?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
July 27th, 2005
09:06 pm
[User Picture]

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On Friday, Ratha and I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These are just some opinions of mine. This is not intended as a review.

Well, let's start with the positive. The movie was pretty amusing (as, of course, a children's movie almost must be). The “bad” children, in particular Violet and Veruca, were over the top by just a small enough amount that you could imagine real kids just like them.

I found the middle half (the part inside the factory, basically) full of drug references, also amusing. Two of them were even overt (chocolate as an aphrodisiac and “had a flashback”). But, two people who ought to know better than I have told me they didn't think there were many drug references at all.

The movie was very visually appealing. The special effects were obviously updated, but beyond that the costumes and sets were well-done. I liked the music as well.

The scene at the end with Wonka and his father was kind of touching.

Now for the negative. I should warn you that I'm currently re-reading The Fountainhead, and this colors my perspective (although not, I think, in a way that makes it untrue to my own true beliefs). The movie was morally just about the antithesis of what I believe in or what I'd want my kids to absorb.

In the 1971 version of the story, Charlie is solicited for secrets from Wonka's factory by a man he believes to be a spy (though it later turns out he works for Wonka). In the middle of the movie, Charlie and Grandpa Joe take Fizzy Lifting Drinks without authorization and get the grate at the top of the room dirty. When all the other children have been eliminated and the tour is over, Wonka states that Charlie has lost because of the Fizzy Lifting Drink incident, but then reverses his decree when Charlie returns the Everlasting Gobstopper he could have given to the spy.

The meaning of this sequence was that Charlie had some independent moral value; he was called on to maintain integrity when it would hurt him to do so and followed through even though he believed he had already lost. It was cut from the new movie, which explicitly states that Charlie wins only because he was the least rotten.

In its place, Charlie initially refuses Wonka's offer when Wonka (because of his own bizarre history) states that Charlie will never be allowed to see his family again if he accepts. Charlie actually has fire in his eyes as he makes this decision, but it failed to convince me of his moral value because 1) family, absent some particular reason to value them, are among the least significant of traditional values in my opinion, and it was never made vivid to me why Charlie would value them so much, other than perhaps Grandpa Joe; and 2) even if he does value them so much, that simply makes it a benefit to him to stay with them—there is no difficult choice involved, no sacrifice (Charlie's failure to waver actually counts against him here, in my opinion).

The treatment of Mike Teavee, on the other hand, actually made me angry. I empathized with him in the latest movie (unlike the earlier one where his only salient characteristic was watching a lot of TV), since as a child (perhaps even now) I found it pretty easy to understand mechanical / logical systems, whereas other people were frequently baffling. It seemed to me like Mike was arbitrarily made ruder than any kid in his position actually would have been for the sole purpose of giving a reason to dislike him. But what was especially infuriating was that Mike applied the best knowledge available to him to assert that Wonka was wrong about the TV that could transmit matter, and then was eliminated by being wrong (in spite of the best efforts he could possibly have exerted to be right), not by being rude. Be it on a small scale, the movie nevertheless came out explicitly against intellect while muddling the issue with irrelevant character traits.

One other item of poor taste: I thought that showing the children leaving the factory was a grotesque excuse to use a few more special effects, in a movie that already had plenty.

Ratha pointed out a couple more problems. First, Wonka's “spies” are unrealistic, because in real life, Wonka's formulas would have been protected as trade secrets. There would have been no need to shut the factory down. Even in a world without such trade secret protection, surely Wonka would have wised up after an incident or two and required all his employees to sign contracts to the effect that they would be personally bankrupted if they leaked his techniques. Personally, I think I'm willing to grant a bit of artistic license on this issue, but it certainly could be a bit of a flourish in a pro-IP argument (hmm, any overlap between Hollywood and strong IP supporters? Maybe a little? Granted, this was in the book as well...)

More importantly, Wonka is portrayed as being the sole source of value in the candy industry, for seemingly no reason other than that he was abused as a child. How could Wonka invent all these unbelievable products while he was bat-shit crazy? And could all the other candy manufacturers really have been so incompetent that they needed to steal Wonka's ideas to even compete? Even The Fountainhead has one good architect in it other than Roark! While I am a supporter of a greater recognition of individual achievements than is sometimes given in this society, it seems like the model proposed here is that hard work and collaboration are totally useless in the creative process, whereas secluding yourself in a factory with some peyote might be the way to go.

