9 Mar 2010

Tim Burton's Alice is in Underland

Yes, Alice is in Underland, not in Wonderland, as the New York Times review says. Wonderland is for children and we are all too old for and also too bored with that. Only Tim Burton's Underland can fulfill this grown-up taste for sarcasm and that bitter dark humour.

In this film, anyone who enjoys the dark world created by Tim Burton will find himself again indulge in that splendid fantasy. Alice in Wonderland shares the same idiosyncrasy of Burton, as can be seen in his The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), or the most recent ones like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). This created fantasy world always has a grayish tone, even though the colours shown are bright, sharp and vibrant. It is this grayish tone that successfully transforms a children's fatasy into an appropriate entertainment for grown-ups only. When Alice falls into that tree hole, she is destined and also forced to face her fear and rebellion, whether it is the confusion about her arranged marriage, about her childhood experience of that imagined world, or about her life in this reality that is full of all sorts of so-called normal standards of behaviours. Thus, her falling down into the tree hole seems to probe deeply into her complex emotions and thoughts, and only through her adventure in that imagined world in which no more normal standards are practiced can she really re-collect her courage to fight against her own confusion and fear. Does this make Alice someone abnormal, someone lacking the humanity proper to live in reality? Of course not! In fact, with Burton's unique understanding and his excellent presentation of the story, Alice and all other imagined characters are fully equipped with all sorts of human nature, which is once hidden deep inside our body but is now teased out, purified, then magnified and thus performing livily in front of our eyes.

Each character seems to have a certain human nature as his/her peculiarity, but at the same time he/she is not just the representation of that certain human nature. They all have their own complex personality and the highlighted human nature is to give the character his/her uniqueness and grotesqueness. In fact, it is this grotesqueness shown through the character's gestures, voice, and attitudes, or in other words, the complete action of the living body, that captures the audience's eyes and enchants them. The Red Queen's huge heart-shape head is not just a bodily deformity, it actually corresponds to her mental instability, that is, the fear of not being loved and the hatred of the normal standard of beauty. Due to her power over all other trivial living creatures, each one of them tries so hard to turn themselves into someone with any forms of deformity so as to keep themselves alive. This creates a funny aesthetic that takes the ugliness as the beauty and the defomity as the perfection. In fact, why can't the ungliness be beautiful? Why can't the selfishness be righteous? Who says the ugly and selfish person is doomed to be a loser? In her world, everything is turned upside down. Helena Bonham Carter successfully shows us what a wicked and desperate woman is and through her performance we get to see that we all have such personality somewhere in our body which we are so fear of and have to hide and suppress in the reality.

Anne Hathaway's White Queen is another funny creature, and she is such a criticism to hypocrisy and mannerism in our real world. That exaggerated gesture constantly shows her weakness and lack of emotions. She is the ice queen living in her while bubble world. Although her world is a world of goodness, it submits to the crazy reign of the Red Queen. Her great excuse is the two outrageous monsters: Bandersnatch and Jabberwocky. The White Queen can be seen everywhere in reality though those who have that quality mostly show it in a very subtle way. They belive they are elegant, pretty, good, and even generous, but the truth is they are ignorant of whatever is real. Is it wrong? No, of course not. It is just a type of human nature the producer of the film wants us to see.

Also, the Mad Hatter gives us a highly complex personality. He is somehow schizophrenic, especially when he goes mad. Yes, when a person is mad, it is likely he is schizophrenic; when a person is born mad, nothing can justify his maddness. He used to be a nice Hatter willing to spread the happiness to everyone. But when the village was burned down by that monstrous Jabberwocky, he lost himself and dwelled in his little dark world waiting with unstable mindset for the saviour, Alice, to return. The contrast of his two extreme personality is clearly represented in two scenes: the first is broken utensils and rotten food on the banquet table; in contrast to that is the wonderfully decorated banquet table in Alice's memory of her first visit to Wonderland. The more Alice probes into the heart of the Mad Hatter, the crazier he becomes. Isn't this what we all feel when someone goes too deep into our heart? When someone keeps asking us to face something that we try so hard to forget? The Mad Hatter is the most successful grotesque character in this film, and Johnny Depp once agian surprises us with his brillant perfromance. He is so interested in performing characters that are mentally distorted, but what he did well is there is always a tiny difference between all his mentally distorted characters. It is this reason that marks his brilliance in acting.

There are more characters that bear such grotesqueness related to the reality world, such as the Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the twins that are contantly in disagreement and argument that is formed according to their illogical and rediculous understanding of the condition. The exaggerated human nature of these characters in Wonderland is in fact observable in the real world. As we see, after Alice comes back to her engagement party, she suddenly finds that the twin sisters are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and Lowell somehow reminds her Stayne, the Knave of Hearts. Her refusal to Hamish's proposal results from her experience as the White Knight successfully slaying the Jabberwocky, and this achievement further pushes her to seriously look at herself. Thus, in the end of the film Tim Burton gives us a courageous modern woman whose confidence leads her to the real adventure, taking up her father's job and sailing to the Far East for commercial activities. This is unbelievable to the people of the mid-19th century! Burton is great at playing with this theme: if this is an adventure, then why not make Alice the pioneer of the female self-awareness!

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