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Film / The Company of Wolves

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"Don't stray from the path."

A 1984 horror/fantasy film directed by Neil Jordan and written by Angela Carter. Loosely based on a short-story of the same name from the anthology The Bloody Chamber.note 

Rosaleen, a young girl ("I'm twelve and three-quarters old!"), falls asleep in her parents' mansion and dreams of living in a quaint medieval village. After her sister is killed in the forest by a pack of wolves, her grandmother comforts Rosaleen by telling her several stories of the dangers of deceptive wolves who roam the forest at night, looking for young girls to devour... She is informed to never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle and that the most dangerous wolves are "The ones with fur on the inside".


Think of it as "Little Red Riding Hood", written by Sigmund Freud and directed by David Lynch.

The Company of Wolves provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The movie goes into much more detail than the short story made by Angela Carter.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. Ultimately Rosaleen ends up having to take care of business herself because everything her grandmother told her was wrong.
  • Alice Allusion: Rosaleen's older sister is called Alice, and the dream starts off following her through a passage of oversized toys that references going down the rabbit hole. She is also color-coded with white, and Rosaleen with red (the White Queen and Red Queen). Later when Rosaleen strays from the beaten path, she follows a white rabbit.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Rosaleen finds the older, dangerous huntsman much more attractive than the village boys.
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  • All Just a Dream: Averted. She gets attacked by a wolf shortly after waking up.
  • Always Night: Most of the film takes place in the dark and has a hypnotic surreal nightmarish atmosphere about it.
  • Anachronism Stew: The second story told about how the Devil arrives in the woods in a Rolls Royce to give a Victorian boy a potion. Of course it is a dream...
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rosaleen herself, according to Alice, but then, Rosaleen did steal her lipstick.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Alice looks quite good for someone who got savaged by a pack of wolves.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: The Huntsman is truly a wolf in diguise!
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: A big sign that a man is really a werewolf...
    Granny: "Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet."
  • Bitch Alert: Rosaleen's sister Alice. It's no wonder she gets eaten by wolves at the very start off the dream!
  • Bittersweet Ending: The same as most coming of age stories—Rosaleen learns about being an adult, at the cost of childhood innocence.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three female protagonists of each of the stories (the protagonist of the second is a boy). The Young Bride is blonde, the She Wolf is brunette and the Witch Woman is redhead.
  • Body Horror: The werewolf transformation scenes are very bloody...
  • Broken Bird: Gran's rants against men, love, and sexuality hint at this.
  • The Cameo: Terence Stamp as the Devil.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The moment the wolf/huntsman knocks off Granny's head seems to be out of left field, unless you remember that while other major characters were featured in the real world sequences—Rosaleen's parents and sister—Granny was never a person at all. She was one of the dolls in Rosaleen's room.
    • Alice wears a cross around her neck that is given to Rosaleen after she dies. Rosaleen's mother seeing the cross around a wolf's neck tells her that the wolf is really her daughter.
  • Color Motif: White objects turning red happens more than once, usually through bloodshed — and red on white is usually a metaphor for menstruation.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The entire movie has scenes reminiscent of Freudian ideas about sexuality.
  • Domestic Abuse: "The Story of the Bride and Groom" ends with the woman being slapped by her second husband. Granny's assessment of men hints that this will be the woman's fate after the end.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: A dream leads to a medieval village with shapeshifting wolves.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Alice in white at her funeral looks interestingly more like a young bride, than someone who was savaged by wolves.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: In the first story, the Time Skip is conveyed by the Young Bride's hair being worn up and the Young Groom's having grown out long.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Angela Carter was a diehard feminist, and her collection of short stories were based on feminist reworkings of classic fairy tales. The film takes Red Riding Hood variants which taught girls to be afraid of their own sexuality, and turns it around so that Rosaleen is empowered by it instead.
  • Foreshadowing: Rosaleen's mother says "if there's a beast in man, it meets its match in woman". Later when the village men are fighting over whether Rosaleen has been captured, mother throws water on them to cool them off. And at the end, Rosaleen turns into a wolf to join the Huntsman.
  • Framing Device: The real world scenes where we firmly establish that the majority of the movie is a dream.
  • Fully-Embraced Fiend: In the end, Rosaleen runs off with the huntsman/wolf.
  • Gainax Ending: Where did all those "wolves" come from? And is Rosaleen still dreaming at that point? Neil Jordan's original ending would have had her jumping to the floor - where she would disappear as if into water.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Rosaleen and Alice are implied to be locked in one of these. Alice is older and more glamorous, with lipstick that Rosaleen keeps borrowing, so she is probably the pretty sister. Rosaleen meanwhile is intuitive and imaginative, making her the smart sister.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: The Young Bride remarries and has children because she assumed her first husband was killed by wolves. Turns out he was a wolf and is not pleased when he returns to discover this.
  • Good Parents: Rosaleen's parents are very supportive and loving, even if they have trouble understanding her sometimes.