The thing that worries me the most about this is that no one other than Ratha with whom I've spoken about the movie has agreed with my complaints, and no one whose writing about the movie I've read has commented on them. It makes me wonder (a very tiny bit) if I might be crazy for seeing these things.

(14 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:sk4p
Date:July 28th, 2005 03:09 am (UTC)
(Link)
I've not seen it yet, but I don't think your assessment (given your account of the story) is crazy.

But then, when I support viewpoints which betray objectivist influences, I am often derided by others, so ...
[User Picture]
From:kenoubi
Date:July 28th, 2005 01:35 pm (UTC)
(Link)
In that case, I hope you were planning to see it with friends or something, so that I can have the benefit of your opinions without the guilt of possibly putting you up to seeing a movie you wouldn't enjoy. :-)
[User Picture]
From:dellamorta
Date:July 28th, 2005 04:49 am (UTC)
(Link)
But, two people who ought to know better than I have told me they didn't think there were many drug references at all.

This one had far fewer than the 70s one. I'm fairly certain that the 70s version was just one long, bad trip - this one was far less disturbing, in my mind. I still have nightmares about the tunnel scene from the old one.

The movie was morally just about the antithesis of what I believe in or what I'd want my kids to absorb.

I think part of the problem is that you're viewing it in the context of the old movie. Although there are a lot of similarities, the two movies are very, very different. Plus or minus a few nitpicks, I agree with your analysis of the first movie; it centered around Charlie's moral dillema and ultimate triumph.

*This* movie was not about Charlie - it was about Willy Wonka. The central value of this movie was not 'maintaining integrity', it was 'familial love is more important than money or success'. Even if you don't understand *why* he values his family so much, it's clear that Charlie loves them more than the other children love their families. As a corrolary, I believe this is why Mike Teavee is portrayed as rude - not because it was meant to associate intelligence with rudeness, but the rudeness was supposed to support his disdain for authority (ie, his parents).

Throughout the movie, we're treated to flashbacks of Wonka's childhood - one in which he rebelled against his father and shunned his father's (overbearing) love. And towards the end of the movie, Wonka is unable to complete his goal (find an heir) because he does not have the same familial love that Charlie does - thus he doesn't understand why Charlie refuses him. Only after reconnecting with his father does Wonka accomplish his goal and live happily ever after. So, love thy mother and father.

Ratha pointed out a couple more problems
I think these are just suppositions - axioms, if you will - upon which the story relies. Now, a vampire movie can't possible be realistic becuase vampires don't exist, correct? Thus, we have to suspend disbelief to appreciate vampire movies. The same thing stands here. This story, at it's heart, is a child's story. While it may be more realistic, 'Wonka laying off all his workers becuase he found a loop hole that allowed him to legally exploit immigrant labor laws for significantly less' just doesn't have the same appeal to children as spies do.

As for the lone insane inventor, this was a relic from the original story. I believe the original intent was to portray Willy Wonka as child-like in his creativity and imagination. It was Willy Wonka's creativity that made him so much more productive than his rivals - they were functionally 'stuck' in the drab world of adults.

Finally, the original book was written as a satire as well as a child's story - it was a criticism of rampant industrialization and wealthy robber-barons. Most satires, especially satires in the form of whimsical children's stories, don't play by every rule in our rational world.

It makes me wonder (a very tiny bit) if I might be crazy for seeing these things.

I imagine the percentage of objectivists in the US is pretty small. I imagine the percentage of that percentage that viewed the movie and examined it in objectivist terms is significantly smaller still. Just because you don't agree with 99.9% of what America thinks doesn't make you crazy.

One other item of poor taste: I thought that showing the children leaving the factory was a grotesque excuse to use a few more special effects, in a movie that already had plenty.

Dude, that scene was straight from the book. I always wished they put it into the old movie. It was awesome :)
[User Picture]
From:kenoubi
Date:July 28th, 2005 02:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This one had far fewer than the 70s one. I'm fairly certain that the 70s version was just one long, bad trip - this one was far less disturbing, in my mind. I still have nightmares about the tunnel scene from the old one.

