Wandering through Wonderland

No Comments

Alice-In-Wonderland-Theatrical-Poster

Just in time for its DVD release on June 1st, here are some of my thoughts, plus some gathered tidbits to serve as a little guide to help you as you wander through Wonderland.

Symbolism and Themes from the Story 

• From a child’s perspective the world is full of strange things…. We become jaded as we get older because we think we have it all figured out. But this story tries to take us back to that child-like state of awe, wonder, as well as the confusion and fear that come with it. (And really without all of that, life can be pretty boring. Better to be childlike, I think!)

• Nature themes – The flowers and animals talk, (one of the six impossible things listed by Alice), but perhaps that means we should listen. The Red Queen prefers dominion over animals, (which sounds quite Biblical), using them as furniture and croquet sets (much like Flintstones, but with a bitter edge). However her attempts at control failed her. The lovely white queen befriended the animals and that became Alice’s advantage as well. Nature is a powerful force, so it’s much better when it’s on your side!

• The magic of the growing and shrinking potions that are used to reach things that are up high or walk through small doors makes me think of Western society’s obsession with pharmaceuticals – the instant fix for the smallest of problems.  Though the story does show that instant fixes offer a different set of problems – like clothes that suddenly don’t fit, or otherwise not fitting into a situation.

• Our heroine Alice gets a lot of costume changes this time! Including a shiny set of armor that still manages to look pretty!  Perhaps this symbolizes her multi-faceted personality. She learns to takes charge and forge ahead both in the imaginary world and the real one.

• While our main character is a female, so is the big bad nemesis character, and the good queen. If this had been a dream, as Alice suspected throughout the film, then dream interpretation might suggest that perhaps these represented aspects of her own personality.

Alice-battle (photo courtesy of filmofilia
• “While the White Queen's army is chess-themed, the Red Queen's army is playing-card themed”, says imdb.com's trivia for the film. This implies the use of different types of strategy. And the Red Queen asks if it’s better to be loved or feared, a question that may plague any in a position of leadership. The White Queen earns the loyalty of her subjects. 

• Neither Queen had a King  – which is interesting in light of the character of the spinster Aunt Imogene. She became the cautionary tale for Alice, hinting that girls who don’t get married while they have the chance will go insane while they spend their lives waiting for an imaginary prince. I was also disappointed that Alice of all people should tell her to get over her delusions! Was she telling us that this is what she was choosing to do?

On the other hand: • The crazy-spinster-aunt-as-cautionary-tale is in line with the beliefs of the Victorian society which is being depicted, and… • I guess we should admit that single women of marrying age often feel that this may be the case. I know I did. (I didn’t get married ‘til I was 32.) As do friends and family of unmarried women, the well-meaning and the pitying alike. So, it’s ugly, but there’s a ring of symbolic resonance to the character.

Hollywood-wise
Tim Burton fans will enjoy all the twisty, spiral-branched trees that are his main trademark symbol, along with the black and white stripes and general cartoony creepiness that we all love him for.

Alices-REdQueenBellatrix

Casting-wise, you can hardly throw a stick in the UK without hitting an actor or actress that’s been in the Harry Potter films, but still I was pleased to see or hear the following:

Actor

In Alice

In Harry Potter

Helena Bonham Carter

Red Queen

Bellatrix LeStrange

Alan Rickman

Absolem the Blue Caterpillar

Prof. Severus Snape 

Timothy Spall

Bayard the Bloodhound

Peter Pettigrew, AKA Wormtail

Frances de la Tour

delusional spinster Aunt Imogene

Madame Olympe Maxime

Imelda Staunton

Dolores Umbridge

Tall Flower Faces

Weird Words
I wished I’d had a map, or at least subtitles, when I saw it in the theater (last night…it’s in the theater in Sri Lanka right now.). Or that I had read up on all things Alice before walking through the doors. Hearing a lot of words I didn’t know made me want to see them written out. The Wikipedia entry helped, but here's my cheat sheet.

From Jabberwocky – the poem by Lewis Carroll originally featured as a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. (You can also listen to the Disney song – here’s a YouTube slideshow with words that appear at the :44 second mark.)

Bandersnatch — A swift moving creature with snapping jaws, capable of extending its neck.
Frabjous — Possibly a blend of fair, fabulous, and joyous.
Jabberwock — a deadly creature, the Red Queen's ultimate weapon
Jubjub bird — A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion, according to the Butcher in Carroll's later poem The Hunting of the Snark.

From the crib sheets for the film’s screenplay:

Oraculum– a Calendar of all the days of Underland, each day having its own title and illustration.
Futterwacken – a dance of unbridled joy

Names that Confuse and Befuddle
Absolem the Caterpillar
Mallymkun the Dormouse
Mirana of Marmoreal – The White Queen
Iracebeth of Crims – The Red Queen
Stayn – The Knave (or Jack) of Hearts

The Characters Appearances

Alice-char-big The Mad Hatter

The orange hair is an allusion to the mercury poisoning suffered by milliners who used mercury to cure felt, Depp believes that the character "was poisoned…and it was coming out through his hair, through his fingernails and eyes."

Depp and Burton decided that the Mad Hatter's clothes, skin, hair, personality and accent would change throughout the film to reflect his emotions.

In an interview with Depp, the character was paralleled to "…a mood ring, [as] his emotions are very close to the surface."

The Mad Hatter is "made up of different people and their extreme sides," with the Scottish Glaswegian accent (which Depp modeled after Gregor Fisher's Rab C. Nesbitt character) reflecting a darker, more dangerous personality.

Illusionary dancer David Bernal doubled for Depp during the "Futterwacken" sequence near the end of the film.

The Red Queen

Says Bonham-Carter, "The Red Queen is just like a toddler, because she’s got a big head and she’s a tyrant. Toddlers have no sympathy for any living creature." (from Wikipedia)

Stayne, Knave of Hearts

Stayne, has only one eye. This may be a reference to him being a representation of the Jack of Hearts. (The Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades are often referred to as "One-Eyed Jack" since only one eyed is showed on the card.) (From imdb.com's trivia)

A Burning Question
And Wikipedia offered some answers, as they so often do. The Mad Hatter asks Alice several times, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" This is directly from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Carroll admitted that there never was an answer to the question; he made it up without an answer.

He did provide one possible answer years later after many requests from his fans for the answer: "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are VERY flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front." Another answer, from the American puzzler Sam Loyd: "Because Poe wrote on both." Over the years, numerous others have come up with possible answers as well.

Down the Rabbit Hole

• For a deep and interesting examination of the feminism, Victorianism and many other themes in Burton’s Alice, check out this blog post entitled Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: what is the allegory about? from the keepers of the Women Writers (Through the Ages) Discussion List.

25127925-alice-pack

• For some twists on Alice’s journey, check out:

  –  American McGee's Alice, a computer game inspired by Lewis Carroll's stories

  -  Sy-Fy’s Alice: a Syfy Original Mini-Series that puts a modern day spin on the classic stories by Lewis Carroll. 

  -  The Japanese manga series Pandora Hearts, which features heavy references to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, (but in a rather odd and disturbing way). 

Returning to the Real World

We can be like Alice and take inner journeys that enrich us by learning the language of symbolism that is meaningful for us. And then, like her, we too can make our forays into the "real world" with confidence, a sense of humor and the belief that anything is possible.

Malayna Dawn is an author and freelance writer who loves to explore how symbols and their themes resonate within us, transforming our lives…if we let them. Visit her blog, Symbolic Themes or read her novel Echoes Across Time for more inner adventures!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *