Monday, March 29, 2010

Alice: Where Art Thou Going?

I had heard that Alice, the new film directed by one of my favourite directors, Tim Burton, wasn't very good. That admonition doesn't come close to describing how I felt as I watched the film.

It's fairly unusual for me to think about writing a review of a film while I'm watching it, since I have a tendency to become totally absorbed in even relatively vapid movies. I also don't tend to get put off too much by regressive political tendencies when watching films. For instance, I quite enjoyed Star Trek, despite the fact that it was sometimes a relatively obvious allegory for US "peace keeping" missions. It's therefor telling that I spent the entire film thinking about the scathing review I would write of it.

Firstly, there was never a suspense of disbelief. Ironically, this is reflected by the main character, Alice, who also fails to have a suspense of disbelief while in wonderland, consistently reiterating that she believes it to be a dream and remains detached.

The entire plotline follows follows a purely deterministic path, set by an oracle which is revealed to us at the beginning of the film. The world is clearly divided into "good" and "evil". All of the "good" characters are aware of this oracle. While not always beliveing that Alice will be the hero given in the oracle, they neverthless are steadfast in their knowledge that everything is pre-determined. It's hard not to be reminded of Calvinism while watching it.

The tyrannical Red Queen has laid waste to vast swaths of wonderland. It is only by the heroic efforts of a single messiah, Alice, that the masses will rise up against the Red Queen. Or, as the white queen puts: "When a champion steps forth to slay the Jabberwocky, the people will rise against her." After overthrowing the Red Queen, Alice will transfer power and dominion to the White Queen, who can't do the dirty work directly because of her "vows".

This presents us with a sort of bizarre bourgeois fantasy, where the corrupt rulers are replaced by the actions of a saviour. The correct order of ruler and ruled is maintained, but everything is better because we've got the "good" queen in now. To end things, we have Alice going back to her real life, and promoting herself as an effective entrepreneur, helping to expand the British trade empire into China. This final act is a vague gesture to bourgeois feminism and a rejection of Victorian virtues.

Alice reflects the widespread revolutionary impulse that is presenting itself in our current socio-political climate. In both Avatar and Alice, we see a reflection of the distress that most people feel with the current social order. While Avatar pays tribute to primitivism and religious backwardness, at least it presents a collective struggle against the domination of coercive forces. Alice presents us instead with a trite, cliche and amazingly safe outlet for fantasies of changing society for the better.

Unfortunately for Alice, however, the regressiveness of it's political dimension isn't it's only failing. It also presents idiotic dialog, poor acting and an obnoxious dance sequence at the end. Characters repeatedly quote the original text completely out of context and with no understanding of the logical inconsistencies they were meant to provoke. You can definitely safely give this one a miss.