Last week we left off at the midpoint of the story, when Sarah has had a clear shift in viewpoint, whether she realizes it herself or not--the journey is starting to change her. Now we're officially into the second half of Act Two and the beginning of the second half of the story overall. Between the midpoint and the break into Act Three, our protagonist has to go through a lot of sh-- *ahem* bad stuff. Even worse than what she has experienced so far.
Immediately after her moment of reflection, we hear roaring in the distance. Oh for the love of-- WHAT NOW? Can't this girl get a break? No, no she can't. Rapid-fire conflict keeps the story moving. And before we even know what the source of that roaring is, her fair-weather friend Hoggle bails on her.
So now she has to face whatever this is on her own. She's made it this far, so she believes she can do it. She also emphasizes the theme again when she tells herself, "Things aren't always what they seem in this place." Confidence, loyalty to her mission, and a that slight air of cockiness (although it is starting to dwindle)... these things push her forward when logic tells her to run the other way with Hoggle.
And the tension pushes us, the audience, forward with her.
When Sarah rounds the next corner, she finds that the roaring is coming from something in distress, not something that is ready to attack. Enter another new character, Ludo.
Ludo has a very special gift. He can call rocks to do his bidding. It's weird, I know, but it's crucial to the outworking of the plot, both now and later (we are still setting things up for Act Three! yes, even this late in the story). In their first meeting, Ludo calls a rock to Sarah so she can help him out of his bind. From then on, they are forever friends.
The warm-fuzzy feeling doesn't last long, however, before Sarah and Ludo are facing more dangers. The next part of the labyrinth is clearly different from where she's already been. In fact, it doesn't look like a labyrinth at all, it looks more like a forest.
Which is also something people tend to get lost in, so it works as an effective parallel. Ludo and Sarah are soon separated. We don't know exactly where Ludo disappears to until later, but for now all we need to know is that Sarah is alone. And calling for help.
Hoggle hears her calling, and just as he turns to help her, lo and behold! Jareth appears. Yes, we're back to our antagonist. We have to keep him active in the story, too. Just knowing that he is the one who put Sarah into this situation in the first place isn't enough. Don't go for too long without your antagonist giving the protagonist another hard push.
Which is exactly what happens here. Jareth, still using Hoggle as the double agent, changes his game. Ups the stakes. He tells Hoggle that if he doesn't give Sarah this peach-fruit-thing that is most likely laced with poison (an homage to Snow White's apple, perhaps?), that he'll throw him into the Bog of Eternal Stench. There is also a huge foreshadow (almost too obvious, in my opinion) that if Sarah ever kisses Hoggle, he'll receive that same fate--Prince of the Land of Stench.
This is now the second time Hoggle has been threatened with such a punishment. Now you're expecting it to happen, even though you don't want it to. Because if it doesn't happen, you'll feel let down.
So as a writer, be aware of what you're promising the reader with hints and foreshadow, and make sure you fulfill those promises.
This dark push from the antagonist is made lighter by another emphasis on the running gag--Jareth flubs up Hoggle's name a few times. Personally, I like comedic relief in any story, but it's especially important when writing for a younger audience.
Back to Sarah in the forest, we go into this funky psychedelic acid trip musical number.
It's actually quite scary. Seriously, guys. This is the part I always skipped as a kid because it gave me nightmares. They're trying to RIP OFF HER HEAD.
And it's entirely appropriate that this happens in the second half of Act Two. Not only is it more scary than what she's already encountered, but we also worry for Sarah in the backs of our heads that she is being delayed by this nonsense. She's running out of time.
Also noteworthy in that clip is that Sarah is literally cornered, and then Hoggle appears to save her. Rather than be releived, however, we're even more worried for Sarah. Again, we know something she doesn't. We know that Hoggle is only pretending to help her.
But it doesn't matter. Within seconds of her rescue, she thanks him with *gasp* A KISS. Exactly what Jareth said would send him into the Bog of Eternal Stench.
True to Jareth's promise, that's where they go. And we along with them. They also reunite with Ludo here, and this whole segment is quite hilarious for the younger audience, full of fart noises and stink.
While searching for a way to escape, they meet another new character with his own set of skills who joins their entourage. We also see, again, how Ludo can call rocks to his aid. This is all more setup for Act Three, while keeping the story active and moving forward.
Just as they're safely leaving the stink factory, we see more evidence of Hoggle's internal struggle. He likes Sarah now. He doesn't want to give her the fruit, but he's also afraid of what Jareth might do if he doesn't give it to her. This is killing him inside.
This is where Hoggle hits his lowest point, and we're officially into the All Is Lost moment of the story. As soon as Sarah mentions she's hungry, Hoggle offers her the peach. And immediately regrets it.
She takes a bite. She gets all woozy. Time for funky psychedelic acid trip musical number #2, but this one has a much different tone. Sarah is obviously drugged and in some kind of dreamworld meant to make her forget where she is and what she's doing, so she'll run out of time and Jareth wins.
This is my favorite scene of the whole movie.
The bad guy, the one we've done nothing but hate so far, shows a new side of his personality and tries to seduce her. In these few moments it almost seems possible that they could live a happy, satisfying life together. It's so twisted and creepy, yet... oddly romantic. We know it's wrong, but damn. He's almost convinced us that it's right.
I just love that kind of conflict. I love that kind of antagonist. A story that makes you think, and think hard, about the opposing viewpoint and bring you to the point of almost believing that what's bad for the protagonist is actually good... that's amazing storytelling.
If you watch that clip all the way through you'll see that Sarah does come to her senses and break free from the glass bubble of dreams that will never be.
But she isn't entirely free of Jareth's spell yet. She's still kind of fuzzy about where she is and what she's doing, and now she's in a junk heap. This serves as the Dark Night of the Soul portion of the story. Sarah has hit the bottom, and now she must think her way back up again.
The junk lady tries her darnedest to get Sarah to forget everything, but it doesn't work. As soon as Sarah starts remembering little bits here and there, her gumption returns along with her memory. Then Sarah has a major internal revelation, even bigger than the one she had at the midpoint.
None of her things matter. She doesn't matter. Her happiness doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is saving her brother. All the selfishness she had in the beginning? Gone.
As soon as she verbalizes this-- "I have to save Toby!" --we break into Act Three.
So here's the breakdown of the second half of Act Two:
- bolstered by her viewpoint shift at the midpoint, the protagonist moves forward, toward more danger, with confidence
- setup and foreshadowing for Act Three continues, in a way that keeps the story active and moving forward
- continued emphasis on theme and running gags
- antagonist changes his game, raises the stakes
- protagonist hits her lowest point; the audience believes (if only for a moment) that she will fail her main goal
- protagonist thinks her way back up from the bottom and has a strong moment of internal realization
- protagonist makes a firm, selfless resolve to move ahead toward her goal no matter what
I hope you've all been enjoying (and learning from) this series for Labyrinth! We only have one more section left after this, so if you have any suggestions for which movie we should break down next month, please let me know in the comments.