Diablog: The Last Unicorn

Do you own this movie on VHS and DVD, and have you also seen it on the recent tour of theatres? This review is for you.
Do you own this movie on VHS and DVD, and have you also seen it on the recent tour of theatres? This review is for you.

Gemma: So, we proceed into Your Favorite Movie.

Rasha: Okay, I should start with a disclaimer that I LOVE THIS MOVIE. It is the only movie I can ever think of when people ask me if I have a favorite movie. The answer is YES.

G: That is a wonderful way to feel about movies! We had the excitement of watching this together live and in person, so I know that you have a Unified Field Theory of this movie’s metanarrative.

R: Yes. I want to posit that, in spite of this movie’s overwhelming whiteness on the surface, the story is in fact deeply not-white. For me, The Last Unicorn reads as a parable about community, rescuing community, finding allies, and being recognized through/in one’s queer/trans/fluid identity. It nods to all these fairy tale and fantasy tropes while defying them at every turn. I am very interested to hear what you think after watching it as a grown person.

G: I can definitely see your read on the narrative. I had very incoherent memories of the movie from childhood, and as an adult I definitely thought there were aspect of its mythos that lacked coherence (i.e., it wasn’t just my child-minded confusion), though some of that was due to the limitations of the animation itself. I definitely see the piece of being recognized in one’s own identity and the different modes of looking for connection, though.

Do you know who I am? Have you seen Others like me?
Do you know who I am? Have you seen Others like me?

R: Dude, I am not exaggerating when I say that, on a weekly basis, I am confronted with some situation that makes me think about TLU. “Putting a fake horn on a real unicorn so people can see the unicorn” applies to a lot of situations.

G: Yes, it does. I don’t really understand the Red Bull, or the King’s relationship to the Red Bull.

R: I was trying to suss that one out this round too. Maybe it’s Patriarchy? You mentioned something about the Bull being a tool of the pater King Haggard, but not the same as the King himself. Then there’s the whole thing where the oppressive king’s castle falls into the ocean and is destroyed when the Bull is defeated. But given the time the movie was made, most Red things end up being about Communism. Also, maybe it’s menstrual?

G: I would have suspected the Red Bull was about Communism, but I’m not sure what the Unicorn would be in that frame. The Bull is a tool, and the King does not keep things around him that do not make him happy, therefore something about what the Bull does must make him happy …

R: That sounds pretty gay.

G: I have no problem with that. I mean, the dude and his son dress up as their own guards for the heck of it. There’s all kinds of kinky stuff in this castle. Plus, their cat is a pirate with a false eyepatch. I’m just saying. It all works purrrrrrfectly well.

Oh, purrrr, that's the stuff, m'arm.
Oh, purrrr, that’s the stuff, m’arm.

R: You are making some sound points. We could also look back at when Peter S. Beagle wrote the book (1968). But I have actually never seen the book the movie is based on. Probably should get around to that considering how much of a stan for the movie I am.

G: Yes, that would be a reasonable next step. I can’t quite get a read on the movie as a whole if the Bull is Communism. Strangely enough, I had no memory of the Bull from when I watched the movie as a child.

R: Really?! I’m going to stick with Red Bull=Patriarchy/Kyriarchy, because that makes my analysis more fun.

G: I remembered Schmendrick, his voice and his persona. I remembered the transformation from Unicorn into Amalthea. Maybe I just hid my eyes during scary things. I’m pretty sure I was four.

R: That’s perfectly understandable. I wonder if this movie is where the company Red Bull got its concept from.

Red Bull...it drives all the unicorns into the ocean?
Red Bull…it drives all the unicorns into the ocean?

G: It surely did not give anyone wings.

R: Maybe there’s some pre-cognitive critique of energy drinks built into this film. Ok, we have to take a moment to appreciate the soundtrack. By the band AMERICA!

G: And its EXTRAORDINARILY LITERAL ONSCREEN LYRICAL INTERPRETATIONS!

R: I suppose that strengthens the Communism vs. capitalism reading.

G: Perhaps, yes.

R: When the last eagle flies…across the screen to this narration.

G: With its extraordinary awkwardly bent body!

R: I kind of love the whole cheesy shebang. When the unicorn first heads out to find the rest of the unicorns, I kept wanting to hear them sing “I rode through the desert on a horse with no name…” I could really do without the songs sung by the actors/characters.

G: Ouch, yes. Both terrible voices, AND not making any sense in the context of how the rest of the film worked. Again to my four-year-old self. If I didn’t remember a song from a movie I watched repeatedly when I was four, it was a terrible, terrible song. I still remember the song from The Hobbit by the same animators.

Look at that sky!!!
Look at that sky!!!

R: The animation is amazing! No movies are made like that now– all handpainted in a way that feels soft and dirty and densely layered and diaphonous at the same time. Side note: Mia Farrow and Jeff Bridges manage to sing the LEAST ROMANTIC medley ever of two songs called “Now That I’m a Woman” and “That’s All I Have to Say”. All I could think of was Britney Spears “Not Quite a Girl/Not Yet a Woman.”

G: Oh sweet lord no. Britney is not a unicorn. I loved the handpainted style, but I did have a hard time believing fights and threats in the limited physicality of the characters. I think the movie still confuses me partially because of that.

R: Well, Britney could be what the unicorn turns into if she stays in a female human form too long. Gender is a construction! Gender is magic! Gender is forgetting who you were before you became gendered!!

Don't cry Amalthea, gender doesn't have to be your trap.
Don’t cry Amalthea, gender doesn’t have to be your trap.

G: Yes! I buy the assimilationist reading. I can see it as queer, with MEN not being able to see unicorns, with the King being able to see “who you really are” and wanting to control her when all the others like her are FOAM MADE OF UNICORNS. I’m just saying that happened.

R: Ok, we have to talk about how this movie rocks the Bechdel test: Mommy Fortuna, Molly Grue, the unicorn, the Harpy.

G: This is true. Although the Harpy doesn’t talk, per se, about anything.  But if ripping out someone’s intestines counts as dialogue, we’re so there. It’s definitely about something other than a man.

Gurl, yes.
Gurl, yes.

R: She does! She asks to be freed because “we are sisters, you and I.” Mommy Fortuna always fascinated me: she sees these creatures for who they are, knows their power, and simultaneously wants to possess and protect them. She’s after her own ambition, her own immortality (against all those sorceresses who make fun of “Mommy Fortuna and her homemade horrors”). She knows enough to know she shouldn’t mess with the Harpy, that her “death sits in that cage.” But she’s chasing some inexorable calling to express her power, and it got twisted into controlling other powerful/younger/immortal women.

G: Well, she also knows she’ll die of the Harpy eventually. Just in the meantime she will have conquered her. That stuck with me. She knew her power to be temporally bound, but she still had something to prove.

Angela Lansbury, that is some amazing makeup.
Angela Lansbury, that is some amazing makeup.

R: We’ve conquered death until it kills us. Dude, I love this movie.

G: You so do!

R: Alright, then there’s Molly who is angry with the unicorn for coming to her so late in life!

G: Yes! (Something else I’m choosing to read queer, given how unhappy her marriage and life in a band of men was.)

She's like: girl, why you come now when my hair is not done?
She’s like: girl, why you come now when my hair is not done?

R: Ah, YASS. I also read it as possibly second wave feminist regret about failing to achieve the transcendent goals of overcoming patriarchy and living powerful, magical lives. That are queer.

G: Yeah, I could see that. I am intrigued by the role of Schmendrick in this read. His spells when they work are uncontrolled; the spoken line is “Magic, do as you will.” And oh, yeah, THAT TURNS HER INTO A (straight pretty) WOMAN. But he’s trying to protect everyone, kind of does, wants people and critters to be their authentic selves. What’s his deal?

Magic, do as you will...and then I'll try to take credit for it.
Magic, do as you will…and then I’ll try to take credit for it.

R: He’s trying to be an ally. He sees her for who she is, but his recognition of her is bound up in feeling that she’s his “last chance” to achieve his >ahem< full magical potency. There’s an interesting turn where he becomes humble in the face of the unicorn’s near death and submits to being used by the magic/the moment…and afterwards he’s all puffed and crowing and wants a cookie.

G: So what’s the magic, then?

R: Well, in both this film and in reality, I think magic arises from being aligned with who you are and what the circumstances are calling on you to be and do. The unicorn and the Harpy can’t help but be who they are. Mommy Fortuna’s magic seems different, though I guess I come back here to the threads running through the movie about Illusion, Myth, Fantasy, Fiction, Fairy Tale. The story plays around a lot with the complex relationships between appearance/reality and reality/fiction. In this case, I think Magic is the fiction that hides and reveals, sometimes at the same time.

G: That makes sense. I also wasn’t sure why it mattered that she was the Last, why only the Last could save the others.

R: I think it’s a parable about feeling socially isolated.

We are sisters, you and I.
We are sisters, you and I.

G: Go on.

R: Well, if there were other unicorns, she wouldn’t have to go looking for her people. And in looking for her people, she also inadvertantly gathers other allies without whom she could not have gotten free, found her way, and had the courage to defeat the Red Bull.

G: Who also made her distinctive as a unicorn, in the end. No unicorn born before could ever feel regret, ’cause that’s a human thing. And that may or may not be a bad thing, but it is definitely an aspect of her individual sacrifice for the presence of more unicorns in the world. We also never know, definitively, whether she rejoins them. We don’t see the herd of All the Unicorns Ever again after we leave the site of the destroyed castle, and she sees her human friends off.

R: Well, most unicorns seem to be guardians of their own forests. I think that sacrifice of the personal heart is something many activists can identify with. She learns to see herself in a structural relationship with reality rather than being the “only one,” and she has responsibilities to her people. I mean, as a parable, it comes up against limits here. I would love to see more parables about people struggling together, which was actually something I loved about the magic sword portion of Sleepy Hollow.

G: I don’t have much else to say, besides “Why can I not see myself in your eyes? What’s wrong with them?”

R: “She will remember your heart when men are nothing but tales written by rabbits.” Y’all need to watch this movie, is how I feel.

G: I always felt like a tale written by a rabbit, when I had a pet rabbit.

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