That I am willing to believe. I watched the old one many times as a kid, but I haven't seen it in years, and drug references would have flown over my head back then.

I think part of the problem is that you're viewing it in the context of the old movie.

That context did condition my judgment. I'm inclined to agree with you that the new movie is quite different from the old. It would probably be more useful to view my references to the old movie as bringing in an especially pertinent example of something that's not what I'm criticizing.

As a corrolary, I believe this is why Mike Teavee is portrayed as rude - not because it was meant to associate intelligence with rudeness, but the rudeness was supposed to support his disdain for authority (ie, his parents).

It does seem like his intelligence was put in more to prove that “being smart isn't enough”. I felt, however, that this was gratuitously careless. “Disdain for authority” is something that from the sound of it, I'm inclined to support, and that's hardly a proprietary Objectivist viewpoint.

So, love thy mother and father.

Let me elaborate on why I think family is such a weak value. First of all, you don't choose your family. It's one of few things in life where there just is no choice involved—you can choose not to associate with them, but you can't change who they are.

Is your family nevertheless likely to be valuable to you? Well, yes, they are. There's a certain emotional bond shared by family that doesn't really need logical reasons to support it. However, this doesn't wipe out the downsides. I feel quite a bit of affection for my family, but not unlimited affection that erases negatives as if they didn't exist.

What Wonka's father did to him was abusive, albeit well-intentioned. I hope that children who watch the movie can see the good intentions and draw a line, but I fear that they won't and that the movie will act as just one more bromide making it harder for those who know in their heart of hearts that some members of their families are not good people to abandon them.

I think these are just suppositions - axioms, if you will - upon which the story relies.

From one perspective, I'm inclined to agree; they certainly weren't the focus of the movie. At the same time, I think you can draw a rough line between setting premises, which are more obviously made up (the existence of vampires) vs. moral premises, which could apply to real life (Wonka's lone mad genius). Of course, opinions of the latter type of premise will vary depending on one's own values.

I imagine the percentage of objectivists in the US is pretty small. I imagine the percentage of that percentage that viewed the movie and examined it in objectivist terms is significantly smaller still. Just because you don't agree with 99.9% of what America thinks doesn't make you crazy.

I'm not an Objectivist. Aside from thinking their epistemology and metaphysics are tripe, I don't agree 100% with the ethics and I think they are nearly impossible to apply consistently (and most of those who claim to try do a horrendous job of it). But the people whose opinions of this movie I heard were people I respect; people with whom I feel aligned politically, and people whose “sense of life” (Ayn Rand's term, for lack of a better one) I share to some extent. I wouldn't find it all that surprising if a supporter of traditional values came out in favor of the movie (or at least, those aspects of it that I disliked; they might object to it for other reasons), but such disagreement with my friends gave me a bit of a feeling as though I had another sense that they didn't have, if it turned out that that sense wasn't a hallucination.

[User Picture]
From:papertygre
Date:July 28th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
You may be right that this movie isn't about Charlie but about Wonka. That didn't occur to me at first, but that seems to explain why the primary tension seems to revolve around him now. However, if that's true I think that weakens the focus of the movie quite a lot, because there are still many cues (perhaps vestigial from the original movie and/or the book) that imply the protagonist is still Charlie. The unfolding of the scenes leads the audience to develop sympathy for Charlie first, and we don't even meet Wonka until the movie is well underway.

As for the idea that the unrealistic business details are merely an exaggeration requiring suspension of disbelief (like the existence of vampires for a vampire movie), I'm pretty sure that moral messages don't come under this license. Even (or especially) children's stories are expected to carry morals that are taken at face value, no matter how many outlandish and unbelievable things and events are woven into the story. For example, if a vampire story portrays the vampire character as a bloodthirsty fiend (and I mean a character here, not a zombielike force of nature as in some horror movie renderings), I don't think that would be considered just part of the suspension of disbelief, the way his physical status as a mythical immortal creature drinking blood is. The vampire character could have been kind and remorseful, or incompetent and comedic, or brave and tragic, whatever, such as in the Anne Rice stories.

