mirror. Sarah tells her friends that she needs them after all, whereupon they appear in her room and the creatures celebrate her victory in a huge party. Outside the bedroom window, Jareth (Still in owl form) briefly watches the party before flying away.

Through the film, Jareth appears in the background watching Sarah’s progression through the Labyrinth:

bowie hiding

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Founded Cult Faction in 2014; previously crawled out of the Black Lodge in 1976, only to find himself in the Village.

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