Harley Quinn and the Stigma We Have About Abuse Victims

The other day, I had a conversation with someone that went something like this:

Person: I really, really hate it when people say that they want a relationship like the Joker and Harley Quinn.

Me: Yeah, I do too.

Person: Don’t they realize that the Joker doesn’t actually like her because she’s stupid and useless?

Me: Well, it’s an abusive relationship.

Person: I never understood why people actually like Harley.

Me: Well, for me, the appeal of her character has always been in the fact that she is an abuse victim, but over time she learns to recognize that and grow into her own strength and independence.

Person: Except she never does grow.

Me: Well, that depends on the version of her that you’re looking at. I’m hopeful for the upcoming Gotham Sirens movie, though, because Poison Ivy’s in it and Harley’s always at her strongest when she’s with Poison Ivy.

Person: Harley has a lady-boner for Poison Ivy.

Me: She does.

Now, I’m not going to say that Harley Quinn is always written as a perfect character; she isn’t. That’s just the nature of comic book characters, when you have so many different writers working with so many different ideas of what the character should be. You have your bad writers of Harley (in my opinion, these are the writers that never allow her to grow into her own strength and just depict her as the Joker’s hilarious punching bag) and then you have your good writers of Harley (in my opinion, the writers that actually allow her to grow and flourish).

But more than any opinion on Harley Quinn’s character, the conversation that I described above made me think about just how much of a misconception there is in our society about abuse victims, particularly about abuse victims who choose to stay with their abusers.

In the conversation that I described above, the person that I was talking to described Harley as being stupid and useless, and while she might occasionally act stupid, it has generally been agreed by many fans and writers alike that this is just that – an act, either for the sake of comedy (something that she has built her whole persona around) or to cater to the Joker’s ego (more on that later). Outside of her act, she is a registered psychiatrist with a PhD, whose backstory hinges on the fact that she was accomplished enough to work with some of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. In the storyline that first developed Harley Quinn as a character, the “Mad Love” episode of Batman: the Animated Series, she not only successfully kidnaps and nearly kills Batman, but she does it better than the Joker could, proving that she is not useless, at least not as a villain. In some storylines, Harley is even established as having a genius level intellect.

So, really, the only reason that I can think for Harley being described as ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’ would be because she chooses to stay with the Joker.

And this is not the only time when an opinion like this has come up in terms of Harley Quinn’s character. When asked what the hardest part about playing Harley in the recent Suicide Squad movie, actress Margot Robbie said, “I just didn’t understand how she could be such a badass and then fall to pieces over some guy. I found that really frustrating. Fans seem to really love that about her, that she has this complete devotion to a guy that treats her badly.”

And, yes, the Joker treats her badly. Yes, Harley should leave him, and yes, it is an abusive relationship. But personally speaking, I don’t think that any of this reveals a flaw in the way that Harley Quinn is written (again, by certain writers), but rather, it reveals a flaw in the way that we think about abuse victims.

We think of abuse victims as wrong. We can’t understand how they can be hurt by someone so badly, and then choose to stay, to allow themselves to be hurt by them again. You hear this kind of language all the time, and about real women as well: “If that was me, I wouldn’t stay.” “I would never tolerate a man hitting me; I’d dump his ass in a second.” We assume that relationships are all black and white: that if one partner hits the other, then it’s a completely evil relationship that not only should but can very easily be ended in a heartbeat. So if an abuse victim chooses to stay with their partner, then they’re stupid and useless. They’re outside of our realm of understanding.

But it isn’t as simple as all that. I mean, it would be nice if it was; if abusers were all horned, grinning monsters that could be easily defeated by our heroine. Trust me, I wish the world was that simple.

But abusers have their ways of making their victims stay with them, and these ways are meant to be difficult to ignore; if they were easy, we wouldn’t have abuse victims. And one of these ways is by making their victim love them. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that abusers specifically lure their victims in with some sort of Dracula-like seduction, all with the intention of turning around and hurting them later; in fact, while I don’t feel like I know enough about the mind of an abuser to speak for all of them, I am fairly certain that many don’t even know that that’s what they’re doing. They just genuinely love their victim, in the mentally ill way that they do love.

Victims and abusers develop relationships. The victim grows to care for their abuser, to want to be there for them through anything. Maybe they don’t plan to be there for them through pain and abuse, perhaps they don’t see that coming, but they do still grow to love them.

And to return to my discussion of Harley Quinn as an abuse victim, this is a part of her relationship with the Joker that many writers have taken care to establish. In the previously mentioned “Mad Love” episode of Batman the Animated Series, she spends time talking to him and getting to know him. She begins to feel sorry for him because of a reported abusive childhood, and then she feels sorry for him because he continues to get beaten and abused by Batman. She begins to love him, and she even develops a desire to protect him along the way.

But this love is not the only method that abusers use to make their victims stay with them. There is a method of abuse known as gaslighting, where an abuser will gradually manipulate a person into questioning their own sanity, their own mind. They will use little tactics over time to make the victim wonder about their own competence, and they will eventually come to feel dependent on the abuser. For example, an abuser might say something insulting to their victim, and when their victim later confronts them about it, the abuser will deny ever having said it at all. This will effectively make the victim paranoid about whether or not they made it up in the first place, whether or not they can trust their own mind and memory. So later on, when their abuser is again cruel, they find themselves wondering if they were really cruel, or if they made it up in their own mind.

Abusers will tear down their victim’s self-esteem. They will make them feel as though they are stupid, they are worthless, they are ugly, they can’t do any better than them. A lot of this comes from the abuser’s fear that their victim will leave them, and so they need to make them realize just how much they actually need them, because they’re the only ones who really love them, or who really have their victim’s best interests at heart.

Again, this method is seen in the “Mad Love” episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Harley borrows one of the Joker’s plans for killing Batman, and not only that, but she improves on it so that the plan actually succeeds – something it didn’t do when the Joker tried it. When the Joker finds this out, rather than being happy for her and supporting her in all her cleverness and ability, he gets angry, tells her that she doesn’t know what she’s doing, that she ruined the whole plan. He then throws her out a window, and when Harley lands in a bloodied heap on the floor, she chokes out what are, in my opinion, some of the most heartbreaking lines in DC history: “My fault… I didn’t get the joke”.

Abusers will make their victims feel as though the abuse is somehow their fault – that they earned this by being stupid, by pushing the abuser’s limits.

So between the two methods that I’ve discussed, we should already see that there are two huge, glaring problems here: the victim knows the abuser, they love them, they don’t want to hurt them. They see them for a vulnerable, hurt person already, someone who will be broken to see their victim leave – and this is an image that the abuser will most certainly perpetuate, telling their victim again and again that, if they leave, they will never get over it, they might even kill themselves, or disappear forever. It’s really hard to condemn someone you love to that, especially if you actually believe that they will go through with it.

And then, on top of that, the victim already has a low self-esteem, something that they might have come into the relationship with already, but which most certainly hasn’t been helped by the abuser. They don’t think that they can live on their own. They think that they’re too stupid, too worthless. If it wasn’t for their abuser, then where would they be?

But sometimes, abuse victims do manage to work through all of this, and sometimes they do manage to leave their abuser. And sometimes, when they leave, they go back.

This is something that happens to Harley Quinn as well. It is a running theme throughout many of her narratives – her recognizing her abuse, starting to leave, and then being pulled back in. As I’ve talked about the “Mad Love” episode a few times already, I might as well continue with that, because this is a theme in that storyline as well. After the aforementioned throwing-Harley-out-a-window scene, we later see her in the hospital, bandaged up from head to toe with her arm in a sling. During this scene, we as the viewer hear her inner monologue about how she’s decided that she’s done with the Joker, that this was the last straw – she is not going to go back to him. She then takes note of a flower by her bedside with a note reading “get well soon – J”, and upon seeing it, she starts to swoon, and the viewer knows that she will be going back to the Joker after all.