That said, I think you and Kenn are each partly right. I agree with you that Wonka's being bat-shit crazy and creating incredible candy in spite of it (and for that matter, being thin as a rail after doing this -- I'm sure you've heard the proverb, "never trust a thin cook") *does* count as a suspension-of-disbelief thing, but I also agree with Kenn that Wonka's being the *only* source of value in the candy world conveys moral overtones -- that for example hard work is useless and you have to either be a mad scientist inventor or an evil leech sponging off mad scientists, there's no other way to create good stuff. Or perhaps that succeeding is all or nothing -- you either are the best, or you might as well not bother trying because you are comparatively insignificant.
[User Picture]
From:katieboyd
Date:July 28th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"The unfolding of the scenes leads the audience to develop sympathy for Charlie first, and we don't even meet Wonka until the movie is well underway."

On the other hand, the fact that Wonka isn't just not seen, but a great deal is made of him being a man that *is not seen* is part of the development of the character of Wonka, his disconnect with people.

About your last paragraph, remember that this story is a criticism of the industrial age. It speaks out against the advantage of factories and assembly lines. In this world, those that use menial, banal methods, can never possibly compete with those that actually tap into creativity (which is in inexorably connected with insanity). This is to contrast with, and bring to the forefront, a view that in the real world those that just tap into creativity can never compete with the mechanizations of the successful industrial methods.
[User Picture]
From:papertygre
Date:July 28th, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"On the other hand, the fact that Wonka isn't just not seen, but a great deal is made of him being a man that *is not seen* is part of the development of the character of Wonka, his disconnect with people."

Good point, and I agree that this is a good way to develop him as a *character*, but not that it's a good way to develop him as a *protagonist*.
[User Picture]
From:kenoubi
Date:July 28th, 2005 07:31 pm (UTC)
(Link)

Have you heard of Dramatica? It gives an interesting way to analyze this. Charlie is the Main Character, but Wonka is the Change Character.

Change Character -- [Character Appreciation] -- The Main vs. Impact character who changes his approach or attitude in a story -- The Change Character is the single character who does change in a story in an attempt to resolve his personal problem. The Change Character must be either the Main Character or the Impact Character but cannot be both. A Change Character cannot tell until the end of the story whether or not he will change, and even then, a Change Character has no way of knowing whether or not changing will lead to success or to resolving his personal problem. However, in every story, either the Main Character or the Impact Character will Change in response to the other's Steadfastness and become that story's Change Character.

http://www.dramatica.com/theory/d_dictionary/dictionary/c.htm

[User Picture]
From:papertygre
Date:July 28th, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Very interesting!
[User Picture]
From:katieboyd
Date:July 28th, 2005 07:33 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'm not sure what the exact criteria are to count someone as a protagonist or not. I do think this is a style that's not unheard of, to have a sort of misleading protagonist. You follow one character's story along, but it turns out that the story is "really about" another character.
Say, those that characterize the (original)Star Wars trilogy as being "really about" the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Luke is the protagonist, but it's "really about" Vader, who is seen much less.
Not the best example, though, because I think Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is much more extreme and comes much closer to Wonka actually being the protagonist. It's his story, but Charlie's point of view is a useful way to tell it, especially since they're foils.
I think it's good story telling that it's a bit ambiguous, that we can have this argument about which is really the protagonist. I think that makes it a much more interesting telling of the story, whosever it "really" is.
[User Picture]
From:papertygre
Date:July 28th, 2005 08:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"About your last paragraph, remember that this story is a criticism of the industrial age. It speaks out against the advantage of factories and assembly lines."

I think that might be true of the book or of the first movie, but not of this movie necessarily. Charlie's father got the job at the end repairing the machine that replaced him, so that message about industrial progress is hopeful.

I think the different versions of the story each emphasize different themes/morals. You know, I wonder: if you took an arbitrary plot outline and gave it to three different authors, if they would each write a book with a different moral message. I don't doubt it.
[User Picture]
From:katieboyd
Date:July 28th, 2005 07:22 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"Charlie and Grandpa Joe take Fizzy Lifting Drinks without authorization and get the grate at the top of the room dirty."
???
Uh, do you remember the part where they almost got sucked into a giant fan and would have been sliced into itty bitty pieces? So, they encountered as bad a consquence as any of the other children faced (possibilities of incinerators and such). I'm just finding it odd the consequence that you mention, just the part that got them caught?

