In 2007, Paramount Pictures released Stardust, a high-spirited family fantasy film… that no one saw. Seriously, the film was made for $90 million (before advertising) and didn’t even generate $140 million. This was a shame as many people, myself included, find it to be a fun and well put together movie. Based on a Neil Gaiman book by the same name, Stardust follows the life of young Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox). It is the classic man-of-destiny story. Tristan needs to grow from a boy into a man in order to take his place in a newly discovered magical kingdom. Sounds pretty generic by fantasy standards – but still well done. What Stardust does that I find worth mentioning is how it handles the abusive relationship in the story. Oh yes, not everything is happy in the land of enchantment. Specifically the relationship between these two:
Tristan Thorn has grown up in a small town and seems to know most everybody. Problem is that he’s kind of a nobody. He’s not exactly the man to exude confidence or strength or anything like that – just more of your average nice guy. Then there is Victoria (Sienna Miller). Victoria is not as subtle a personality as Tristan. She is loud, center-stage and appears to adore being the center of attention. Case in point: she stands idly by and Tristan and another suitor, Humphrey (Henry Cavill – wait, seriously?) attempt to win her hand.
This right here could be opportunity to criticize Hollywood for yet another ditzy woman character who does not ever take an active role in her romantic life. Yet Victoria is not completely voiceless. She is not presented as the empty-headed “I don’t know what I should do” type. Instead, she is far more sinister.
The abusive relationship between Tristan and Victoria is more subtle than most plot point/character interactions in this movie. Victoria is not overtly evil. She has no dastardly plan designed to hurt Tristan. She is instead presented as immature – self-centered to be more specific. In the movie, the audience learns very quickly that Victoria is at the center of her world.
In a sequence near the beginning of the film, Victoria enters a shop to buy things. Tristan is manning that shop and there is already a very long line of customers waiting to be served. Victoria sees fit to use her advantage, Tristan’s infatuation with her, to bypass said line and be served immediately. Of course Tristan does it – the abusive relationship always needs a bully and a victim. The resulting action costs Tristan his job. Not to worry though, Victoria says she’s sorry about it the next time she sees him.
There are six main types of abuse that occur within relationships and Victoria appears to be using both emotional abuse as well as mental abuse. She is essentially keeping Tristan within her power. She knows she can make him do things by just using a few simple words. Is Tristan to blame for his behavior? Not really. True, he is a bit of a pushover (especially in the beginning) but that really is no excuse for Victoria to use him. It is the classic “dangling carrot” scenario. Anyone with a horse knows how this works: dangle a carrot on a rope in front of a horse. The horse will move forward to try and get the carrot. The carrot that Victoria is dangling in front of Tristan is quite simply – her.
For the entirety of the film’s opening half, many of Tristan’s actions are driven by the desires of Victoria. He is so desperate to “win her affections” that he will do just about anything to impress her. Granted, these actions by themselves do not mean abuse. Tristan could simply be a helpless romantic. It is that, like the horse with the carrot, Tristan has no chance of winning Victoria – but she is too busy enjoying using him to inform him of that, and he is too trapped to see it for himself.
Victoria wants to marry Humphrey, it is very obvious to everyone (except Tristan). Later in the film, after Tristan has left on his journey – a journey he only initially leaves on to impress Victoria – and met Yvaine (Claire Danes), he finally begins to learn what is it to have an actual relationship:
Yvaine: Tell me about Victoria, then.
Tristan: Well, she… she… There’s nothing more to tell you.
Yvaine: The little I know about love is that it’s unconditional. It’s not something you can buy.
Tristan: Hang on! This wasn’t about me buying her love. This was a way for me to prove to her how I felt.
Yvaine: Ah… And what’s she doing to prove how she feels about you?
Again, this lesson is very applicable to real life and I really feel that the movie should be applauded for having it. Too often in movies, abusive relationships are blown out of proportion for dramatic effect (Looking at you, Prince Hans). While many elements of Stardust are unbelievable, the movie has some very well written relationships. Tristan’s unhealthy attachment to Victoria can serve as a both a warning and a beacon of hope. He escapes the cycle and learns who he really is.
I will make one thing clear: I am not using this post to simply show how women can abuse men. This type of abusive relationship can occur between people of any gender. Stardust happens to showcase an abusive female, but that is not to say that it is only women who can mentally abuse other human beings.