The job search is often like chasing a rabbit down a hole. You have to decide what jobs you want to follow as several dart in front of you. A select few that you pursue will yield leads, and you have to be persistent and run fast before someone else catches your rabbit or the rabbit escapes entirely. If you’re like me, a college grad who has been out of school for nine months, entrance into the real world has been delayed. You’re late, you’re late, for a very important date. The job hunt can be a bit confusing and frustrating, and then before you know it, you’re falling, disoriented, and swept up into a strange place called Wonderland, or Underland, depending on whether it’s the Disney or Tim Burton version.
In Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, as per usual, there is a lot of darkness, dark comedy, and quirkiness that meld in a trippy and artsy interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
If you haven’t seen it yet….SPOILER ALERT!
Alice is now twenty in an era where corsets, elegance, modesty, waltzing, and arranged marriages are part of the culture. Alice does not have to worry about the job search like we do because the woman’s place is expected to be in the home and her family hopes that she will marry a rich man like Lord Hamish, no matter how awkward, by-the-book, uninteresting, and unattractive he may be. However, Alice does have to worry about the real world quashing her youth and imagination. After a proposal in front of an audience of family, friends, and Victorian socialites, everything is happening too fast and Alice chases after a rabbit in a waistcoat to escape the heat of social expectation and premature decision-making.
She falls into a place called Underland, which she does not recognize surprisingly, considering she constantly talks about the alternate reality she frequently visits in her dreams. Like almost all Disney movies, the father dies early on (we are never told why) and Alice has to face the coming of age with only one parent to guide her. Her mother is kind, but very proper. Her father often told Alice that she may be bonkers for her crazy dreams, but that all of the best people are. So, Alice is stuck in between realism and fantasy.
The creatures of Underland summoned Alice, but there is a question about if she is the right Alice. She doesn’t remember to pick up the key before she drinks the shrinking potion to fit through the mouse-size portal into Underland, and she forgets that the “Eat me” cake will make her larger than the room. The real Alice has been to Underland before, but Alice doesn’t recall ever having seen this place. Throughout her journey to defeat the Red Queen, she is constantly told that she is the wrong Alice, yet the right Alice is foretold to slay the dragon-like Jabberwocky, so she experiences a bit of an identity crisis.
Underland has many parallels to Alice’s real world. Tweedledee and Tweedledum are mischievous and dimwitted twins like the twin girls that often tease Alice in England. The mad hatter has flaming red hair like Lord Hamish, who proposes to her earlier in the film. Unlike with Hamish, Alice and the Mad Hatter have a connection, and while it is more platonic than romantic, Alice does have to choose whether or not she will stay in Underland with him. The White and Red queens represent the dynamic between Alice’s mother and Lord Hamish’s mother who disapproves of her tardiness and unladylike behavior. Stayne, the red queen’s sleezey assistant, who you’ll recognize as the hair-smelling villian from Charlie’s Angels, is only loyal to the queen when she is looking, much like Alice’s sister’s cheating husband. Alice must slay the Jabberwocky to overturn the Red Queen and reclaim the White Queen’s reign. The Jabberwocky is physical representation of Alice’s big decision about marrying Lord Hamish, and Alice can only defeat it when she believes in herself and has the courage to stand up to cultural norms. When Alice returns to her world, she reencounters Absolum, the blue hooka-smoking caterpillar that morphs into a blue butterfly by the end of the film.
Alice decides to channel her imagination to completing her father’s work of spreading his company’s trading to China and the rest of the world. She becomes his partner’s apprentice and leaves on a ship to carry on her father’s legacy of realistic imagination and goals of economic growth.
None of us will go to Underland or Wonderland, save for in our dreams, but as Alice comes to learn, you don’t have to be dreaming to pursue your dreams. Maybe all that stands between us and our dreams is a metaphorical Jabberwocky, which sometimes is nothing other than ourselves and self doubt. But we’ll never achieve our dreams if we don’t believe in ourselves and stand up for those values. Maybe we all need to chase the rabbit and take the risk of falling into a hole that will take us on a journey of self-discovery that may involve failures and challenges along the way, only to make us stronger and more imaginative once we reappear next to the tree. Then to celebrate, we can all perform very fine Futterwacking.