Anyway, yes, Charlie's character is not morally ambiguous in this movie. He doesn't grow. Wonka is the only character that grows or changes. I did notice this and mention it leaving the movie. In the end I find it simply as evidence that Charlie isn't the "true" protagonist in this movie.

"But what was especially infuriating was that Mike applied the best knowledge available to him to assert that Wonka was wrong about the TV that could transmit matter, and then was eliminated by being wrong (in spite of the best efforts he could possibly have exerted to be right), not by being rude. "

But his ellimination wasn't, in structure, any different from the others'. Kid: "I want!"
Parent: "Sorry, you can't have."
Kid: "FU, I want!"
Wonka: "Uh, that's dangerous. I really wouldn't recomend it."
Kid: Does whatever to get what he wants. Suffers consequences.

Mike TeaVee wasn't just wrong, he did just what the other kids did, he went out and took, he just did what he wanted, against any warnings or rules.

There is a very very traditional moral here of: sometimes the parents and authority figures do know better, and are restraining you for your own safety.

I don't think intelligence is a factor in the moral of the story here. No more, anyway, than say, athleticism was denegrated by Violet's competitive character. It wasn't the mode of competition, it was the sense of competition in everything, as Mike TeaVee's was the sense of a game to win in everything, not his mode of how he did it. The mode is just trivial details giving the characters a little bit of differnce from each other, making the lesson more obviously general.
[User Picture]
From:kenoubi
Date:July 28th, 2005 07:41 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Uh, do you remember the part where they almost got sucked into a giant fan and would have been sliced into itty bitty pieces? So, they encountered as bad a consquence as any of the other children faced (possibilities of incinerators and such). I'm just finding it odd the consequence that you mention, just the part that got them caught?

I actually didn't remember that when I wrote about it, although I do now. It's true, and I think if anything it makes my case stronger (that Charlie was called upon to demonstrate his virtue), but it apparently didn't seem relevant enough to my brain to the point that I was making for it to occur to me.

Anyway, yes, Charlie's character is not morally ambiguous in this movie. He doesn't grow. Wonka is the only character that grows or changes. I did notice this and mention it leaving the movie. In the end I find it simply as evidence that Charlie isn't the "true" protagonist in this movie.

See my response to papertygre above for a take on this.

I don't think intelligence is a factor in the moral of the story here. No more, anyway, than say, athleticism was denegrated by Violet's competitive character. It wasn't the mode of competition, it was the sense of competition in everything, as Mike TeaVee's was the sense of a game to win in everything, not his mode of how he did it. The mode is just trivial details giving the characters a little bit of differnce from each other, making the lesson more obviously general.

I see what you're saying, but I just don't buy that moral. Intelligence and knowledge are perfectly adequate reasons to go against authority in my opinion—in fact, I would call not doing so an act of cowardice. I'm not trying to claim that the movie has no moral at all, just that it has one that I strongly disagree with.

[User Picture]
From:katieboyd
Date:July 28th, 2005 08:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"It's true, and I think if anything it makes my case stronger (that Charlie was called upon to demonstrate his virtue)"

Yes, it does. Charlie was a stagnant morally set character in this movie. His priorities never changed.
I read your response. It does help. Wonka is the Change Character. I don't know much about the other technical terms, or how that relates to protagonist or no, or if that even matters. I think the point of this is really: you are right, that element was removed, but some of us don't think it really damaged the story because it was removed in order to refocus the story on something else. That other something I found interesting and entertaining.

"I see what you're saying, but I just don't buy that moral. Intelligence and knowledge are perfectly adequate reasons to go against authority in my opinion—in fact, I would call not doing so an act of cowardice. I'm not trying to claim that the movie has no moral at all, just that it has one that I strongly disagree with."

I'm just trying to say that the moral was sensical and understandable. Family is good. Success and riches is no replacement for the ability to love and form relationships. Spoiled children will suffer consequences of their behavior (maybe overly optomistic, but a nice moral).
Anyway, while I see that you may not agree with some traditional morals, they do make sense, and I don't see why they are offensive. (that's the attitude that I gathered from your initial post, not just that you don't quite agree with these morals, but that they outright offended you.) Also, I just disagree that Mike's supposed intelligence really makes his situation any different. He was just exhibiting stubbornness with his actions, not his intelligence.

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit Powered by LiveJournal.com