With the recent theatrical release of the much anticipated film Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to see what these fairy tales gave us in terms of happy endings and the kind of grand romance we’ve come to expect from them. I knew that the musical changed and played around with the traditional tales, so I wondered what exactly we would be getting into. I can tell you it was not what I expected.
Into the Woods enthralled and excited me. Talk about an amazing film! The subject matter turned out to be quite a bit darker than I had anticipated. These are not your typical fairy tales. The happy endings I’ve come to expect from fairy tales only make a short appearance in the film, only to turn absolutely topsy turvy. Cinderella doesn’t end up with her prince, Red Riding Hood loses her grandmother, and Jack becomes an orphan. However, one couple really stood out to me as genuine and true even amidst all of the shallow relationships the film parades before us. They, like most of the other characters do not exactly get their happy ending, but they demonstrate a true bond of love.
The tale begins with the Baker, played by James Corden, and his wife, played by Emily Blunt, unable to have a child. The couple are distraught at their childless existence, longing for that one sign of a true union of body and soul, a child. We discover that they are actually cursed with bareness. The Witch, played by the amazing Meryl Streep, placed a curse on the Baker’s family because his father stole from her garden when his wife desperately craved greens while she was pregnant. You’re probably familiar with the story; it’s that of the golden haired Rapunzel. Well, now that man’s son is suffering the consequences of his father’s selfish actions.
At the start of our story the witch offers them a way to break the curse. The curse can only be broken if they collect four specific items by three nights hence at midnight. They must find a cow that is white as snow, hair that is yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood, and slippers as pure as gold. To find these items they must venture into the woods at the edge of town and embark on a journey that will test their love for each other, the strength of the relationship, and their ability to recognize true love from fantasy. Our star couple begins this quest separately, the Baker telling his wife to wait at home while he takes care of finding the four objects. They begin this journey divided, not a unified team. Despite his instructions, however, the Baker’s wife decides to tag along anyways, following him in secret. When the Baker catches his wife following him in the woods the first time, he chastises her and tells her to return to their home and let him finish the quest alone. As the wife sings to her husband in the prologue, however, “the spell is on our house. We must lift the spell.” She is not about to let him face this challenge alone. She knows that they are stronger together. They’ll need this strength in the woods.
The wife knows this even if the Baker does not. Ignoring the Baker’s instructions to return home, the wife continues to search for the four objects on her own. The two meet up once again after the husband has found the red cape and the wife has spied Cinderella and her golden shoes. Both run into Jack with his white cow, and together convince him to trade the cow for five magic beans. It is at this point that the husband finally relents and lets his wife tag along.
After seeing this film, two scenes really struck a chord in me. Both involved the Baker, his wife, and their evolving relationship. The first I want to highlight occurs about halfway through the movie when the couple finally truly unite in their quest to find the four objects and lift the curse so they can have a child. While they began as two separate people on a quest, they become a united team, a true married couple fighting to break this curse together. They are finally a united front, working to achieve the same goal. At this part of the film the Baker and his wife sing a duet called “It Takes Two” about how the woods have changed them.
The wife begins, “You’ve changed. / You’re daring. / You’re different in the woods. / More sure. / More sharing. / You’re getting us through the woods. / If you could see- / You’re not the man who started.” The woods have changed the couple, brought them closer together. The woods are a place where anything and everything can happen. They bring out the best and worst in people. At this point in the story, the woods and the challenges the couple has faced in the woods has strengthened them individually and as a couple. The husband realizes now that together him and his wife can accomplish more than they can separately. A marriage is a partnership and he’s finally recognizing that aspect of their union.
He sings to his wife, “It takes two./ I thought one was enough, / It’s not true: / It takes two of us / You came through / When the journey was rough. / It took you. / It took two of us. / It takes care. / It takes patience and fear and despair / To change….It takes one / To begin, but then once / You’ve begun, / It takes two of you. / It’s no fun, / But what needs to be done / You can do / When there’s two of you. / If I dare, / It’s because / I’m becoming / Aware of us / As a pair of us, / Each accepting a share / Of what’s there.”
