Saturday, April 03, 2010

Who the f**k is Alice?

If Wonderland had only manifested itself once Alice had fallen through the vaginal rabbit hole then we might in fact share Alice’s conviction that her time in Wonderland is all a part of her dream. But Wonderland is Carroll’s and now Burton’s creation, as is Alice, and their creation spills either side of the hole. Wonderland begins with the start of the film and ends when the credits role, and is not confined to an underworld as such, and so we find we don't believe Alice when she repeatedly declares that this is all a dream: not because we know Wonderland to be real, but because we know she’s right about one thing – this is a dream – but wrong about the other: this dream is not hers.

“Why is it you’re always too small or too tall?” the Mad Hatter asks Alice. It's because Alice is not only a character in the story, she is an 'event'. Or rather, her body and its persistent growing and shrinking is an event: one that recurs throughout the story. Its unruliness, its disorder, Alice’s lack of control over it – in fact, the lack of control any character has over Alice’s body – is of major concern, revisited in the story from many angles – literally, graphically.

We see, graphically, in the excess and disorder of Alice’s body, how this adventure in Wonderland must be someone else’s dream: for it’s observed from the outside, not experienced from the inside, and therefore she can never be The Alice; she can never be herself. As she is frequently accused of being by the other characters, this Alice is an unwitting, accidental impostor in Carroll’s and Burton’s dream of a female – a girl-turning-woman – who they have called Alice. She is larger than life, she is exaggerated, fantastical – she bursts through the confines of the usual female body. Then in turn she is small and infantile, vulnerable, small enough to clamber over men’s faces. We have seen this girl/woman many times before: she is the fetishised figure of the feminine.

As a ‘figure’, a ‘motif’, an ‘event’, Alice is denied any form of agency usually enjoyed by the protagonist of a story, because she is always more object than subject. She cannot be The Alice, whoever that might be, because her body, her beauty, does not belong to her. Alice is the property of everyone who watches her, (so that includes us), setting her on a faulty, fraudulent quest from the outset, because there is no way for her ever to belong to herself and no possibility of her retrieving the “muchness” the Hatter has accused her of losing. She cannot lose something she never had in the first place.

So who is Alice? No one knows, and nor are they likely to while film-makers – especially those with claims upon the realms of the uncanny – regurgitate tired, over-used themes and figures and indulge themselves in equally tired, over-used myths about the madness and anarchy of ‘the feminine’.

Oh and guess what? There’s a monster in need of castration. And what could be fit for that task, I wonder? Oh let me think: could it be a sword? Yes? Well that’s handy because there just so happens to be one lying around. Somebody (the caterpillar? Or the White Witch?) says to Alice: “The Vorpal Sword knows what it wants; you just have to hold onto it.” Now there’s an instructive euphemism for any young woman.

*Spoiler alert*: And so, after much fannying around, Alice cuts off the head of the monster, thus vanquishing the sexual queen – and “evil” – and reinstating the virginal queen – and “goodness” – so that all may live happily unmolested throughout "Wonderland". Banality triumphs – well, it sort of limply drops its swords and slumps about looking relieved – and someone does a silly dance. Oh how delightful and all so unexpected. (Yawn).

Burton explores the extraordinary, or so I’m sure he’d like to think, but no floppy-eared, squished-caterpillar of a “feminist” reworking can save Burton’s Wonderland from the ordinary. As a finale, we are meant to believe that a re-imagined business-woman Alice happily hops off to colonise the new world, opening trade routes as she goes. I wouldn’t buy it: not for all the tea in China.

It’ll take more than a blue-screen-ful of exaggeratedly gnarled tree-roots or grandiose waterfalls to disguise this very ordinary world. And no amount of red paint on white roses is going to fool us into believing that this is The Alice. The Alice in Wonderland of Carroll and Burton is just a bit too much of a muchness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I stumbled across your blog while searching for something on the internet, and I have to say, I love your analysis of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I completely agree; for a film that was supposed to be exciting and original, it was saddeningly predictable, and all the greatest cgi in the world can't freshen up a tired storyline. Thank you for sharing your interesting interpretation.