  • Grimmification: Features graphic werewolf transformations and other characters getting killed by the titular wolves. Rosaleen also becomes a wolf in the end.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Rosaleen fills the Maiden role, Mother is the Matron and Granny is the Crone.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Young Bride's second husband slapping her is a dick move but he does have a good reason to be annoyed that she let a werewolf into the house and endangered all their children. He had no reason to know she didn't know he was a wolf.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Granny is full of 'wisdom' that turns out to be nothing but old wives' tales. Best illustrated by the scene where she tells Rosaleen that the priest is "deaf as a post", and gets an entire branch dropped on her.
    "I heard everything, you irreverent old woman."
  • Lady in Red: Rosaleen herself, which is disturbing considering she's not even thirteen yet. However, once she receives the red cloak from her grandmother, her sexuality begins to bud.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: This is set up all through the movie, particularly towards the last trip to Granny's house when Rosaleen finds red blood by the gate...
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: Rather than be threatened, Rosaleen grabs the huntsman's gun and shoots him.
  • The Lost Woods: The whole dream is set in medieval times where this trope came from. Wolves live there and they're not mundane ones...
  • Magic Pants: Averted. The traveler husband in the first story strips off to transform and the Huntsman's clothes rip off as he transforms.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: Granny's opinion about male sexuality. The mother challenges this. Turns out that the mother is right.
  • Mood Whiplash: A man goes through the Transformation Trauma mentioned below, the music is suitably grim, the visuals horrifying... then he's a perfectly friendly wolf that's happy to sit next to the girl.
  • My Beloved Smother: Granny comes off as this more so than the Mother, who tries to discourage Rosaleen from taking everything Granny says as the Gospel truth.
  • Nested Story: Gran, and later Rosaleen, tell stories about wolves, what they do, and what they want. This being a World of Symbolism about working out how adult sexuality actually works.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Granny gets aggressive to the village boy that keeps flirting with Rosaleen, and when she thinks the Huntsman has eaten her, she comes at him with a red hot poker.
  • No Name Given: Any of the cast other than Rosaleen and Alice (and her only once), in particular The Huntsman, Granny, and her parents.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Outside the dream, Rosaleen is implied to be suffering from menstrual cramps. Later she finds an object that more than likely indicates her fertility.
  • Off with His Head!:
    • In "The Story of the Bride and Groom", the werewolf is decapitated just after the transformation with a shovel, and the head flies into a bucket of milk.
    • When the Huntsman confronts Granny, it ends with him decapitating her, with her head stylistically shattering like porcelain on impact with a shelf.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Deliberately done between Granny and the Huntsman. On first viewing, and from Granny's point of view it sounds very like the huntsman is just a smooth talker, snidely telling Granny that Rosaleen was asking for it. From the huntman's point of view "Nothing she didn't want" literally means he didn't do anything Rosaleen didn't consent to.
  • Only One Name: Rosaleen and Alice.
  • Opposed Mentors: Granny and Rosaleen's mother have contrasting beliefs about adult sexuality and what men are thinking of in regards to women.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They're metaphors for sexuality in general.
  • Overly Long Tongue: Rosaleen's love interest in the end is a werewolf, and he has a long, canine-like creepy tongue...
  • Painful Transformation: The infamous werewolf transformation scene where a man peels off his own skin, to reveal a Nightmare Face, only to have a werewolf snout burst out from within his mouth, transforming him entirely into a wild bloodthirsty wolf. Then his head is chopped off by someone!
  • Pet the Dog: Granny is mean and crotchety but she gives Rosaleen bits of genuine affection throughout the film.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The priest, who doesn't take as harsh a view towards wolves or sexuality as Granny.
  • Satan: The man in the car is implied to be Satan, since Granny prefaces the story with, "One day he'll meet the devil in the wood."
  • Savage Wolves: The major theme of the film is that wolves are predators that want to eat up girls (both literally and metaphorically).
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Granny is rude to pretty much everyone.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Rosaleen didn't turn into a wolf by herself, y'know.
  • Shirtless Scene: A very creepy example with The Huntsman. Whether it's Fanservice or Fan Disservice depends on how hairy you like your men.
  • Shout-Out: The fairy tale forest was inspired by Gustave Doré 's illustrations for Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales of Mother Goose, especially Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Show Within a Show: The bulk of the story is a dream, in which Rosaleen hears stories from the people around her about the wolves. When she wakes up....
  • Stay on the Path: Played With Granny instructs Rosaleen never to stray from the path when walking through the woods. This is ultimately challenged because whenever Rosaleen strays from the path, she learns important lessons.
  • This Was His True Form: After the werewolf is decapited at the end of "The Story of the Bride and Groom", its head turns back into human form.
  • Title Drop: Done by the Huntsman, who "loves the company of wolves."
  • The Tragic Rose: The white rose that turns red in the Wolfgirl story. The story is a metaphor for a child maturing to an adult, and how they can't return to their childhood innocence again.
  • Unnamed Parent: Rosaleen's Mother, Rosaleen's Father, and Granny.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Squickily between Rosaleen and the Huntsman, in particular the scene where he takes off her red cape and throws it in the fire. Rosaleen turning into a wolf implies they ultimately resolved it.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Rosaleen becomes a wolf at the end and runs off with the Huntsman.
  • Was Once a Man: Rosaleen's father takes a paw from a wolf for a trophy. It turns into a human hand!
  • World of Symbolism: There's very little in this film that isn't either overtly or covertly about puberty, sexuality or impending adulthood.


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