Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Fig. 1
Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves is a gothic fantasy film with a touch of horror. The 1984 film re-invents the classic tale Little Red Riding Hood with a strong combination of surrealism and symbolism, Jordan changes a children's story into an adult narrative. The film is formed from the dreams of a young girl, Rosaleen. The dreams are intertwined with tales from her Grandmother and herself, all relating to the theme of the metamorphosis from man to wolf.

Fig. 2
The film's main theme focuses on the transition from child to adolescent and man's sexual appetite. Represented in many ways, from the charming huntsman to the red lipstick. Another theme portrayed at the start of the film is sibling rivalry, when she kills her sister within her dream and back in reality sinisterly smiles. The film ends in present time with the screams of Rosaleen and a pack of wolves breaking into her room. This leaves the audience in suspense and disillusioned to whether Rosaleen is still dreaming. The connotation being Rosaleen has made the transition from child to adolescent. 

The colour red is a connotation for lust, passion and danger. Rosaleen's character isn't the typical female protagonist, in fact she's the opposite, being level headed, calm and brave throughout. The fact she herself transforms into a wolf shows that she is beyond being frightened.  
Fig. 3
The transition from man to wolf happens several times throughout the film, some more visually vulgar than others. The visual effects do not leave anything to the imagination and is not meant to be seen by the screamish! It seems the transformation from man to wolf happens when the male is either angry or injured, which is surprising as the connotation of the werewolf/man to wolf is purely of a sexual nature. Roger Ebert observes, "Most of the stories seem to take place in the 19th century, in a dark forest that encircles frightened and ignorant peasants. In the night, they light great torches and go out into the woods to trap the wolves, but when they cut off a giant paw as a trophy and bring it home and look at it, they are holding a severed human hand. Wolves are men, and men are wolves, and the message that repeats itself over and over . . ." (Ebert 1985) Ebert has emphasised the message and theme of the film using the storyline to outline it.    

During the film there are several negative references of men, the majority are prominent through the depiction of animals shown on screen e.g. rat, toad, snake - all these a man can be called as an insult. Vincent Canby states, "Mr. Jordan, his set designers and his special-effects people have made a movie that looks like a cross between something by Jean Cocteau, not at peak form, and a horror movie from Hammer Films. It's set mostly in a wonderfully artificial-looking studio forest, stocked with trees that turn into houses, toads that are life- size but toadstools that are 12 feet tall, plus rats, snakes, owls and wolves - dozens of them, many disguised as men." (Canby 1985) Canby notes the subtle symbolic meanings.

The surrealism of the film somehow makes perfect sense and there's not a moment when the audience is questioning what is been uncovered on screen. Eric Miller understands perfectly Jordan's mind set for the film, "Unlike other films that employ dreams, The Company of Wolves actually feels like a dream. Many of the events in the film wouldn't make sense in the waking world but make perfect sense here . . . Rather than merely use dreams as a surrealistic alternate dimensions as many other fantastic films do, the dreams here are carefully thought out sequences that are full of symbolism and meaning. This is a film where a 20th Century Rolls Royce easily drives through a medieval forest, and seems to make perfect sense in doing it." (Miller 2009) Miller argues that surrealism is unquestioned within the film due to the fact it is told through a dream. 
Fig. 4
 Miller continues to analyse the symbolism used throughout the film, "These dreams skillfully pull us into a nightmare early in the film, as we see Rosaleen's sister running through what at first looks like a dark forest, but soon see that it is populated by large and grotesque versions of the toys that are in Rosaleen's room. We are not only presented with bizarre and frightening imagery, but we also quickly begin to see that Rosaleen is taking a mental trek to adulthood." (Miller 2009) This sequence uses symbolism throughout and is beautifully executed! The giant versions of Rosaleen's toys could represent childhood and the way they were reaching out to grab the sister could suggest they're trying to stop her from progressing to adulthood. The wolves eating her sister in this sense could reflect the dangers of adulthood. 

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Jordan, Neil (1984) The Company of Wolves Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:5/10/11)
Figure 3. Jordan, Neil (1984) Rosaleen being charmed. At: (Accessed on:5/10/11)
Figure 4. Jordan, Neil (1984) One of the transformations from man to wolf. At: (Accessed on:5/10/11)


New York Times Review Vincent Canby (1985) The Company of Wolves (1984) FILM: RED RIDING HOOD IN 'COMPANY OF WOLVES'. At: Tomatoes (Accessed on:5/10/11)

Eric Miller (2009) The Company of Wolves (1984). At: (Accessed on:5/10/11)
Roger Ebert (1985) The Company of Wolves. At: (Accessed on:5/10/11)

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