Friday, April 09, 2010

Alice Forgets What the Dormouse Said

(I'm turning over the blog this afternoon to Brodie H. Brockie, Michigan-based international man of mystery and editor of the Cap'n Wacky's Boatload of Fun site. He's got an insightful review of the "Alice in Wonderland" movie, so enjoy! And be sure to share your thoughts on the flick, too.)

I hated Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" for a wide variety of reasons. I could go on at length (and have to some of my more patient friends) about how it bungles many of the characterizations and ideas in Carroll's two Alice novels, and about how the whole experiment feels like the worst kind of internet fan fiction writ large (creepy sexual tension between characters with no such relationship in the original much?), but I realize I'm in the minority for caring about those things. Instead, allow to me explain why I consider Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" a failure in and of itself, and it's cheap attempts at girl-power sentiment actually a bit counter-feminist.

At the start of the movie, we meet Alice, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood who lives life in a sort of frustrated stupor. Her father used to support Alice's independent thinking and vivid imagination, but since his death, everyone has been telling her what to do, how to dress, how to behave, what to talk about, and what to think about. All of this is pushing her toward making one terrible mistake: accepting a marriage proposal from a big-nosed, weak-chinned, stuff-shirted twit. At the moment of truth, Alice at least has enough spirit left in her to ask for a moment to consider, runs away, spots the White Rabbit, and falls down a hole into a world she'd dreamed about as a child.

Once there, what happens? Naturally, in this weird, dreamlike funhouse mirror world Alice encounters a twisted version of what was happening above: everyone is telling her what they expect of her, what she should do, how she should behave, how she should dress, and what their society demands of her. Granted, some of the things they're telling her are more positive: she needs to be stronger, more vibrant, and she needs to slay the Jabberwock.

It's her destiny, they tell her.

The problem is, what NO ONE wants her to do, above or below, is the one thing little Alice had been so good at. No one wants Alice to actually think for herself.

So what happens? Incredibly, Alice goes along with the demands of the Wonderland (now - gag - Underland) crowd, suits up in armor far more constricting than the corsets she's complained about previously, and slays the Jabberwock, helping overthrow one monarch with another that she (and the audience) knows pretty much nothing about (if this Wonderland was really the more mature story it wants to be, wouldn't we need to know more about the "good" queen than she wears all white and talks in a lilting voice. Are people really buying white=good as a mature update?).

To reiterate: the story tells us everything that's going to happen as soon as Alice arrives in Wonderland, and then goes through with it just as it laid it out. Not only is that boring storytelling, it's nonsensical (and not in a fun way) as far as Alice's development. How does she gain the internal fortitude to tell the stuffy English to stop bossing her around by ACCEPTING the Underlanders bossing her around?

Worse, the script almost stumbles upon a much better idea: early on, Alice encounters the Bandersnatch - he's no Jabberwock, but he's a pretty fierce creature too. Alice is saved from his initial attack by the Dormouse who pokes out the beast's eye. Later, to get by the Bandersnatch, Alice returns the eye, and this act of kindness transforms the monster into an affectionate ally.

This plot point would've been a great micro-version of the encounter with the Jabberwock. A thinking Alice might've had a conversation with the monster, found out what it wanted, killed it with kindness, and turned it into an ally against the Red Queen. Instead, she does the most boring thing possible - the very thing everyone has told her to do - the very thing we were told she would do over an hour before - off with its head! Yawn.

Some hail this as girl-power progress. Sorry: a smart lady turning off her best weapon and picking up a sword instead is no kind of progress at all.

Contrariwise, it's nonsense.


Lissy said...

awesome! I didn't want to see it before and now I want to see it even less. Thanks for helping me save $15!

this movie does sound really stupid. I know all my friends were super psyched to see it. Then they got back and I saw all their facebook status updates. "Got to see Alice in Wonderland!!! It was ... ok."

Annalise said...


I'm so sick of people talking about how great this movie was. It's fantastic to see someone on the other side of the argument (aka, MY side) Tim Burton needs to just go away forever and stop ruining things. And take stupid Helena Bonham Carter with him.

Lissa said...

So it sounds like its got the same problem Looking Glass Wars does. Everyone wants Alice to do something but heaven forbid she actually do something she wants to do.

Yea, fabulous, one female lead in classic literature and she gets turned into a puppet.

JusticeRobin said...

Definitely agree. I couldn't fathom what the lesson was supposed to be-- "oh I don't want to do what's foretold, oh look at me choosing on purpose to do what's foretold." They didn't even take the usual tactic of the accidental prophesy fulfillment.

Though the main problem I had with the movie was, as a friend eloquently put it, "it made too much sense."

Lady Mel said...

I liked the movie. I thought it was cool to have Alice somewhat of the White Knight instead of Carroll.

Mindy said...

Really? That movie has been hailed for girl power? That's ridiculous. It missed the mark on so many different areas that I don't even know where to begin. Nice guest spot. I would have been interested in more book-related interjections as well!

The sick part is that this movie has turned up as millions of little emo-girls' favorite movies list everywhere. Too bad it's rubbish.

C said...

I expected to be disappointed in the movie after seeing so many bad reviews, but I actually loved it (especially the sexual tension!). Then again, I can't stand "faithful" adaptations because I just don't see the point. Alice as a character has gone way beyond Carroll.

I liked the visual allusions to Joan of Arc and Charlotte Doyle, and I think Alice most reminded me of Bet Yeager from Rimrunners, though I admit I might have been reading that in.

Millie said...

I enjoyed it visually. The storyline was strange, but I haven't yet read Looking Glass so I figured I just didn't understand.

But I love Depp, he was the only reason I truly wanted to see it!

JJC said...

It's been over 6 months since I saw this movie and a fortuitously a friend just recommended this blog to me and I'm here dodging responsibilities and reading up- I kind of liked the movie - but it felt off. As a phil. major I acquired a unique sense for when things didn't really make sense- but life being what it is I haven't really had the time to sit and figure out exactly what felt so wrong- and admittedly it was not super apparent to me- all those run-ons to say- I think you hit the nail on the head. well done. I think that's it.

I remember sitting there and feeling a little 1. disappointed and 2. anti-climatic when Al killed the jabber- you knew all along she was going to buck up and do it ... but it's not even buck up... it's - do what's expected of her. it was lame and you nailed it.

We're in a time where gender roles have been tipped over and where becoming your own person isn't about throwing off the 1950's expectations- it's about genuinely and truly thinking for yourself. And in so doing you'll likely stray far from any box anyone could conceive of - except unless you don't and you stay in a mid-90's version of feminism... which is kind of what I feel this movie portrayed.

anyway- thanks.