And why? Because he made an attempt to reach out to her. He did what he could to show that he cared about her, that he wasn’t going to hold a grudge or end the relationship. And as long as he is still willing to try to make it work, she still wants to try as well.

In real life, different abusers will try different tactics to the same result. They might promise that things will be different. They might apologize profusely, say that that “wasn’t them”. They might deny that what they did was abuse and claim that the victim is being cruel and unfair. And especially if the abuser and the victim have children together, they might try to use them as a reason for why they should stay together, why they shouldn’t “give up” now.

And in many cases, the victim wants to believe the abuser because the victim does love them and want to help them, or they don’t want their children to have to live in a “broken home”, or they might still be afraid of what life without their abuser might look like, especially if they continue to see themselves in the way that their abuser has described them.

There are many, many reasons why an abuse victim would choose to stay with their abuser, and it is cruel and belittling to refer to them as ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’ for doing so.

But despite these reasons, despite what rationalizations victims come up with at the time, they should not stay with their abusers. There are no reasons good enough to keep yourself in that sort of situation. If you find that you are in a situation similar to the one I have described, if you are being abused either physically, sexually, or emotionally (and the latter can hurt just as much as the two former – it is just as important to address here), then you need to get help. Try to talk to either a friend or family member if you can, but if you can’t, there are plenty of resources for you out there: if you are Canadian, here are a list of resources for victims of crime (including domestic abuse), and here are a list of resources if you live in the United States.

And, as I hinted at before, part of the reason why I love Harley Quinn’s character is because she discusses these issues so openly, in a way that not everyone is always comfortable with. Some people might say that she’s stupid and useless because she has a hard time leaving the Joker, but I say just the opposite: she is a necessary character in our media because she shows just how hard it is to leave an abusive scenario.

And more than that, especially in recent comic book or video game adaptions, she has managed to separate herself from her abusive past. In her comic book solo series (Harley Quinn #25, for those of you who are curious), Harley actually confronts the Joker and decides, once and for all, that she is absolutely done with him, that she will never have anything to do with him again. And in the recently released video game Injustice 2, Harley Quinn not only has her own gang and her own independence, but she actually reveals (through an encounter with Scarecrow, a villain who is capable of forcing people to experience their worst fears), that her greatest fear in life would be returning to the state that she was in when she was with the Joker. As time goes on, the writers of Harley Quinn are becoming more interested in developing her strength, helping her to overcome her insecurities and move passed being a victim of abuse. And that is such an important image for us to have in our media, because too often, victims of abuse feel as though they can’t stand on their own, as though they aren’t strong enough. And Harley Quinn is proof that you can do it – you can pull through, you can build yourself back up again, and you can look fabulous doing it too.

Advertisements

Why Wonder Woman is Important

If I had to choose between DC and Marvel (and many geeks do), I would probably choose DC. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, and one of my favourite superheroes comes from Marvel (Nightcrawler from the X-Men, if you were curious), but I’ve always seen DC as just a little bit edgier, a little bit more willing to take risks. And not to mention, Harley Quinn and, for that matter, everything to do with Batman would probably have to be my favourite things from any superhero comic. So when DC began their own cinematic universe, I was downright dying to see it all come together.

But truth be told, their first three movies left me feeling disappointed. I personally considered Man of Steel to be an awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Batman Vs. Superman was a bit cheesier, and I loved the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. And although I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, I had some huge problems with the Suicide Squad movie, mostly because they romanticized the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker.

I say all of this because, by the time that the release of the Wonder Woman movie became close enough to get excited about, I had begun to doubt that DC could put out a good movie. But nonetheless, I wanted to get excited. I really wanted this to be a good movie, because this was just such an important movie.