This is a romantic dance between the two, with them weaving through the trees, towards and away from each other in a seductive manner. It’s like a courtship where the two are enticing each other and romancing one another. They come together swiftly in a turn, but only touch for a second, with the Baker’s wife then flitting away to flirt from behind a tree branch. It almost reminded me of the dance between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice where they come together in the dance for one moment only to touch briefly and part again. It is definitely a kind of enticing courtship dance. At the end of the song the couple joins in a kiss, symbolizing their union as man and wife and as a team.
The joining of the couple facilitates their ability to break the curse and have a baby together. In a literal sense they had to become two to make a child, a baby that is a mixture of these two people. Two must become one to make a third. In this instance the woods have helped the couple grow and blossom. But they must enter the woods again after the birth of their child when a giant attacks the kingdom. The story continues after what should have been their happy ending. And the woods are a place of magic and mystery. The path is always changing in the woods. But sometimes one must get lost before one can find their way to who they truly are meant to be. This happens to our Baker and his wife when they enter the woods once again.
While walking in the woods, the Baker’s wife strays from the path and encounters temptation in the form of Cinderella’s handsome prince, who proves to be more of a playboy than a prince charming. The Baker’s wife gives in to temptation, kissing the prince. However, after her transgression, she realizes that it was simply a moment, a mere fantasy. And it is those very dream-like moments that make you appreciate reality and her true love with the Baker even more. As she sings, “That’s what woods are for: / For those moments in the woods…Oh. if life were made of moments, / Even now and then a bad one-! / But if life were only moments, / Then you’d never know you had one…Let the moment go… / Don’t forget it for a moment, though. / Just remembering you’ve had and “and”, / When you’re back to “or”, / Makes the “or” mean more / Than it did before. / Now I understand- / And it’s time to leave the woods.” Sadly, after this momentous realization, the Baker’s wife falls off a cliff and dies, leaving the Baker to raise their child alone.
This tragedy pushes the Baker to change and become a better man, a better man than his father, who abandoned him after his wife died. The Baker’s deep love for his wife and their child, the symbol of their genuine union, transforms him into the strong, heroic man he is at the end. At the very end of the film, it is not the princes and princesses who are held up as the true heroes of the tale. The plot focuses on the Baker and his wife’s love and their love for their child. They are held up as the true leading characters in the story. The wife visits her husband and child as a spirit at the end, singing a last duet with her husband. This is the second moment I wanted to highlight.
The Baker, his wife, and their child symbolize true love. The simple Baker and his wife blossom into the embodiment of the heroes that the other characters such as Cinderella’s prince prove too shallow to become. The truest symbol of love is the Baker’s love for his child, the symbol of his love for his wife, and his strength in pushing through the tragedy and staying to care for his child. The child shines through as a symbol of true love and true strength of character.
The wife sings to him one last time, “Look, tell him the story of how it all happened. / Be father and mother, you’ll know what to do. / Sometimes people leave you / Halfway through the wood. / Do not let it grieve you, / No one leaves for good. / You are not alone. / No one is alone. / Hold him to the light now, / Let him see the glow. / Things will be all right now. / Tell him what you know..” The story ends without a fairy tale’s traditional happy ending, but the beauty of the story is in the remaining character’s strength to move on, and make a new life out of the tragedy. Love builds them up and gives them the strength to carry on. Life isn’t a fairy tale and the real heroes are those who push through and continue to love and find a happy ending amongst the rubble left behind after tragedy. And all of this shines through because of the Baker and his wife’s love for each other and their child. Their love carries the fairy tale and they are the true heroes.
Have you run out to see Into the Woods? Did this topsy turvy, upside down, and inside out fairy tale touch your heart and soul? What did you think of the Baker and his wife? Did their love inspire you? Sound off below…