Red shoes function as a folklore motif rather than as a full-fledged "myth." But their manifestation in the Kate Bush film signals a need to read the entire film itself archetypally, or mythologically. The nice feature of this film is that it's a rare instance of mythology for women: female identity is at issue, and it doesn't hinge on finding a man. Instead, what is this about? What is the problem represented by the shoes, and what advice or wisdom emerges for when one experiences this crisis?
Hans Christian Andersen, "The Red Shoes."
In this fairy tale, a girl named Karen (the Danish form of Katherine) desires and therefore must be brutally cursed and mutilated (depeditated?).
The Red Shoes (1948).
In this film, a ballerina is torn between her career and a man and therefore must be killed by a train.
Kate Bush, The Red Shoes (1994).
This album (the last before a long hiatus that ended only at the end of 2005 with the release of Aerial) includes all the songs of the film and others.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, The Red Shoes.
A self-help videocassette whose catalog description reads: "With a gift for penetrating the shadows that darken our lives, Dr. Estés helps us grasp how the starvation for inner life corresponds with disastrous outer choices, and the way to recover and restore your critical inner balance. Using a fairy tale deeply rooted in our psyches -- "The Red Shoes" -- Dr. Estés illuminates how people are driven to excessive behaviors. In our culture, she begins, we may travel life's path in one of two ways: in hand-made shoes -- crafted with love and care according to the unique needs of the individual soul; or in red shoes -- initially promising instant fulfillment, but ultimately leading to a hollow, painful, split existence. Drawing from real-world examples, Dr. Estés analyzes the deep-seated hunger that leads to addictions and explains how to tap instinctual forces that offer strength and life direction. Cassette / 90 minutes.... $10.95." This is certainly more recent than the Kate Bush film and probably derived slimily from it in fact.
"Rubberband Girl" --
"If I could learn to give like a rubberband, I'd be back on my feet."
[A Buddhist notion, until the straitjacketing. Who is controlling the dance such that one must bend "like a rubberband"? After the song, electrical power problems suspend practice. Kate seems unhappy or dissatisfied. She retreats to a room.]
"And So Is Love" --
"We used to say, 'ah hell, we're young.' But now we see that life is sad."
[In the mythology of some cultures, the black bird represents the soul. The bird here flies around the room frantically searching for a way out when it slams into one of the windows and dies. According to some dream interpretation, the blackbird represents misfortune or the failure of one to utilize his or her full potential. The bird is laid on pages of music (associated with the cross later). As one mythology student (Tahoma) read this scene, "This action may signify a connection between the dead bird and the character's heart -- because later the cross appears on the sheet music to represent her heart returning. The bird may be a manifestation of her heart and her own feelings of being confined in her ability. Other than that the bird could have just been the key to open up the portal between the worlds, foreshadowing bad fortune to come."
Abruptly, in runs a woman with bandaged hands and noticeably connected eyebrows: "I'm not meant to be here. I don't understand how this has happened.... You must help me.... I was trying to find my way out." Claiming a fire, she says, "I can't use my hands; I can't use my hands. I have to get back ... home. There's only one way left for me to return, and it lies in your hands now." Kate agrees to help: "We'll get you home." At the instruction of the woman, Kate finds three pieces of paper on the piano and obediently draws a line, a cross, and a curve. The scraps fly to the hand of the intruder. In thanks, she offers Kate "my pretty red shoes. Take them. They're yours, as a gift."]
"The Red Shoes" --
"I'd love [not "want"] to dance like you; put them on and your dream will come true."
"You can dance the dream with your body on."
"It's gonna be the way you always thought it would be, but it's gonna be no illusion. It's gonna be the way you always dreamt about it, but it's gonna be really happening to you."
"The moment I put them on, I knew I had done something wrong."
"It's the red shoes -- they can't stop dancing."
"The shoes do a kind of voodoo; they're gonna make her dance 'til her legs fall off."