There have been superhero movies with female leads in the past. In 1984, the world saw the release of a Supergirl movie, in 2004 we had a Catwoman movie, and again in 2005, we had an Elektra film, but none of those films were critical successes, and more importantly, they were a vast minority, and both of those movies were released before Marvel’s great success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I write this, Marvel has released fifteen films, and not one of them have a female superhero as their lead. Their first superhero movie starring a female superhero, Captain Marvel, is set to be released in 2019, and it follows twenty films with male leads. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is DC’s fourth film, following two films with male leads and one film that divides its attention between one male lead and one female lead.

Not only that, but this film is Wonder Woman’s first live action cinematic appearance. She has had a television series of her own, but she has not had a mainstream movie of her own until now, which is miserable when you consider her male counterparts within DC. Batman has starred in seven live action films, whereas Superman has starred in nine.

So why is it that we have received so many films with male superheroes and so few with female? Well, because studios have doubted for years that the typical movie-going audience will be interested in a superhero film starring a woman! For years, movie studios (including Marvel) have cited the previously mentioned flops of female superhero movies as a reason to avoid making more of them. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal that DC was willing to release a mainstream Wonder Woman film, especially so early into the game. And not only that, it’s a pretty big deal that they chose a woman, Patty Jenkins, to direct, because of the top 250 films released in 2016, only 7% of those were directed by women.

So this movie needed to be good. It needed to be, because if it wasn’t, the future of female-led superhero movies was in jeopardy.

So how was it, really?

Well, I am proud to confess that, upon seeing it, not only is it the first legitimately good movie released in DC’s extended universe, but it gave no disappointments. Truly, it is the sort of movie that future superhero movies will try to emulate, and I couldn’t be happier.

In some ways, Wonder Woman captured a side of superhero story lines that I have always loved, and that is the idea that all people, good and bad alike, are worth saving. Wonder Woman explores the idea of empathy, who deserves it and who doesn’t, and a lot of the focus of the film relies on the strength of emotion and of love – two ideals that, interestingly enough, have been labelled feminine and, in a lot of ways, have been excluded from other superhero movies.

And I’m not saying that love is completely excluded from other superhero movies. Many of them feature love stories, and although it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spiderman 2 dealt with a superhero’s reaction to the loss of his love. But Wonder Woman deals with this differently. For Wonder Woman, love is her strength. She quite literally gains strength through her love for her significant other, her love for her friends, and, even more interestingly, her love for human kind en masse, including her own villains. In Wonder Woman, love and emotions are her asset, not a weakness. Not something that makes her silly and illogical. It makes her walk across a battle field and face fire from enemy troops, and it makes her win the battle in the end. And although I won’t say that this is an aspect that would not be represented in a superhero movie made by and starring men, I will say that this is an aspect that is unique to this film.

And it is so important that this aspect is available in Wonder Woman, because love and emotions have been labelled as ‘feminine’ for years, and more than that, they have been labelled as inferior. Emotions are seen as illogical, but Wonder Woman argues against that. Wonder Woman states that, yes, she is a woman, and yes, she is emotional and loving, but that is her strength. That is what helps her protect people, what helps her defeat her villains. That is what makes her amazing.

And there is so much more that I can say about this film. As I said, this is very much a movie about empathy, and it shows empathy towards everyone – toward people of colour who have faced discrimination or historical genocide, toward people who were born in the wrong time and place and are just trying to do the right thing, toward people who have given up trying to do the right thing and have turned instead toward hurting others. Wonder Woman is a loving and wonderful film that I cannot recommend enough. And even though it took a long time for the DC extended universe to put out a great film, I am so glad that when they did, it was this one.

Should LGBT+ Characters Be in Children’s Films?

In 2012, an animated children’s film called ParaNorman featured an openly gay character – a stereotypical jock character named Mitch Downe, who reveals his orientation at the end of the film when he says “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut!” Also in 2012, an animated children’s television series called The Legend of Korra featured as its titular character and hero, Korra, a bisexual woman who shares a romance with another woman named Asami. And more recently, in 2017, the live action Disney film Beauty and the Beast featured an openly gay character in Lefou, the villain’s sidekick.

