Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Into the Woods’ (2014)

Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures

When beset by trauma, disappointment and hurt, people often find their way to a dark place to sort things out. The Underworld of the psyche is where knowledge can be accessed with hard, committed work. It’s an inner journey that’s well reflected in Into the Woods, a grown-up complex take on fairy tales based on the Broadway musical, and directed by Rob Marshall.

Well before the movie’s characters achieve iconic fairy-tale status, they’re real folks with real problems they yearn to solve. The operative word here is “yearn,” as in “wish for” a solution to their respective plights.

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child, cleaning maid Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to attend the royal festival which the Prince (Chris Pine) will attend, Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) wishes for a loaf of bread to take to her granny, pre-beanstalk Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracey Ullman) wish for a cow that gives milk, and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) wants to live independently and closer to ground level so she doesn’t have to let her golden locks be used by visitors as a staircase. There’s also a witch (Meryl Streep) with her own wish list who makes life hopeful, complicated and desperate for Mr. and Mrs. Baker, which directly or indirectly involves the lives of the others.

For each of these characters to achieve their respective hopes, the first requirement is they head into the darkness of the woods at the edge of their homes to get “the thing.” For some, like Red Riding Hood, traversing the woods is a habit but, as issues become more complicated – at what point does the Wolf (Johnny Depp) transition from denizen to creature of prey? – and even familiar points within the forest disintegrate, the challenge of coping and getting out of one’s comfort zone becomes more critical and challenging.

Not surprisingly, enveloped by the trees, shrubs and greenery, the characters learn critical truths about themselves. And they’re forced to address the aftermath of wishes that have come true, their indecision and doubts, and abandonment. The forest is not, as one character suggests, “just wood.”

The Plutonic dark side of life, of course, evokes another myth. The generically named young girl, Kore, only achieved her true identity as Persephone while spending time in the realm of Hades, home of brutal chthonic episodes that contain the potential for self-discovery, forgiveness and the ability to pursue practical solutions in the real world, while simultaneously acknowledging the role of fantasy.

As the Baker’s wife says, “You’re blossoming in the woods.” She doesn’t sing about the hellish dormancy, though.

Archetype: Victim. The Underworld. Witch. Wholeness.

Astrology Archetype: ♇ (Pluto)

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