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Monday, August 15, 2011

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: A Heroine’s Quest for Self By Heidi Nelson Hochenedel, Ph.D

          Between two worlds                                                                                           Id      ego   superego
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

-Lewis Carroll- opening stanzas to “The Jabberwocky”
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: A Heroine’s Quest for Self    
                                      By Heidi Nelson Hochenedel, Ph.D

Alice confronts the Jabberwocky/superego
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a brilliant reworking of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, making use of the same familiar characters in a dramatically different and more mature context.  Because of the complexity and obscurity of the material, however, the film’s writing has been woefully underappreciated by mainstream audiences and begs for some kind of clarification from the academic community.  The purpose of the paper is to offer my own interpretation of what director Tim Burton and screenplay writer Linda Woolverton, are up to in this exquisite and fascinating film.  My basic theory is that the characters in Wonderland represent an array of Jungian psychic archetypes even as they epitomize  a Freudian stratification between the id, ego, and superego.  The entire drama can be boiled down to the process by which Alice reveals her psyche to herself and achieves personal integrity and wholeness by determining who in fact she really is.  In short, the film is a rich depiction of that classic drama, the search and realization of personal identity and answers a very simple question: Who am I? (And more importantly: Given who I am, what am I able to do with my life?)  More specifically, the film epitomizes in a very formal way, Joseph Campbell’s formulation of the Hero’s Journeyfollowing almost step by step the path of the hero that he elucidates.
At the film’s opening, 19 year old Alice (Mia Wasakowska), perched on the brink between adolescence and adulthood, finds herself unexpectedly required to make a fundamental decision about her life.  Will she acquiesce to social norms and expectations by accepting the marriage offer of a wealthy lord, or will she determine her own destiny?  Indeed, this is a decision that is not Alice’s alone, but is rather a primary human dilemma.  In order to resolve this problem, Alice, like all the great heroes of literature past and present, must undertake a quest, which on the surface appears to be the quest for the Vorpal blade required to slay the Jabberwocky, but upon further inspection is a mission to reveal Alice’s own identity and what’s more, an attempt to recover what the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) describes as her lost “muchness”.  Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland written by Linda Woolverton is a classic Jungian examination of the human psyche and the drama that we all play out in our lives to achieve what Jung thought was our most important task, the realization and integration of the self.
Just as Alice is listening to the proposal of Lord Hamish amid an assembled crowd of expectant onlookers (representing social pressure), she spots the white rabbit, clad in a waist coat and baring a pocket watch.  Intrigued, she quickly leaves Hamish on bended knee to pursue the rabbit down the rabbit hole, whereupon she enters the world of the unconscious mind. She falls down the rabbit hole exactly as in Carroll’s work. Oddly, she knows on some level, probably from experience, that Wonderland is just a dream and that ultimately, in Wonderland, she is in control of her own destiny and those of the colorful characters that populate this dreamscape.........(much more so follow the link).

For a superb analysis of this film, both Freudian and Jungian, by a really first rate mind and therapist, and a very savvy blogger, continue http://home.comcast.net/~crapsonline/alice.html Her approach is consistent with Clarissa Pinkola Estés Women Who Run With the Wolves looking at fairy tales as ordeal and trial for the development of the self. I am guessing that Kristen Stewart's SWATH will be of this order also. Anyway fairy tales are in right now. But oh how I would love to see Donald Barthelme's Snow White and the interpretation given to Red Riding Hood by the late great Djuna Barnes in her enigmatic and profound and astonishing Nightwood.

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