Slowly but surely, LGBT+ characters are making their appearance in children’s media, and people are fairly divided on the matter. On the one hand, we have those who support the idea, saying that children need to see LGBT+ people represented in media because LGBT+ people exist. Maybe the child in question will grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, and if they do, then the process of coming to terms with themselves will be that much smoother if they have grown up feeling like they are valid and like they are allowed to exist. As a bisexual woman myself, I grew up seeing bisexual people in the media, but they were always represented as morally inferior, dirty, and incapable of fully loving or being loved, and so these were the ideas of bisexuality that I grew up with, and the ideas that I applied to myself when I began to realize what I was. Perhaps the process would have been a little bit easier for me if I had grown up watching The Legend of Korra. And if a child does not grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, this type of media continues to be of use to them, because chances are, they are going to meet an LGBT+ person at some point in their lives, and this media normalizes this community for them. A gay boy is not “weird” or “effeminate”; he’s just like Lefou.

But then again, on the other hand, we have the people who are opposed to LGBT+ people appearing in children’s media, and this is the perspective that I want to speak to. For the most part, the argument that I hear to support this perspective is that, if children are surrounded from a young age by LGBT+ people, then this will lead them to become LGBT+ when they grow up.

There are two things that I want to state toward this: first of all, being surrounded by a particular sexual orientation at a young age does not influence your future sexual orientation. Both of my parents identify as straight, most of the couples that I saw in movies and television  were straight, all of my friends’ parents growing up were straight, and I still wound up being bisexual, and I imagine that this is the case for most LGBT+ people. The majority of people identify as heterosexual, and more than that, the heterosexual narrative is the one that is most focused on in our society. So why would a child who would identify as straight have their orientation changed because there was a queer couple in their favourite movie growing up?

But even saying that, I’m going to continue on to make a somewhat contradictory statement here: maybe it will influence them a little bit, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not saying that a child who would have otherwise grown up to be a completely heterosexual, totally masculine cis-gendered manly man will now be a homosexual drag queen because he grew up watching ParaNorman (I mean, if he did, that would be awesome too), but maybe he’ll grow up to be a little bit more open, a bit more fluid with his identity. Maybe he’ll question gender roles a little bit. Maybe, if he does feel even the slightest crush on someone of his own gender, he won’t be ashamed to pursue it, even experiment if he wants to. Or at the very least, maybe he will support LGBT+ people, when he could have hurt and bullied them otherwise. And what’s wrong with any of that?

To say that you don’t want children watching media with LGBT+ characters in it because it might make them grow up to become LGBT+ implies that there is something wrong with that. It makes it sound like growing up to become LGBT+ is a) a choice that people make at some point in their development and b) a wrong choice. It is a mistake that must be avoided, and that just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with growing up to enter into the LGBT+ community, and there is nothing wrong with learning more about the world around you, and there is nothing wrong with experimenting with and questioning your identity. And although I say this, I know that there are people who are going to disagree with me, and there are going to be people who continue to keep their children at home when the newest animated film comes to theatres featuring an LGBT+ character, but personally, I think that’s a shame, and specifically, it’s a shame for the children in question. Films that are willing to tell the stories of LGBT+ characters are offering children a gift: the gift of understanding and open-mindedness, the gift of questioning and learning about the world around them and the identity within them. This is a gift that should continue to be given, and it is a gift that I wish everyone could experience.

Why Not Love Yourself?

We live in a society that glorifies self-hatred. This is especially true for women, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not good enough, but it’s true for men too.

