the liminal space | adolescent terrain

the liminal space | adolescent terrain

this is the twilight world that lies between the pages of every fairytale. (Neil Jordan)

The word liminal is derived from the Latin word limens, which means threshold. Predominantly in fairy tale films the adolescent body is on the threshold of change, the body functions as a mode of disorientation as it is plunged into a state of crisis. The site of this crisis is the in-between place, the symbolic setting of the initiation, the place of the unknown and the place of metamorphosis. The temporal fluidity of the liminal space hosts the dissolution of the order of the individual, and ultimately the regeneration and integration back to the space of the real.

The adolescent precipice is the foundation upon which all fairy tale films operate. The modern corpus of the Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland all have central characters that are in a liminal state of being; most notably gender specific feminine bodies in a transitional or indeterminate state. 

The movement of the adolescent body through liminal space and time is the metaphorical sacred journey to adulthood. The body clashes with the normative parameters of society, defining moments are held within this transformative phase. It is the physical and ideological journey of each culture, within each time.

The liminal place is where the crisis of the adolescent body occurs. It is the intermediate zone of the metaphorical transformation, the cinematic setting for the unreal, the mythical and the magical. It is where all the adventure and misadventure occurs. 

Portals, doors, labyrinths, underworlds, wonderlands, borders, frontiers, forests and white landscapes are all cinematic metaphors for the liminal space that is to be traversed by those in a state of crisis.

The portal is the signifying code of liminal temporality; to enter is to break with traditional time within the narrative: a new slice of time, a new otherworld is entered, a quasi eternity, a liminal space between. The portal is the threshold crossing to the placeless place, the door between two worlds - to cross is to enter the virtual space of the mythical that opens up behind the surface. 

Forests are critical landscapes in the iconography of the fairy tale film, it is the site of the crisis and of transformation, where warrior girls battle mythic monsters, evil stepmothers, wild animals, dwarves and armies of men wielding swords. The forest is a symbol of the unconsciousness, it is the space of mother-nature where initiation and rejuvenation occur, a performative metaphor for the cinematic realm of the psyche. Adolescent girls enter the dark shadows of the forest, high angle shots reveal the solitary liminal body crossing the frame of wooded forests or snow covered lands. Within the shadows of the empty terrain is the sexual precipice of adolescence, the forest of awakening is the thematic undertone of the fairy tale film, and facing the mirror of inner truth is the only way back to fairy tale freedom.




Jordan, Neil. The Company of Wolves. 1984.