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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Critique of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

I had been thinking about calling the group of radicals, counterculture and new religion kids Looking Glass People, because they look like everyone else but are inverted in all their reasons for things. That same day I went to go see Tim Burton's new film Alice in Wonderland, all the while humming Jefferson Airplanes "White Rabbit" and thinking about the connection between wonderland and the absurdity of the 60s, both good absurdity and bad, and how important upside down thinking can be in shaking loose a stagnant culture. I was physically sick from the experience of watching the movie. It was shockingly wrong. When I got home I wrote in my Facebook Status: "What does it mean for society when the anima is transformed into Saint George? I'm pretty upset right now. I feel like I just watched Tim Burton rape my childhood." Not long after this one of the comments on my status was a request for an explanation, so I wrote the following, all the while thinking of what was at stake within the context of the work I am currently doing...

Alice in Wonderland in its original form had two primary narrative functions. One was an articulation of the pre-adolescent puella anima of Lewis Carroll, a young naive little girl who wanders within the extreme surreal unconscious stumbling upon truth by accident whenever she does it wrong. This was coupled with the second an incredibly witty and ironic commentary both social and political of Victorian England that was a very conscious choice by Carroll. This story was then embraced by the larger collective because it spoke to them on an unconscious level, as our studies at Pacifica would say. Why did it speak? It was at the time the shadow side of the Victorian world, a world that was caught up in Empire building, rational categorization and romantic notions of truth. The Victorian Era created labyrinths of linear thinking that were defined as "The Natural Order", but themselves were as unnatural as fetal pigs trapped in large jars of embalming fluid with little hand written labels pasted to the side. Alice in Wonderland showed categorically the absurdity of this. It balanced the Matron Queen with this young innocent girl whose perception of the world keeps transforming along with her own size in a psychedelic esoteric fashion. At a time when Nietzsche had proclaimed god dead, Alice, soon to be accompanied by Peter Pan, returned the magic and the dark fecundity of the ancient mysteries in the form of new youthful innocence. The Puer/Puella archetype always proclaims a hermetic birth of potential and newness, along with its naive absurdity and immature tantrums. This newness grew throughout the 20th Century until it exploded in the 1960s proclaimed loudly by the Jefferson Airplane as the lesson that "when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead/and the white knight is talking backwards/and the red queen's off with her head/remember what the dormouse said/feed your head" In other words... When the logic becomes ridiculous, turn to the mysteries of the psychedelic experience, EXPERIENCE being the critical word here. Alice and Wonderland had become a symbolic example of the mystery of hermetic nonsense. It is a knowing that comes from confusion and surreal juxtaposition that is part of all human esotericism, the opposite of the egoic rational knowing.

So now to look at what Tim Burton and company has created. Alice is transformed into a rational heroic ego symbol. She walks into wonderland not following a whim of unexplained curiosity, but intentional running from a negative trial that she must escape. She remains conscious and rational throughout her journey, in wonderland, always speaking with critical rational judgment, problem solving, setting things to right, finally transforming literally into the HERO in shiny armor fighting the dragon in the position of St. George who as we will remember from fairy tale class, is the symbol of the Christian linear sensibility conquering the ancient mother religions of pagan magic. She then returns from the underworld having won the battle. Regardless of the fact that as Hillman points out in Death and the Underworld the Hero Archetype cannot escape the underworld if he goes in fighting sword in hand. This is only one of several archetypal violations within the film. The strong now masculinized hero Alice then returns to the upper world bringing wisdom through directives to all the people in the above world that she had previously distained but coward before. She then heads to China where we can only guess from our knowledge of history that she will become embroiled in the Poppy Wars and turn into a nasty Imperialist that starts the wheels of globalism rolling. The final shot is a blue butterfly landing on her shoulder... the butterfly being the symbol of child soul. She greets it and then watches it fly away. Good-bye puella, hello rational heroic Athena, standing at the prow of a ship heading off to conquer those lesser than she.

Now let's look at Wonderland, which has been turned into a linear story of Black and White, where black is really Red... The plot has a point, the path has a direction and Alice is given an actual task with all of the instructions and directed locations. Evil is silly and perverted and gross in the form of the Red Queen who is entirely unsympathetic. Both in the book and in the Disney movie the Queen was at moments likable and Alice was almost enjoying herself in her presence. But this queen is then backed by a psychopath knave, whose sadism is completely directed and one dimensional, showing no signs of the esoteric darkness that can be transformed from lead to gold. The symbol of good the white queen is breathy and weirdly the queen of the dead. She is one dimensional to the point of almost being non-existent. I can only assume that this is in fact Tim Burton's anima, she is so underdeveloped as a character that it is hard to see her point, though she seems to be practiced at alchemy she presents no wisdom other than to help Alice shrink and put on armor. The hermetic madness of the Hatter is transformed from a profound riddle of the importance of not knowing the answer to simply a disguise for revolutionary brilliance waiting to strike. There is not supposed to be an answer to "why is a raven like a writing desk." not even "I don't know" which is far too rational. Hermes would not admit to not knowing. Add to that a slew of bizarre transformed symbols such as a helpful yet cowering rabbit. The rabbit is the symbol for sexuality. It is supposed to run ahead cryptically unattainable as Alice is the Puella who is not supposed to be a sexual being. The Jabberwocky is originally part of a nonsense poem about the silly importance of slaying the great beast, now the trophy to be conquered canonizing the heroic. Tweedle dum and tweedle dee are more like stupid friendly skin heads strangely harmless and in fact mildly useless, instead of the clownish creatures of the original who present proverbs about taking oneself seriously. The Cheshire cat becomes the relief troops showing up in the knick of time, rather than an irritating trickster who causes problems just when he should be helping.

The end result looks like a violation of an archetype. Ginette Paris states that when a violation occurs in an archetype it can look pornographic. This is at times a necessary thing, if the archetype symbol needed to be resuscitated with new life for some reason it might be acceptable to violate it in some extreme way to bring it back to itself, or to move it forward into society. But my instincts and the whimpering sounds from little girls in the audience felt to me like this was not the case. It felt like a rape of Wonderland and all that it stands for. We are at a time when the nonsense rhymes of the Victorian era and the fecund potentials of the 60s Era are being dolled up with whores paint and sent out to prostitute themselves in the hopes that their real meaning and powerful mystery will be lost to us. We are being turned away from the potential, told that it is all lost if we do not remain rational and fight it out with swords, that the little man behind the curtain really is a big scary head of fire and we should not dance away skipping, we should not randomly follow a white rabbit down a hole and if we do it had better be because there is some real battle we need to fight. Apparently there is no power in JUST A DREAM.

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