Women are constantly told that they must be physically attractive if they want to have value in our society, and in order to be physically attractive, they must have the breasts of a porn star, the booty of an athlete, and the stomach of a girl who hasn’t eaten in a week. They must have plumped up lips, fake eyelashes, make-up that creates the illusion of looking like they aren’t wearing make-up. They must be sexually available, but not promiscuous. They must be mothers, wives, daughters, students but not perfect students, making money but not so much money that they intimidate the man. They must be hard and soft, all at once. They must be something that is perfectly impossible to be, and if they fail to be it, then they aren’t good enough.

Men, too, are expected to fulfill an ideal, though perhaps not quite to the same extent. Men do not receive the message that they absolutely must be physically attractive if they want to have value, but if they do want to be physically attractive, then they must be tall and muscular, regardless of their body type. Men are expected to do well financially. They’re expected to be successful, ambitious, hard and unemotional, unfaltering, sometimes inhuman.

And somehow, if someone does manage to succeed in fulfilling one of these ideals, they’re expected to act oblivious to the fact that they did. A traditionally attractive woman is still expected to blush at a compliment that she receives and say, “oh no, me? No, I’m not that pretty.” As much as we’re over-saturated with media that tells us what, exactly, we’re supposed to be, we’re also over-saturated with media that tells us that we can’t be proud when and if we accomplish that. The One Direction song What Makes You Beautiful asserts that the thing that makes a woman most beautiful of all is not having this bride of Frankenstein body that we’re expected to have, but rather it’s being unaware of the fact that you have that body. In movies and television, it’s not the girl who knows she’s beautiful who finds love and happiness in the end, but the girl who’s self-conscious about the way she looks in that outfit, the girl who doesn’t think that she deserves happiness specifically because that other girl is so much more beautiful than she is. Self-consciousness is rewarded in our media, and maybe that’s because so many of us are plagued with self-consciousness – and why wouldn’t we be? We’re surrounded by the message that we should be! But at the same time, why can’t we be proud when we do manage to succeed?

I’m not going to lie: I know I’m beautiful. Maybe I’m not traditionally beautiful in every single way (I don’t know if it’s possible to be), but I do think that my face looks nice, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve put into my body at the gym. So if you were to tell me that I look beautiful, I wouldn’t blush and pretend to be unaware. I am aware. I worked damn hard to be beautiful, thank you, and I’m going to reap every benefit from it! And I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think that it makes me any uglier to know that.

A person shouldn’t spend their lives constantly reaching for this unattainable definition of what they should be, of course, but when they are successful at something – whether it be reaching a definition of beauty that they’re comfortable with, or achieving something in their career, or proving that they have an impressive intellect, then why can’t they be aware of it? Why can’t they be happy about the fact that they are successful? Why can’t they brag a little bit – they’ve earned the right to, haven’t they?

Well, perhaps the reason is that we as a society are so afraid of hearing someone brag about their success because they worry that, in doing so, they are inherently putting someone else down. And, yes, sometimes when people brag about themselves, they turn it around and make it all about how much better they are than someone else, and that isn’t okay. Comparing yourself to someone else is never okay. It is cruel and belittling to stunt someone else’s personal growth by telling them that you are better than them, and often times, that sort of behaviour doesn’t come from security, but from insecurity, a need to tell yourself that you are better than another person. But so long as that isn’t what you are doing, rather you are merely being proud of your own accomplishments, then why can’t you do that? What’s so wrong with being secure in yourself?

We live in a society that merely seems to be obsessed with low self-esteem, and it makes sense. Perpetuating low self-esteem in women for their appearances convinces women to continue buying products that they hope will make them better match society’s definition of beauty, and perpetuating low self-esteem in a person’s behaviour ensures that they keep acting in a very specific way. And as much as we should never stop trying to improve ourselves, low self-esteem can be very toxic as well. It can lead to depressive thoughts and cruel behaviour, and more than that, we deserve to be proud of our accomplishments. We deserve to feel good in our skin and our abilities. So, really, why can’t we?

