Absinthe, Opium, Baudelaire, Poe and Lewis Carroll
During the sixties it was popular to interpret Alice’s adventures as a story about drugs. A story written by a writer on trip, or a writer who wanted his readers to feel like they are having acid dreams. Lewis Carroll did live in the mid 19th century, a time when enjoying drugs was a favorite pastime of the English upper class (and artists all over Europe), which might be an extra argument for that hypothesis. And the motives from his stories (cookies, magic potions, magic mushrooms, a caterpillar smoking a water-pipe) could be easily interpreted as references to drugs, or even clear mentions of drug use. Alice fell through a hole while chasing a white rabbit (which has become a synonym for delusional behavior); a scene so popular and referenced many times in all forms of pop culture (Neo is also following a rabbit: „You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth“.). That interpretation is still popular in the pop culture, even though there is really nothing in his works that definitely confirms it.
Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll was a children’s book author. The main character throughout his works is Alice, created after a real girl called Alice Liddel, and the world he’s created are really a giant mess of lexical paradoxes. The entire system of his creations was built on a word game, new words he’s created and allusions. His books gave headaches to linguists, and were so hard to translate that the translations we know today are either real works of art or children’s book report nightmares. Every time I think about what’s lost with translating something to another medium, in this case from a novel to the screen, I always feel that the director has more fun than the audience watching the story on screen. A good example of that is Jabberwacky who Alice has met behind the mirror. He is a dangerous dragon on screen, and the original, in the book, was just a pile of rhyming verses filled with Carrols’ made-up words. But he ended up ok; he even got his own movie in 1977., directed by Terry Gilliam.
We’re all Mad Here
As for Alice, in most peoples’ minds she’s still a girl from a fairytale, with blond hair and a blue dress. An image served to us by Disney, in their movie from 1951. As opposed to other fairytales that Disney has changed (especially their endings), this one they’ve kept the same. All the baby oysters were really eaten in the movie, same as in the song of the walrus and the carpenter from Carrols’ novel. If you don’t mind being confused like Alice in the wonderland you could find pleasure in details; the amazing bread-and-butter-flies that form a bread loaf or tiger-lilies and dandy-lions. I had to grow up to be able to enjoy it.
Curiouser and Curiouser!
Drugs and children sexuality were brought to the very edge in the video game Alice: Madness Returns. But even though the story is very perverse and tragic no one can deny that the game was animated perfectly (it was fun too!) with its’ skinny Cheshire cat with gnawed ears and a gothic Alice which are the very opposite of the childlike, peaceful image Disney tried to create Alice with.
Alice gets Darker
In 1987., another Alice was created by a Czech animator Jan Švankmajer. That stop-motion Alice in Wonderland (originally called Nĕco z Alenky) was made to look dark and leave a feeling of anxiety after watching the movie (in my opinion), which was, again, a completely new take on the story. The film was awarded the best feature film award at the 1989. Annecy International Animated Film Festival. In the movie, Alice is following a taxidermic rabbit, her toys and the items from her living room become alive; her socks become caterpillars. When she wakes up from the dream she realizes that the stuffed rabbit is missing from her shelf, takes a pair of scissors and says to herself “He’s late as usual, I think I’ll cut his head off“. Pretty dark if you ask me.
A Nightmare in Wonderland
The dark history of Alice in Wanderland was enough to attract the guru of dark animation – Tim Burton. He created a version of a live-action fairytale that ended up getting mixed critiques from the audience. The movie was, however, awarded the best art direction and best costume design awards at the 83rd Academy Awards (even though it might have happened only due to the famous names involved). It made over $1 Billion and became the fifth-highest-grossing movie of all time during its theatrical run. A sequal was made this year, but it was bland, expected and not at all spectacular. Would Lewis Carroll approve?