[The two women become doppelgangers, with the fiend woman singing in Kate's voice and the two being blurred choreographically. The woman's bandages unwrap themselves as the ribbons on the shoes tie themselves to Kate. The song identifies the curve as Kate's smile, the cross as her heart, and the line as her path, which she has apparently lost now. Kate is compelled through the looking-glass by an odd male character. We end up in a cheesy-looking underworld hell with flames, skulls, and red devils. A fiendish-looking male character seems to function like a director, stamping a stick on the ground and shouting intensely. After the song, while the evil woman escapes by running through a tunnel, Kate's legs are kicking wildly and she is desperate to stop them, calling to the male character whose back is turned, "Get a knife. Get a knife and cut them off." He insists repeatedly, "It's really happening to you." He calms the feet temporarily and tells her, "She tricked you, you know. You must sing back the symbols." They go see Lily, a grandmotherly woman dressed in blue and sitting in a rocker. She explains: "You are under the spell of the red shoes, but to break the spell you are not helpless." Kate confesses that she is "scared," and Lily comforts her: "There is no need for you to be scared." Lily tells her she must "sing back the symbols." (The man said that, but it means something coming from Grandma.) "Your four angels will guard you and protect you." Lily offers a prayer to the earth, calling for the spiritual sun to be revealed.]
"I said 'Lily, oh Lily, I don't feel safe. I feel like life has blown a great big hole through me.'"
[Lily choreographs from her chair on the back of which hangs her cane, indicating that guardian angels protect one "walking in a vale of darkness" -- for Kate: Gabriel ahead (with flower), Raphael behind (with staff), Michael to the right (with sword), and Uriel on the left (with globe). Lily draws with her cane a protective circle of fire, but ultimately must go. At the end, a line appears in the snow, suggesting that Kate may be singing back the symbol for her path. But she is still stressed: "I can't go on. I'm torn between what I was and what is to become of me. In these shoes every step I take is laced with madness. They fill me with pain and confusion and with thoughts that are not my own. I have danced their dances. I see streets and buildings I know so well, although I have never been to these places.... I see me falling. I feel my fear. And yet, I was never here. I am torn between what I was and what is to become of me. These shoes are all anger and passion. I am possessed. And I no longer have the strength to fight them." A voice tells her: "Call upon those you love."]
"Moments of Pleasure" --
"Just being alive -- it can really hurt. These moments given are a gift from time. Just let us try to give these moments back to those we love, to those who will survive...."
[Kate spins in the air through the entire song, the high point and most spiritually reassuring song of the video and album. After brushes with friends and family in a snowstorm, she hits a wall of snow and ice, but appears to have sung back her heart since a cross appears burnt in a sheet of music. The witchy woman appears and we get more doppelganger material. Kate asks, "What have you done to me?" "Only what was done to me.... We have a lot in common, you and I." Kate insists, "You're scared because you know you're losing your power over me." But the woman taunts Kate: "You are so weak, so stupid." She says that Kate has no path, no heart, "and I don't see you smiling." Kate insists, regarding the symbols, "They belong to me; they know they're mine." Kate chases the woman to retrieve them.]
"Eat the Music" --
"Split me open, with devotion, / Reach your hands in, and rip my heart out." "All is revealed."
[At the end of a colorful Dionysia, a fruitopia, Kate is exhausted. But silently, she realizes that she's in her own shoes again. The red shoes are back on the feet of the other woman, and the scraps of paper fly back to Kate. The man tells her to run back through the mirror -- the last barrier -- but the woman jumps in the way and hisses. An explosion is coming, and when the woman stumbles backwards and breaks the mirror, the realm through the looking-glass collapses. Kate is outside, where the power has returned. Inside, the red-shoed feet whip manically from beneath a pile of rubble. The man looks at them and says, "Hello."]
Someone else's shoes indicate someone else's dance, and if you find
yourself doing someone else's dance and that you've lost your smile
and path and heart, then you are leading an inauthentic life. There's
no "sin" here for which Kate is being punished, nor for you when you
find you've adopted someone else's notion of how to think, how to
worship, what's a practical major in school, what's the right kind of
Help comes from mentors, who may even be gone now. But whatever remains of them, perhaps only the spiritual presence or the vestiges inside you, they are there for a reason when you need them. Call on memories of "moments of pleasure" -- these are meditations but with healing personal content. Lose yourself, or shed your old self in a dionysian ecstasy which in one sense is being torn apart by Maenads but in another is a dismantling in order for rejuvenation or rebirth.
It's all going to be okay.