Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves is my new favorite werewolf movie. Being based on The Little Red Riding Hood, it's more of an allegorical fantasy than a horror movie - which a lot of other werewolf movies are - yet it still manages to be genuinely terrifying. It actually succeeds at conjuring an atmosphere where wolves stalking the woods outside of a village are actually scary again. The cinematography is fantastically dreamlike, which becomes quickly apparent in an impressive nightmare sequence near the beginning of the film.

The story-within-a-story (within a story) structure of the narrative places an emphasis on the themes presented - the symbolism of the wolf as sexual desire, and the anxieties of a young girl entering puberty - rather than the whats and the whys of the characters' lives, which is an element that has attracted criticism from some viewers, but earns my enthusiastic support. Angela Lansbury stars as the old-fashioned grandmother, intent on warning her granddaughter about the wolfish desires hiding within every man. Sarah Patterson (who is remarkably actually 12 in this role) plays the pretty young girl who eventually dons the red hooded cape, with a confidence and curiosity that belies a strength and uncertain knowledge that Granny's outdated perspective on gender relations can't comprehend.

"If there's a beast in men, it meets its match in women too."

In fact, this seems to be one of the themes of this treatment of an ages old tale, which is rife with potential sources of symbolism. The morality is troubled at best, as even though the wolves (those that are hairy on the outside, as well as those that are hairy on the inside) are characterized as a threat, they are at times sympathetic, and almost human. This could perhaps be a statement on the ambiguity of feeling that accompanies one's sexual awakening - that one is taught to fear their animal desires, yet maturity necessitates taking ownership of them, and realizing that one's anxieties often exaggerate the perceived traumas of reality. The story of Little Red Riding Hood is an inspiringly deep wellspring of creative thought, and while no adaptation can comprehensively explore every facet of its interpretation, The Company of Wolves crafts a beautiful, haunting, and thoughtful meditation on some of its central themes.

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