The Labyrinth Within You

At the climax of the 1986 muppet-dystopia Labyrinth, David Bowie’s impressively-codpieced Jareth confronts Jennifer Connelly’s emotionally ascendant Sarah in an Escheresque series of gravitationally impossible stairways. Frustrated by Sarah’s continued rejection of his romantic overtures, Jareth makes one final attempt to subdue the object of his affection.

He fails.

But in the opening minute of “Within You,” the weirdly apocalyptic song that begins this whole exchange, he also delivers an exceptional line on power, love and the limits of devotion: “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.

The first half of that couplet is necessary to build the moment but, my lord, it’s the second half—I move the stars for no one—that hits with force. There’s so much meaning baked into that one line. (Plus, I absolutely love its poetry.) It reveals Jareth’s irritation that, despite all that he’s done to impress Sarah, she still won’t have him. It also contains the subtle threat of his power—a threat which has been the basis of almost all conflict in the film—as it’s implied that Jareth is so powerful that, if he wanted to, he could do the incomprehensible. And while the line indicates that even Jareth has limits (is it that he won’t or that he can’t move the stars?), it’s also a tacit admission that his infatuation for Sarah is so deep that he’s actually considered pushing his power to its limits for her in the first place. With all that lyrical density and with Bowie’s classic performance, it’s truly a powerful moment.

It’s also Jareth’s powerful moment. But Labyrinth isn’t Jareth’s story. Sarah’s discovery of her own power and agency are the thematic crux of the film—fittingly, she secures her victory and freedom with the line, “You have no power over me”—and so while this final display of Jareth’s power is important for narrative reasons, it’s also interesting that the remainder of “Within You” creates additional emotional complexity as it paints Jareth as a somewhat sympathetic figure, closing with him singing the plaintive refrain “I can’t live within you,” revealing his own suffering and heartache as well as an inversion of the power dynamic we’ve seen throughout the movie. Jareth may be powerful but, in the end, it’s Sarah who has power over him.

(Even though it’s almost certainly unintentional, the aforementioned “stars” line also includes a reference to “For No One,” a Beatles song about being in love with a girl who doesn’t love you back. Jareth probably loves that song.)

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