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The ending of Labyrinth explained

Labyrinth wasn't as successful as expected on its theatrical release in 1986, but the film's cult following has steadily grown through all its dangers untold and hardships unnumbered. From yearly masquerade Goblin Balls to news of a sequelLabyrinth is firmly entrenched in the pop-culture imagination. 

In Labyrinth Jennifer Connolly plays Sarah, a teenager with a vivid imagination and unhappy home life who accidentally wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King's realm, where she's forced into a tricksy labyrinth to rescue him. Jareth, the Goblin King (played by David Bowie), tries to woo Sarah into giving up her brother to become one of his minions. Played by creature designer Brian Froud's actual son Toby, the baby boy in question seems to have no clue what a dangerous predicament he's in. 

On her hero's quest to save her brother, Sarah meets many weird, wonderful, and scary creatures who cross her path either to help her or hurt her according to Jareth's wishes. Labyrinth's many musical numbers only add to its ongoing enchantment. From the opening scene to the closing chords of David Bowie's "Underground," this is the ending of Labyrinth explained.

"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered"

Sarah and her dog Merlin hang out in the park as she recites lines from a small red book called The Labyrinth. She's dressed in a Shakespearean gown as she dramatically intones, "Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here, to the castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great." She pauses, having forgotten the most important line of all. She opens the slim volume and reminds herself of the final statement: "You have no power over me." As she says these six meaningful words, an owl watching her hoots, and the clock in the park's square chimes seven. Sarah realizes she's late to babysit her little brother Toby. As if responding to her lack of interest in her brother, the sky opens up and pours down rain, soaking her dress as well as her canine companion (who her stepmother sends to the garage).

Sarah's stepmother berates her for being late again and they get into a screaming match about the stepmother and Sarah's father's constant going out. Sarah is tired of not being asked about babysitting and never being able to make her own plans. In a cruel jab, the stepmother tells Sarah, "I'd like it if you had dates! You should have dates at your age," to which Sarah shouts, "I can't do anything right, can I?" and locks herself in her room.

Sarah makes her fateful wish

Inside Sarah's sanctuary we discover Sarah's mom had been a Broadway star, and Sarah is mourning her death. Sarah's father makes a halfhearted effort to talk to her through her bedroom door — a moment we will see echoed in the doorknockers arriving later — and leaves. Sarah's room is filled with the trappings of a fantasy and theater enthusiast, her walls adorned with posters for Cats and Evita along with M.C. Escher's painting "Relativity." We see a fanciful red stuffed animal; a music box with a dark-haired woman in a white ballgown; copies of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, Baum's The Wizard of Oz, Grimm's Fairy Tales; a labyrinth puzzle board game; and figurines of gnomes and a fairy king. All of these things will resonate throughout the rest of the movie (and eagle-eyed fans will notice the gnome figurine is Hoggle and the fairy king is Jareth).

When Sarah discovers her favorite stuffed animal Lancelot is missing, she throws a conniption after finding it next to Toby's crib. A storm rages outside as Sarah screams at her crying brother, taunting him with a story about a beautiful young girl whose parents treat her like a servant and the Goblin King who will do anything for her love. Sarah threatens to say the words that will whisk Toby away, as we see a gaggle of goblins listening to her intently. "I wish the goblins would come and take you away," she says. "Right now." Toby is gone.

Sarah's impossible task

Sarah realizes there are strange, giggling creatures in her parents' room, scurrying about until the balcony doors near Toby's crib fly open. Appearing in a flurry of glitter, Jareth the Goblin King has arrived to tell Sarah he's granted her wish and taken her brother to his castle. Regretting what she's done, Sarah tries to beg her way out of it, but Jareth is resolute. After threatening her, Jareth whisks her into his world, where the sun is rising on an elaborate labyrinth with Toby in the castle at the center of it all. "You have 13 hours in which to solve the labyrinth before your baby brother becomes one of us forever," Jareth warns her.

On her way to the labyrinth's entrance, Sarah meets Hoggle, a gnome who's exterminating fairies. "Oh. It's you," Hoggle says when he sees her; when he finds out she's called Sarah, he oddly responds, "That's what I thought." Sarah gets her first education in the fae realm when one of the fairies Hoggle poisoned bites her for trying to help.

A reluctant Hoggle shows Sarah the entrance, where her next hurdle is figuring out how to get past the outer ring. A helpful Worm offers her some tea and to "come inside and meet the missus," but Sarah remains focused and asks where the openings are. The Worm informs her that there's one right across from them, but then sabotages Sarah by telling her to go down the one that doesn't lead to the castle.