What I Want to See in the Labyrinth Reboot

So, confession time here: I spend an odd amount of time watching the 1986 film Labyrinth, considering I’m a twenty-two year old woman who didn’t technically grow up watching it or anything. I checked it out for the first time when I was around sixteen, and although I didn’t think it was a perfect movie or anything like that, I came away from it with three distinct impressions: 1) it was a perfect adaption of a standard fairy tale or fantasy storyline, 2) David Bowie was awesome, and 3) Jim Henson’s style and the film’s set designs were positively gorgeous, making it quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have seen to date. From that point on, I’d watch it fairly regularly, and it eventually got to a point where it’s just become a comforting movie for me. Nothing can be wrong so long as Labyrinth is on, so if I’m having a bad day, I can just pop the movie in and come away feeling a little happier and a little bit more inspired.

So when I heard that Labyrinth was going to be rebooted, of course I had an opinion on the matter. Personally, I found the idea a little bit odd, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. There are two huge reasons for why I like the original film, and these are Jim Henson and David Bowie. They made the movie what it was, because let’s face it, the story isn’t the main draw for the film. I’m not even sure the original film cared about the story. If they did, they wouldn’t have meandered off to random subplots about creatures whose heads pop off and bogs of eternal stench. No, the whole film was just an excuse for Jim Henson to show off what he could do to create a magical setting and memorable characters, and it turns out that he can do a lot. Without Jim Henson or David Bowie, what does the film really have? Besides some stock plot about a girl trying to get her baby brother back from goblins, I mean.

This was my opinion for a long while, until my most recent viewing of Labyrinth (and by that, I mean last night) when I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, there were ways that this reboot wouldn’t completely suck.

And before I begin, there has actually been some promising news as far as the development of this reboot, and by that I mean that Helmer Fede Alvarez has been signed on to direct the film. For those of you who don’t know, Alvarez is best known for horror films like Don’t Breathe – a very atmospheric film that does a great job of evoking emotion. Alvarez isn’t Jim Henson, of course, but I think that’s the point. If Alvarez has been cast on to direct, then I think that the intention is to take it in a similar but different direction altogether. And let’s face it: the original Labyrinth had an eerie feel to it that I think a horror director could really do something with.

But there is something else that has been hinted at that absolutely must happen if I am going to approve of this reboot: it cannot be a remake. There is no way to remake the original Labyrinth. The original Labyrinth was built on Jim Henson’s vision and David Bowie’s awesome, and now that both men are sadly gone, there is no way to recreate that. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel – something that has been suggested, but as far as I can tell, not quite confirmed.

And I don’t mean a sequel where we catch up on what Sarah has been up to since 1986. I don’t care what Sarah has been up to since 1986. In fact, the reboot can even steal the premise from the original movie for all I care: a young girl wishes for Jareth to kidnap her baby brother, Jareth obliges, and she’s forced to travel through the Labyrinth to recuse him. But everything that happens from then on, all the creatures that she encounters and all the lessons that she learns all need to be original. I don’t want to see Hoggle. I don’t want to see Ludo. The only character that I want to return from the original is Jareth.

And when I say that, I don’t want the reboot to try to replace David Bowie. They can’t. It’s impossible. I want to Jareth to return, but I don’t want him to be some cheap look-alike. After all, Jareth is the Goblin King, isn’t he? He’s a fairy creature, and because of that, I’d totally buy it if everything about his appearance and demeanour were changed.

In the reboot, I want Jareth to be recast as some other iconic celebrity. The original intention for the Jareth character, after all, was for him to represent the id – he was hedonistic and ideal, and Jim Henson wanted to cast a rock star specifically because he thought that a rock star could capture that best. After considering which modern celebrity would best fill the role, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to see Lady Gaga in the role. While she might not be quite as iconic as David Bowie, she does capture that same sense of bigness, that same love of style and fairy-like androgyny, and she would be my perfect choice. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to other suggestions – just so long as the reboot tries to take the character and the story in its own direction, while still capturing the magic and strangeness of the movie that I have come to love over the years.