Snow White and the Huntsman is certainly not a “good” film, although some of the ways in which it isn’t good I find endearing. It’s in the tradition of genre films that don’t have much narrative coherence – events happen, but there’s little sense of why any event follows from any other, or of any lasting significance to any event after it is over. In this, it reminds me of a few films I’ve seen over the past few years of which I’m rather inexplicably fond, particularly Aeon Flux and Dungeons and Dragons (the “sequence of unrelated events” structure is particularly appropriate in this case, as that is the underlying structure of a game of D&D); but the film that’s really in the back of my mind, and which explains my attraction to these incoherent films, is The Neverending Story.
Narrative incoherence, if it’s done right, can replicate the experience of watching a film as a child, or at least the experience I had of watching films as a child. Part of this was technological – before VCRs, films often had to be pieced together from whichever sections you happened to catch over a number of TV broadcasts. But more generally, as a child you don’t expect films to make sense because you live in a world that frequently doesn’t make sense: you are constantly expected to integrate new and strange happenings, perhaps while overhearing a few snippets of conversations between adults who seem to understand the world according to a logic you can’t grasp. So why, as a child, wouldn’t you experience films the same way, assuming a coherence without bothering to verify that it is actually there? Sometimes, a film’s high-handed lack of interest in persuading you of its narrative coherence can create the impression of a fairy-tale structure, in which the lack of logic becomes the sign that there is a deeper logic just out of your grip.
Unfortunately, in Snow White and the Huntsman, the film really does have an underlying logic, and this is one of the not-good things about the film that genuinely is not good: as Subashini points out, it is a racist and sexist logic of blood, lineage, and purity. The adversaries are pure others with no recognizable interiority at all: when the king runs his sword through them, they do not die like human beings but simply shatter into shards of inanimate matter. Snow White’s heroism is confirmed by her position in this lineage: she is a pure member of it, the daughter of the legitimate king and queen rather than the usurper; she is personally pure in a way that is not really explained but is repeatedly asserted by everyone in the film; and this purity makes her fecund, capable of continuing the lineage and reinvigorating the land that serves as her second body, while the usurper queen is barren and incapable of generating new life, merely perpetuating her own. Admittedly, the film does give the evil queen some time to attempt to justify her rejection of motherhood and niceness, so you can spend some time enjoying Charlize Theron’s glorious self-consciously evil performance before being reminded that the film really, really wants you to hate her.
Yet for all the film’s condemnation of the evil queen’s selfish barenness and its visual hagiography of Snow White’s white purity, it also includes a visual richness and excess which, along with its lack of interest in the teleological causality of narrative, undermines this reproductive economy, and in this context the film’s theme song is kind of perfect (if not actually “good”). I don’t usually like Florence + The Machine, but the ludicrously overblown and goth-ish theatricality of this track is a fitting summation of what’s good, or could almost have been good, about the film.