Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reversals, Narratives, and Red Queens


I found this image, Walking on a Dream, at a bilingual poetry website, Poesia torta|Crooked poetry. This blog by Kenia Crissantos from Brazil features poetry (in both English and Portugese) and some great photos. Check it out!

I have been thinking about representation, and especially reflections, doubles, and reversals, since watching the recently released 3D film Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton. The film combines elements from both of Lewis Carroll's original Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, but adds a narrative line not in the books.

As a child, I read and re-read those two books. In Looking Glass, I found the idea of reversals very interesting; images were reversed, time ran backwards, and social actions often were opposite to convention. Also in that book, Carroll took objects with inherent mathematical patterns, like playing cards and chess pieces, and animated them. It has been a very long time since I last read the book. I should go and dig it out of my bookshelf and read it again.

Burton has produced an interesting mashup that reinterprets and extends the two Carroll books. Many of the central events and characters from the books are present in Burton's film, and faithful to the spirit of the original: the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the caterpillar smoking a hookah, the Mad Hatter's tea party.

But there are significant differences as well. His Alice is a young woman returning to Wonderland thirteen years after her first visit (which is presented briefly in a flashback). As well, Burton's Mad Hatter and caterpillar are much more sympathetic characters than Carroll's, and Burton's White Queen is a different creature altogether than Carroll's. But perhaps the most significant departure is the addition of a narrative line that brings the bizarre tale into conformity with typical North American narrative structure. In Burton's version, Alice becomes the (reluctant) hero who slays the dragon... er... Jaberwocky in a climactic battle, thus rescuing the enslaved populace from the evil Red Queen, and everyone lives happily ever after. It's familiar, and it works.

Burton's Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham-Carter, is fabulous. Many other parts as well are exactly perfect. I loved the movie, especially the 3D version. But maybe it ended just a little too neatly. And there is much more room to have explored the idea of reversals.

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