The (Female) Power Within….

It would probably not shock you in the least to learn that I was picked on a lot as a kid. Sometimes it was for my weird vampire-shaped teeth, but usually it was because I was a girl who either was too ugly to hang out with the other girls, or was too weak to play with the opposing team. And at the beginning of this torturous period of my youth, the grand search for any kind of motivational figure had taken over my brain.

The funny thing was that a lot of my personal heroines would come not from the stereotypical pieces of media, but from more unlikely corners – Willow included. For you see, much of Willow’s greatest scenes occur between (or revolve around the power of) women and how they can change the future. And as a little girl searching for such images to give her strength (or any sort of inspiration), this made my mind spin in the craziest of ways.

The film gives many beautiful examples of female empowerment. From the confident midwife that sneaks Elora off the castle grounds to Willow’s wife, Kiaya, who cuts her hair off to give the hero the luck he needs, there’s an obvious theme of women doing anything and everything to help good win the day. There are even women who push their flaws to the side (like Fin Razel being broken from her curse, only to find she has aged significantly from her beautiful young self) to focus on the battle ahead.

But for every wonderful band of courageous chicks working towards a goal, there is always one who shifts more into the love interest category and never grows beyond that. I’m talking about Sorsha. As daughter of Queen Bavmorda and co-leader of her kingdom’s army, Sorsha could have become a memorable female character, one with all of the spice and strength of Princess Leia. Yet, once the rebellious Madmartigan lays eyes on this red haired beauty, the script pushes Sorsha into the “girlfriend” category and though it tries its best to recover from said choice (even making Sorsha guide Fin Razel and Willow into her mother’s fortress), this character just feels more like a plot device than anything productive or interesting.

Luckily, Sorsha’s disappointments don’t ruin the work of the other women (both good and bad) at being fantastic examples of female strength on screen. And since the film also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, it gives itself a big edge over a lot of the fantasy film competition from its era and beyond. Sure, maybe not all of the female characters are as flawless as I remember them being, but if the majority of them remain as the incredible heroines they were at such a tender age, then Willow can still have that magic effect on all female viewers.

Revisiting Willow

The Legacy

Upon its release in 1988, Willow grossed $57.3 million. Though not the success that Lucas had hoped for, the film (much like other fantasy flicks of the ’80s) became profitable on home video. It also was not a home run with critics, including Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who considered it one of their worst films of that year. Other critics, like Mike Clark of USA Today, summed up their feelings in a mixed response:

“The film is probably too much for young children and possibly too much of the same for cynics. But any 6–13-year-old who sees this may be bitten by the “movie bug” for life.”

And from my personal perspective, that is both Willow‘s biggest flaw and greatest success – it doesn’t have a clear audience. Some elements resemble the darkest and most terrifying elements of true ancient fairy tales, while other moments are straight out of the worst of ’80s tropes. Adults upon first viewing (much like my boyfriend) have a hard to being swept by the magic on screen, while many children will find themselves too scared to venture forth with Willow on his quest. But when you show this film to the right person at the right age, their eyes can open to show all of film’s possibilities, and inspire their creative juices, much like yours truly.

But no matter what criticism is thrown its way, Willow will always remain one of my favorite creations of the ’80s, simply because of the film’s humble nature. Right from the start, Willow knows that it isn’t as glamorous as Labyrinth, or aesthetically beautiful as Legend, nor does it have the ridiculous over-the-top action of Highlander or Conan the Barbarian, but it doesn’t care. Because much like our lead hero, Willow (as a film) is proud of what it is and that pride can be felt in every frame.

It proves that genre films should take risks, because even if not every single one of them pays off, audiences will remember your film more for their successes than failures. It also shows that you can have female characters be an integral part of the plot, without kids questioning the believability of their strengths. And most importantly, it shows that a hero can be anyone, of any stature, and bring some of their own individuality to the quest to help everyone achieve their goals. And those are lessons that we need to be reminded of. And often.

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: