Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood, released this past weekend, has the smoothed-over color palette of a Thomas Kinkade painting and dialogue with a tween's barely sustained notion of Romantic diction. But worse still: the big bad wolf isn't sexy. It's actually a CGI monster with a pixilated voice, whose human identity, when climactically revealed, laughably neuters any potential appeal. As director of the first Twilight movie, it was Hardwicke's job to make alluring beasties reassuringly cuddly; here, she withholds even the sensitive bad-boy shtick until the very end—the movie plays like an extended purity test, with Amanda Seyfried's Red distraught by the possibility of an animal within one of her Abercrombie-pretty love interests, and virtuously guilt-stricken by the wolf's interest in her. What big eyes Seyfried has, but there's no avidity permitted—when provocatively given the red-stained fabric swath as a wedding present, she laments that she feels "sold"—no affinity with the bloodthirsty, lunar-cyclical werewolf.
Filmgoers hoping to have a little fun with feminist semiotics are directed instead to Neil Jordan's committed, feverish 1984 adaptation of Angela Carter's short story "The Company of Wolves." In the story, a girl, just begun her own bloody lunar cycle, sets out through the woods, secure in her innocence, to grandmother's house, bartering with a young man over a kiss on the way; when she arrives, discovering the boy transformed, granny dead, and the pack howling outside, she throws her Red Riding Hood ("the colour of poppies, the color of sacrifices, the colour of her menses") on the fire with the rest of her clothes.
As for the wolf, Carter writes, with his anguished cries, "grace could not come to the wolf from its own despair, only through some external mediator, so that, sometimes, the beast will look as if he half welcomes the knife that dispatches him."
The complicity of transgression—violation as its own type of contract—is one risky, suggestive subject of Carter's "The Bloody Chamber," the title story in the 1979 collection of retold fairytales which also includes "Company of Wolves." In "Bloody Chamber," Carter's update of the Bluebeard myth, the child bride of the richest man in France opens the forbidden door, behind which are her murdered predecessors, because her deflowerment—the title has more than one meaning, you guys—has implanted with her a "dark newborn curiosity."
Carter was working on a Jane Eyre sequel when she died, and Charlotte Brontë has Jane liken Thornfield to Bluebeard's castle at one point, which is perfect for reasons that go beyond foreshadowing. Rochester, too, fosters in Jane a sense of curiosity; their romance is epic not just because it transcends obstacles or busts through social taboos (though the latter is important), but because the two interest each other so intensely. Jane's often-censured desire for real experience, which Brontë's prose renders in Jane's vivid, precise observations of self and others, finds fulfillment in their discourse.
In Cary Joji Fukunaga's faithful new version of Jane Eyre, also out last Friday, Rochester's first appearance is prefigured by a storybook ghoul, and announced by the fiendish nostrils of a rearing black horse—here be danger, but also stimulation. Mia Wasikowska's Jane, with her rather taut face, conveys depths of seriousness and thoughtfulness, and as Rochester, Michael Fassbender's scowly, laser-focused gaze seems to demand that its object reward such close scrutiny. This new Jane Eyre ends exactly as "Company of Wolves" does, with the young woman risking all to find herself safe "between the paws of the tender wolf."