June 24, 2010

Guilty pleasure film: Willow

Willow is one of my favorite fantasy movies to this day.

Say what you want about the plot or the special effects, I've always loved the shit out of this movie.

Once again, like The Golden Child, there are intriguing things about this movie that I didn't notice as a kid but that, as an adult, strike me as pretty progressive.

Let's start with the title character.

Willow is the first and only movie I can think of where a Small person has a leading role as the hero.

Let that sink in for a minute.

In just about every Western film, particularly American films, Small people are presented as set pieces (hello, munchkins and Ewoks!) and symbols of the grotesque (hello, every film featuring sideshow freaks!), but never the heroic protagonist. They're rarely characters, let alone the star.

Not only that, but his size is presented as a relative trait. To "regular" humans (called Daikini's by the Nelwyns, who are Willow's people), Willow is tiny, a "peck"*. To brownies, he's a giant. In an intriguing sort of way, Willow shatters the idea of what normal is with regards to size by presenting a world where Nelwyns and fairies and shit are walking (flying?) around.

("Peck" is the only invented slur that carries the same punch as some of the real-world slurs I've come across.)

But it's not just size that sets Willow apart. In terms of gender and heroism, Willow is one of the only male heroes (aside from Jen in The Dark Crystal) who tends to eschew violence as a way to solve problems. No, he doesn't talk to his enemies and help them get in touch with their feelings. He outsmarts them. His greatest successes in the film have more to do with wits, cunning, and agriculture than they do with being stronger or faster or more powerful than his adversaries*. Willow is a trickster hero - a rare treat in a fantasy film. Willow Ufgood brings to mind figures like Brer Rabbit and Eshu, and the film is, I believe the better for it.

Now, I know that the temptation is to say that if they made Willow a woman, the movie would've been a lot more progressive. (Which is interesting, since Willow can also be a girl's name, and that other Willow does magic too. Coincidence?).

I'm going to buck that trend and say that it's actually more interesting for Willow to be a man. As a character, Willow is incredibly nurturing, not violent (except at great need), and is devoted to his family and community. Without necessarily being aware of it, Willow presents a model of masculinity that does not require domination over others (particularly women) to define itself. Willow still gets to be a protector and provider, and he doesn't need to buy into any bullshit Real Men Don't Change Diapers machismo to do it. He still slays the evil dragon (more about her in a bit), but he never set out to do so. He achieves Man Stuff like honor and glory, but he was not motivated by it. Willow's devotion to Elora Danon is an outgrowth of his compassion. He and his family were ready to raise this big-assed giant fucking baby as their own. And the only reason why he consents to take the baby from the village is because keeping her would mean that giant rat-dogs with rabies would come and tear everyone limb from limb.

The next great thing about Willow? Bavmorda.

Hollywood has always had an issue with women in authority.

However, that does not mean I can't admire the sheer awesomeness of Queen Bavmorda's special brand of evil. She remains, to this day, one of my favorite villains. Why?

Let's start with her goals. Bavmorda is trying to kill a baby and destroy her soul. Even Palpatine never did anything that fucking evil. Bavmorda is so evil that the one henchman who would have a moral qualm about killing babies is like, qualm-less. He'd be like, "Isn't killing a baby a little . . . nevermind." Bavmorda is so evil that - you know how the villain sometimes has to make a statement to their minions about how evil they are, or make a threat, or even give a look - Bavmorda doesn't have to bother with that bullshit. She's so evil that the thought of betrayal doesn't even cross their minds, which is why Sorsha's turnabout was such a shock.

Bavmorda's Evil Quotient is firmly established here. But it doesn't stop there.

Many villains fall into the trap of toying with their enemies instead of just destroying them. Apparently, Bavmorda used her arcane powers to peek into the future and watch Die Hard. And after hearing some prophecy about a baby who's going to lead to her downfall, she is not fucking around. She doesn't even wait until the babies are born. She rounds up pregnant women, throws them in a dungeon, gives them no prenatal care (just to make the odds of survival even slimmer), and has people waiting on that baby as soon as she pops out. No bath, no smack on the ass, nothing. Just: baby comes out; bad guy catches baby; kill baby and destroy her soul. You really gotta hand it to Bavmorda. It's a rare treat to witness that kind of brutal efficiency in cinematic evil these days.

But that's not why I love the fuck out of this sublime specimen of villainy. What really sealed the deal?

"You're not warriors. You're pigs!

As far as one-liners by badass women in movies goes, this is right up there with, "Get away from her, you bitch!"

There's all sorts of cool shit to love about this fucking movie. And you can probably find it on sale for like, seven bucks.


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  2. "Willow is the first and only movie I can think of where a Small person has a leading role as the hero."


  3. Not Hobbits. The actors playing Hobbits in LotR are not really Small people. Warwick Davis is.

  4. I heart Bavmorda. I can't help but root for her.

  5. I've not watched either, so wouldn't particularly know.

  6. Girl, you taking me back with these posts. Co-signed on this as well. I was working on a post about my all-time favorite villains. I'm kicking myself for forgetting Bavmorda.

    Because that chick was on that kryptonite.

  7. Willow is also one of my favorite movies; you touched on many of the reasons why.

    (though I am glad that Lucas decided to nix his planned sequels if the novels were any indication of where that was going)