Oh no! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!
Nearly a week to get this post up! I blame work. But the reality is that I just haven’t figured out much of what I want to say about Alice in Wonderland. So rant mode, activate!
While it’s not a package film, it has a distinct feel of one; it’s a collection of short segments that are all largely unrelated.
The common threads that unite them is that they all 1) Are about Alice trying to find her way home and 2) They’re all based in a bizarre sensical nonsense which is how Alice said she’d want her world to be during the opening segment before tumbling down the rabbit hole.
Alice declared, “nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.” The very idea of such a thing makes little sense in and of itself since our naming conventions are largely arbitrary (see my rant about this in the post on Bambi). If, in Alice’s world, down was suddenly defined as up, the directions don’t truly change, just the terminology. While this may mess up our liguistic comprehension temprorarily, it doesn’t have any bearing on our actual perception.
But perhaps she meant something slightly deeper. Instead of just calling things in a different manner, what if, in Wonderland, perception truly was different?
There are examples of how people actually adapt to such things. In one experiment, scientists wore special headsets made with mirrors that reversed their perception of left and right. At first, they stumbled about, but after several days of this reverse reality, their brains adapted and automatically compensated. Alice ultimately reacts in a very similar manner. While at first, she struggles to adapt to a world where eating causes her to shrink and even a sip causes her to fill houses, eventually she uses this set of changed rules to her advantage.
Initially, Alice struggles with this, needing help from the Doorknob to guide her through the process of this reasoning so she can shrink to fit through him. She floods the room with her tears and ends up in an ocean. She washes up on the shore and in an attempt to get dry, the various sea life is having a caucus race, which does nothing. What an apt observation for our current political climate where both parties do nothing more than go in circles trying to bite the other’s tail.
From there she heads into the woods and meets the twins, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. This segment is a perfect example of why this movie has the feeling of a package film; the twins tell a story about how a bunch of oysters were duped into being a feast by a conniving walrus. It has almost nothing to do with the main plot except that it, very loosely, is based on the fact that Alice was chasing the white rabbit because she was “curious”. The tale is supposed to be about how curiousity killed the
cat oysters, but in reality, was more about temptation. The Walrus has a definative feel of Honest John from Pinnochio.
The twins try to regail her with more tales, but she runs off to chase the rabbit and finds his house in which she gets stuck when she drinks something. Bill the lizard tries to help, but to no avail until Alice eats a bit of carrot (Bonus trivia: Bill also appears in Who Framed Roger Rabbit). This shrinks her down to sing a song with some flowers. When they accuse her of being a weed, she runs off trying to find a way home.
She meets with the hookah smoking caterpillar who asks her who she is, but she doesn’t ever really answer. I guess drugs are bad, m’kay?
The Cheshire Cat advises her to ask the Doormouse and the hatter, so she joins the mad tea-party which is definitely one of the most memorable portions of the movie. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want an unbirthday? (PS: Today is my unbirthday!)
Eventually, she finds the Queen’s castle and discovers the guards, er…. cards painting the roses red. Why? Because the queen wants them red. In this way, we see another one of the charming characteristics of Wonderland: The paradox between the simple and the complex. The cards take a very simple solution to a problem (Queen wants the roses red. How do we make things red? With paint! Thus, we should paint the roses! QED). Yet there was a much simpler solution that was overlooked: Plant red roses in the first place.
Of course, this ties back to another recurring theme: The small vs the large. The solution of painting the roses only addresses the problems in that small time period where the roses already existed as white. In the larger picture, the other solution would have been the better one. This too has interesting parallels in science. Many people often complain about how science is flawed and cite conclusions such as a flat earth, or the Geocentric model of the solar system. But what people often fail to realize is that, when looking in very small terms, these solutions are exceptionally accurate! Consider your yard; unless you live on a hill, your yard is probably pretty flat. The change in height is very little compared to the total width of the yard. On the small scale, it’s a very good fit.
It was only as our breadth of knowledge grew that it became untennable. The same is true for the Geocentric model. Even after the Heliocentric one was proposed, the Geoctentric model dominated for a very long time, not just because of political pressures, but because the Geocentric model simply provided equally, if not more accurate predictions. As we grow, we get a different perspective, and more comes into view. Often times, the simpler solutions still work for the smaller ones (for example: We still teach Newtonian gravity even though we know it’s insufficient and has been replaced by relativity, but at low velocities and without exceptionally large masses, the Newtonian solutions can provide sufficiently correct answers).
The Queen is an eccentric individual as well. When Alice is on trial, the Queen insists that the sentencing come first (probably because that’s when she can say her most famous line). I have to wonder if the Queen’s character is a commentary on women in politics. I doubt it is given that women were still so far away from having any political power when the source material was written, but historically (and even in contemporary times), mysoginists have argued that women should be prevented from holding any sort of power because they were “prone to hysterics”.
Regardless, the trial is the first time Alice truly tries to insist for some sort of normalcy, and that the order of the trial follow the normal procedure. Of course, the Chesire Cat throws a wrench in both of their plans by disrupting the whole trial and eventually Alice wakes up to find herself back in
Kansas the meadow. No grand conclusion. No revelation to tie it all together. No happily ever after. Just time for tea or some such nonsense. It was an unsatisfying ending to a movie that made little sense.
But this too presents a paradox: Alice in Wonderland is a poorly ended movie without much coherence in either the plot or individual plot points, yet it has found a way to become an endearing classic.
And they call me mad.