Volume 18 • Issue 23 | October 21 - 27, 2005

Photo by Jim Henson Pictures

“MirrorMask,” directed by David McKean, is a collection of incredible surrealist images anchored by a solid mother daughter relationship. It’s now showing at the Landmark Sunshine Theaters.

MirrorMask’ gives fantasy fans a dose of reality

By Noah Fowle

Fantasy is often so self-indulgent that it loses any context with reality. With little to hold its creators to rules or norms, it can deteriorate into nothing more than exotic characters prattling on about inconsequential matters. However, when Fantasy is done correctly, it weaves a spell of magic around inherently human experiences.

In the recently released “MirrorMask,” “Sandman” comic book collaborators Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean understood the necessity of grounding their surreal film, a Jim Henson Pictures production, into a story of adolescent angst. Its images gain greater depth and cohesiveness with this simple, yet poignant, story of love and independence.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is like any other 15-year-old adolescent girl, unhappy with path her parents have chosen for her. The daughter of a pair of circus performers, she dreams of running away to join the real world, despite her mother’s warnings to the contrary. A gifted juggler and acrobat, Helena would rather forget her fantastic abilities and pursue her natural drawing talents instead. Surrounded by the pencil sketches of McKean, it is only a matter of time before she, and the audience, are given the treat of seeing this strange world in three dimensions.

When Helena’s spat with her mother, Joanne (Gina McKee), turns frightfully ugly, Joanne is hit with a strange illness and lands in the hospital. Helena desperately tries to find a way to apologize before her mother undergoes an ambiguous surgery, but cannot fight the overwhelming feelings of guilt that her temper tantrum was the cause of her mother’s suffering.

It is in this state of sadness and despair that Helena wakes up inhabiting her drawings just as this imaginary world is violently corroding away. The City of Light’s Queen has fallen ill and is subsequently being over run by the Land of Shadows, whose Queen (both played by McKee) is mourning the recent departure of her daughter, the Princess (Leonidas also doing double duty). Helena becomes accustomed to her strange surroundings and starts to piece together the mystery that links the real world to the current one she inhabits.

Both the City of Light and the Land of Shadows are a collection of wild anthropomorphic characters—cunning sphinxes, floating giants and confused gorilla-pigeons. Along with her guide Valentine (Jason Barry), a quirky juggler who hides constantly behind his mask, Helena begins to navigate the world and its bizarre boundaries. Under the threat of a writhing giant shadow that swallows up anything it touches in its mass of tentacles, Helena undertakes the task of locating the one charm that can save the City of Light’s Queen, the MirrorMask, and return to her world before the missing princess destroys the remaining links between the two.

Ultimately, the movie’s story is as moving as its Dali-esque imagery is stunning, and the filmmakers walk the fine line of Fantasy, putting honest characters in their make-believe world.


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