Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #18

Re: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

So I haven’t seen Alice in Wonderland yet. I can neither agree nor disagree with your assessment. But reading the review — and keep in mind I always enjoy your reviews, and agree with you at least a healthy 80% of the time — I wonder if you have a particular beef against this film for two reasons: overtones of feminism, and literary revisionism.

Now I admit that both of those things are annoying, but I didn’t read anything else in your review that would result in such low ratings. Could you perhaps clarify in more detail? I have a hard time believing that a Corset Lament, a hamish Mr. Depp, and an errant “y” at the end of Jabberwock were the culprits.

Does it seem so un-Alice-ey for the now grown-up girl to maintain some anti-establishment sentiments? After all, would you want one of your daughters to marry this Hamish fellow? I wouldn’t want mine to, the way you describe him. Of course I wouldn’t want her to reject him with “womyns’ empowerment” and typical feminist derision — but that doesn’t seem to be what you describe this version of Alice doing.

Anyway, thanks for all the hard work and effort you put into your site. I’ve blind-bought many a DVD because of you (including your entire “Lenten Viewing” list). I plan to see the movie this weekend and judge for myself, but I would appreciate an expansion of your view on this one.

Overtones of feminism (of the aggrieved sort) and literary revisionism are indeed what got my dander up. Even without the aggrieved feminism, it would still be a leaden, inert movie in which not a scene or a character ever becomes emotionally engaging. I still would have panned it, but without as much feeling.

The Corset Lament is only a symptom of the larger Squelched Girl Syndrome narrative. I couldn’t detail all of the “how we women suffer” inflections of the narrative — how grown-up Alice is “not hardly Alice,” and then as she improves she becomes “almost Alice,” etc; Alice’s “I choose my own path” defiance; the way Carroll’s “six impossible things before breakfast” becomes a mantra of empowerment — but it’s crappy drama as well as ideologically annoying. The male-skewering Freudian force of the climactic image is quite intentional, I think.

Of course I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry Hamish. What bugs me is the gleeful send-up of a world so hell-bent on forcing the dewy Alices of the world to marry the insufferably privileged Hamishes. Every single person at the gala except for Alice knows it’s her engagement party. And while I didn’t get into the denouement, suffice to say the effort to give Alice fulfillment as a character on her own terms takes a turn that only the most ideological feminist could find satisfying.

I’m not sure I know what you mean about resistance to “acceptable” norms of behavior being part of Alice’s “thing.” Alice is a quite ordinary little girl; this, indeed is integral to the narrative strategy of this kind of fantastic tale, in which extremely odd things happen to a very ordinary character. The whole point is that Alice could be anybody. The attempt to turn her into an interesting character with her own back story and issues is fundamentally un-Carolinian, I think.

P.S. Wow, I hope you enjoy the Lenten selections! (Also, I hope you bought them through my links, which helps support Decent Films!)

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