Sarah goes deeper into the labyrinth

Sarah uses her red lipstick to leave marks tracing her steps, but the creatures who live underneath the cobbles are furious at her graffiti and remove her signs. As Sarah battles the twists and turns, Jareth sings to Toby up at the castle, encouraging him to dance, magic, dance. Normally it's strange in a movie when people start spontaneously singing, but since this is how goblins cast spells, in Labyrinth it makes perfect sense.

Back in the labyrinth, Sarah's having another tantrum. "What a horrible place this is! It's not fair!" Sarah cries on finding that she's ended up in a dead end with four sentinels guarding two doors, one of which she must choose if she's to proceed. One door leads to the castle, and the other leads to certain death. 

After a game of logic gone awry, Sarah chooses wrong and falls into a hole, finding herself propped up by a disturbing collection of disembodied hands forcing her into another choice: "Up or down." Sarah responds, "Well, since I'm pointed that way I guess I'll go down." The hands cackle and dump her into a dusty oubliette. But Sarah is not alone. A match flares and Hoggle reveals himself, encouraging her back to the beginning of the labyrinth and home. After bribing the jewel-collecting gnome with her plastic bracelet, Hoggle agrees to secretly take her as far forward as he can, but they're interrupted by Jareth, who taunts Sarah and takes several hours of her remaining time off the enchanted 13-hour clock.

"The way forward is sometimes the way back": Sarah meets more labyrinth denizens

After escaping from Jareth's minions the Cleaners, Sarah and Hoggle meet the wizard and his talking hat, who gives Sarah useless and inscrutable advice about solving the labyrinth, but excellent advice for life in general. "The way forward is sometimes the way back," he says, but Sarah presses on forward. She hears a horrible ruckus that sends Hoggle running away again, so Sarah meets Ludo on her own. Ludo is being tortured by a group of monstrous-armored creatures with bitey pets, and after Ludo calls his rock friends, Sarah is able to chase the torturers off. Ludo looks just like a creature from Where the Wild Things Are, and he's newly Team Sarah as they meet the two talking door-knockers who open the door to Sarah's next labyrinth phase.

From stone and dust to a lush, verdant forest, Ludo falls and suddenly disappears, leaving Sarah alone again. Almost. She's accosted by a group of screeching orange Fireys who take off their limbs and toss them about. They try to do the same with Sarah, hurting her. As she calls Hoggle for help, he's about to come running when Jareth stops him: Jareth gives Hoggle a poisoned peach that he must feed to Sarah so she can forget everything and give up. He also warns Hoggle that if Sarah kisses him, he will dump him in the Bog of Eternal Stench, a stinky fate worse than death. But as Hoggle saves Sarah from being torn apart by the horrific Fireys, she does kiss him and the next thing they know, they're dangling over the Bog.

Jareth's Goblin Ball

Sarah and Hoggle almost succumb to the Bog of Eternal Stench, but thankfully Ludo breaks their fall. As they desperately try to get out of the smelly, farty bog, they're held up again by Sir Didymus, a knight who has been sworn to protect the one bridge out. "None may pass without my permission," Didymus insists, and fights Ludo until eventually ceding defeat. But on their way across the rickety bridge it collapses, and Ludo must call the rocks again to save Sarah.

After all the excitement, Sarah mentions she's starving, so Hoggle gives her Jareth's poison peach. The moment she bites into it she knows it's off, and she finds herself falling into Jareth's masquerade Goblin Ball. She's wearing the same dress as the figurine in her room back home as she dances with Jareth, desperately trying to remember why she's there. She breaks out of Jareth's spell long enough to throw a chair through a stained glass window, falling like Alice down the rabbit hole, landing with a thunk in a junkyard. 

There she meets the Junkyard Lady, who has a perfect replica of Sarah's room. It's so perfect, Sarah is surprised when the Junkyard Lady appears again; she thought she was home. But Jareth made a big mistake: He left the red-covered copy of Sarah's book The Labyrinth on her dresser, and as she reads the lines she remembers everything. Just in time, Ludo, Didymus, and Ambrosius find her to tell her she's made it to the castle at the center of the labyrinth.

Confronting the Goblin King to save Toby

As Sarah, Ludo, Didymus and Ambrosius enter the Goblin City, a huge troll comes out of the woodwork and tries to kill them until Hoggle tosses the goblin controlling it overboard. Hoggle is finally and firmly Team Sarah now after she forgives him for poisoning her. The group battles hundreds and hundreds of all kinds of goblins, big and small, whose extensive weaponry of bombs, spears, bayonets, cannons, and more almost defeat Sarah and her crew. But Ludo calls on his friends the rocks again, knocking down Jareth's entire goblin army and allowing Sarah to enter the castle and search for her brother. The room where Toby is being kept is the embodiment of the Escher painting that Sarah has up in her own room, with stairs going in all directions and nowhere. Since she can't reach Toby on foot, she jumps.

After floating through the air Sarah lands in a remote location where Jareth appears, dressed all in feathered white like his owl counterpart. Jareth tries to convince Sarah to stay with him, be his queen, and let him keep Toby, but Sarah only wants her brother back. She begins reciting the lines from her book again, a kind of talisman against Jareth's considerable charisma. But she forgets the most important line, and as the clock chimes 13, she almost loses her moment to save Toby. Suddenly, it comes to her: "You have no power over me," Sarah reminds Jareth. He's forced to return the baby and send her home.

Sarah returns home with her brother

Back at Sarah's house, the grandfather clock strikes midnight. Her brother is tucked safely asleep, and in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity she gives him her favorite stuffie Lancelot. This Sarah is very different from the one we first met. She's calm, centered, and we can see her processing everything she learned during her ordeal. Sarah starts packing up some of her more toys and is actually nice to her father and stepmother when they return home.

As she stares into her mirror, she sees the reflection of her faerieland friends come to say goodbye to her. "Should you need us," they all repeat, and Sarah responds, "I need you, Hoggle... Every now and again in my life, for no reason at all, I need you." When she turns around, they're all there in her room to throw her a goodbye party, complicating the notion that this was all just Sarah's dream. Outside Sarah's window, a jealous Jareth in owl form watches Sarah dancing with her friends and flies away to a medley of songs from the movie, sung by the Goblin King himself. 

Labyrinth teaches us that self-empowerment is vital

Sarah's emotional arc in Labyrinth is as huge and complicated as the Goblin King's labyrinth. She begins the movie as a young adult who is still stuck in the trappings of childhood, likely due in part to the grief and trauma associated with her mother's death. She's resisting growing up, which is probably why she can never remember that one key line: "You have no power over me." She must empower herself to take responsibility for her own actions, because once she does, it limits the ways others can control her. At the same time, growing up means being able to ask for help and accept it when we need it. Sarah realizes that her parents aren't having her babysit to be mean to her, they're doing it because they also need help and she's available.

And as Sarah empowers herself by the end of the movie, it's with the terrible lesson to be careful what you wish for, one Sarah learned the hard way. You can't just wish away your grief, trauma, or even a sibling without horrible consequences. You have to confront these things head on and in a healthy way, which by the end it seems like Sarah is finally ready to do. Labyrinth finishes with the the important message that we don't have to abandon every favorite childhood thing, and reminds us that as we age we simply need to pick our timing more appropriately.

It really is unfair when older children are forced into childcare roles

Sarah is an absolute brat at the beginning of Labyrinth. Her tantrums are epic and she throws the words "I hate you" around way too much. She blames everyone else for her pain and likes to inflict her suffering on others. None of this is cool. But it truly is unfair when an older child is expected to perform childcare roles for younger siblings. 

An older child is still a child, they shouldn't be held responsible for minding their parents' other children, particularly in Sarah's case where the child is a reminder that her own mother is dead. Also, if her father and stepmother knew how verbally abusive Sarah was with her brother when they weren't around, they might have reconsidered asking her to take care of him and instead gotten her a therapist to work out her anger issues. Sarah's father and stepmother needed to be more empathetic toward her given the fraught background of the situation.

A mind-blowing fan theory

Labyrinth fans had brain meltdowns when a fan theory went viral positing that centuries ago, a sorcerer named Jareth fell in love with a dark-haired girl named Sarah, but Sarah's parents wouldn't allow her to marry him because they wanted her to take care of her spoiled baby brother. In retaliation, Jareth kidnapped the baby and turned it into a goblin, marrying Sarah. But after Sarah died, Jareth went mad and started hunting for a replacement Sarah in the human world. 

So whenever Jareth finds a dark-haired Sarah with a bratty baby brother, he kidnaps the baby for her. As centuries of Sarahs fail his labyrinth and he turns hundreds of babies into goblins, he becomes Jareth the Goblin King. This theory explains why Sarah has a book detailing the story, because it's happened many times before. 

When Sarah ends up in the oubliette, Jareth says, "She should have given up by now" — not because he wants her to fail, but because the other Sarahs possibly did. This also explains why Hoggle says "Oh, it's you" when he first meets Sarah. And when she tells her name he says, "That's what I thought." It was only a matter of time before another dark-haired Sarah came looking for her kidnapped baby brother. This theory deepens an already profound story so immensely you'll never see Labyrinth the same again.