Hoogland reviews Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood

Cornelia Hoogland shares her thoughts on Catherine Hardwicke’s new movie Red Riding Hood. An insightful look at symbolism in the fairy tale and its implications today.

Catherine Hardwicke
has it both ways; she stays true to the fairy tale in her film Red Riding Hood and departs from it in interesting ways. I almost said “her updated film version of Red Riding Hood” — but of course, except for her feminist Red Riding Hood, she doesn’t update the story. She goes for the opposite effect in the recreation of the 1600s village feeling with its stamp of the inquisition and its witch hunts (Gary Oldman as the sinister Cardinal Richelieu-type character), and stays faithful to the motifs of the fairy tale in delightful ways. (What does this Red Riding Hood carry in her basket?) Amanda Seyfried and Julie Christie share some campy granddaughter-grandmother moments as befits the story (even in the Perrault or Grimm version, you have to wonder how Little Red Riding Hood delivered her lines “Oh Grandmother what big eyes you have” to the cross-dressing wolf in Gramma’s bed). The girl was not stupid. When she entered grandmother’s house (in the Grimm version) she immediately knew something was “off,” but, minding her manners like a good girl, she put her intuition aside – and died for it.
Let me be clear – I’m seeing Hardwicke’s film through the eyes of a poet, rather than those of most of the movie reviewers of this film that I have read, who wanted…what? A car chase? Better special effects than Seyfried’s red cape rivering over the snow of British Columbia’s Coastal Range mountains? Have any of these reviewers spent even five minutes re-reading the story of Little Red Riding Hood, of which there are 100s of versions published each year?

Well, Hardwicke has. She plays with the story’s archetypal moments such as the mother’s finger-wagging injunction to her daughter to go fetch water, to “stay on the path” and don’t “talk to strangers.” And here is the first connection with my Red Riding Hood – both girls are sent for water. Mine (named Red)

walks into the woods with a bucket –

she’s off to get

creek water

for tadpoles she keeps

in a gallon pickle jar

on the window ledge in the back porch.

One of the other main plot points of this tale is when the girl arrives at grandmother’s house. In Hardwicke’s film the girl’s most dramatic arrival happens in the middle of the night, when the werewolf (now in human form) has eaten the grandmother. (Seyfried asks of the stew cooking on the fire, “What is in this?”) Although Seyfried is unable to save the grandmother, she – like the girl in what scholars believe to be the written version that mostly closely correlates to earliest, oral tellings of the tale – saves herself. (It’s here that viewers learn what this Red Riding Hood carries in her basket.) The stew-moment is a wonderfully subtle nod to the cannibalism of that early tale just mentioned). To this poet-viewer, the next-best plot point is watching Seyfried and her boyfriend cut open the wolf and, of course, fill his belly with stones before they drown him. It’s a deeply mysterious moment.

Amanda Seyfried, from Red Riding Hood
Source: Flickr/raramaurina

I’ve been thinking that Hardwicke misses a great opportunity between the wolf and the girl. In the Grimm version, when the wolf and the girl first meet in the woods, the wolf not only plans to eat the girl, but he also shows her the world. “Don’t be such a school girl,” says the wolf. In Woods Wolf Girl I take this up:

This was different. He was


Asked my name, I told him. He smiled. I smiled back.

Why wouldn’t I? He turned, bent over the flowers –

trilliums, I think, and something pink.

A trickle of noise, a single pebble falling down a rain stick.

Look, he said, look at this trout lily – it’s pushed through

winter’s leaf-mat. Leaf-mat: nobody talked like that.

And this collar of leaves hugging the stem.

He flicked the leaves away. His fingers went


I said I had to go.

What’s your hurry? Don’t be such a schoolgirl.

Of course I was a schoolgirl.

Look, he said, throwing his arm toward the trees,

making his fingers dance like dust motes

in sunlight: look where you are. Where we are.

He leaned against a tree, propped one foot and pushed

his sole back against the trunk. From a shirt pocket pulled a pack.

I’m not allowed to smoke, I blurt.

He tapped the bottom, shook one out, brought it to his lips, smiled.

Didn’t take his eyes off me as he lit the tip. The sting

of sulphur up my nose, his in-

suck of breath. He shook out the match, dropped it.

Smoking’s not allowed in the forest – but I didn’t say, just thought it.

Nobody ever looked at me in a way that made me feel the look.

Said my name like it mattered. Showed me

plants, like tiny drink umbrellas in Shirley Temples, folded

under my feet, beneath my hands – my hands.

I could feel

pulsing, my wrist or maybe

my heart.

Perhaps Hardwicke hasn’t missed this opportunity. Seyfried says of Shiloh Fernandez (her dark boyfriend) that he was honest, as others in her life had not been. Throughout the film, the viewer is teased about this broody boy’s true identity, and so, as potential wolf, he does show the girl another moral code.

At the end of the film Seyfried becomes the grandmother (lives alone in her grandmother’s cottage) and chooses Fernandez in his werewolf state. Strong statements that hearken back to one of the best (re)writers of the fairy tale, Angela Carter.

Through her historical allegiance to the werewolf origins of the tale, Hardwicke’s film re-taught me its tremendous power. I thought I had knowingly exhausted the story’s motifs in my book. But the tale is of course greater and deeper than my telling – here’s what I found.

In Woods Wolf Girl, the girl, Red, is raised in a religious home that’s fundamental in an immigrant sort of way. Red tries to understand the message issued from the pulpit.

Also the devil and his minions

could jump you

they too could

get inside you

tell you things, tell

you to do things you don’t want

to do

but have to,

you have to obey

the devil.

In Hardwicke’s film, Oldman says that the wolf is you, any one of you. My wife was the wolf, he says. I recognized then that the fear of being overtaken by a malevolent, dark force, is far greater, and more primal, than its particular form in immigrant homes.

True to the inquisition theme that Oldman also brings to the film (the metal elephant as torture chamber), Woods Wolf Girl carries on its own inquisition. Here it’s an unwed couple who have been caught out and who must confess their sexual sin in front of the congregation. Like forced ‘confessions’ everywhere, such bullying should send shivers down readers’ spines.

I like to think that Hardwicke’s film captures all that’s great about Hollywood – werewolves being a close relative to the vampires of the Twilight series – and that, alternately, I have tried to capture something of a Canadian telling of this tale. The only real wolf in Hardwicke’s film is a dead one; its head on a stake. Woods Wolf Girl, on the other hand, has not only the fairy tale caricature, but real wolves as well.

But in both treatments, Red Riding Hood aligns herself with the wild, and that’s a good thing.

–Cornelia Hoogland

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