Reminders from the Land of Oz

Friday March 29, 2013

For years, I have had some trouble with the retelling of various fairytales. Cinderella's stepsisters are now telling us their side of the story and many other characters from various classic fairy tales are coming forward to retell a tale. According to Tim Burton's 2010 version of "Alice in Wonderland," Alice becomes a warrior princess of sorts. No, I have not been a fan of watching these new versions of the fairytales that I have collected/studied/read. However, the previews for "The Great and Powerful Oz," directed by Sam Raimi, piqued my curiosity. Recently, my roommate and I journeyed to Oz via the movie theater and I must say it was quite a visual adventure. I also recognized many messages about gender, morality and a few other themes. I was transported beyond Kansas but did I like this particular ride?

Before it sounds like I am trying to overanalyze the fun out of the movie, I should express my pleasure with it. I appreciated the co-mingling of effects, color and storyline that presented the story about the man behind the curtain in the land of Oz. Alongside my genuine enjoyment of the film, here are a few things I noticed while on the journey:

Scorn and jealousy will turn you into a witch: Literally! Included in the plotline of Oz is our introduction to how the Wicked Witch of the West, Theodora, became so wicked. Her drastic physical transformation is connected to being scorned, shunned, lied to and abandoned by Oscar "Oz" Diggs, who erroneously finds himself in the mysterious land. However, given the fact that her sister eventually suffers a similar fate of becoming uglified (via warts, decrepit body, etc.) perhaps the lesson is beyond the message of a scorned woman. Perhaps the theatrical metamorphosis of these characters is about the anger or hunger for revenge that consumes one from the inside out. While I don't totally agree with that concept, it is interesting that the example of a male/female relationship gone wrong was a vehicle for this message. Another slice of this is about what lies beneath our floorboards as humans. In other words, Theordora came to a point of accepting/making peace with the so-called evil that existed underneath a beautiful exterior. Thus, the supposed evil or good is within us all along if only we come to a peaceful acceptance.

You are not "the" one, but you are good enough (aka debunking the myth of perfection): We learn that the grand wizard of Oz is nothing more than a charlatan always looking for ways to con others. At some point in the movie, Oscar admits to good witch Glinda about his inability to save Oz. Glinda is already aware of the imposter but tells him that he is good enough for the task due especially in desperate times. At first glance, this is a very important message about perfection. As we all know, the most unsuspecting surprises come in packages that usually aren't as polished and perfect as we would like them to be -- especially people. The movie does a good job of communicating the lesson that we should always allow room for beautiful imperfections. The "one" person or opportunity is more about what you can work with rather than an unrealistic ideal. Expectation also plays a key role. Everyone in the land of Oz place their survival and hope in the basket of one specific person coming to save them. Inevitably, this hope seems to land upon the shoulders of a male hero. Might we have another variation of the prince that we see in the fairytales -- a male expected to "save" or rescue? Though he is not rescuing a princess per se, some of the light sensual innuendo in the movie suggests that these powerful witches are willing to use seduction to obtain a desired outcome from this male hero.

Greatness, goodness yet oh so bad: Oscar seemed to always be preoccupied with the idea of attaining greatness as opposed to operating from a moral compass. Is it better to focus on the good and greatness will be gained? Sure, but whose good versus someone else's bad? Choose goodness and inevitably you will be rewarded with the greatness you seek. In the case of Oscar, he decides to use his con-man ways to save Oz. The overt message is that our paths (even with the best or worse of intentions) are not always linear. Ultimately, we learn that the great wizard was nothing more than a circus con using his dishonesty for the greater good. There are questions raised about intention and the altruistic uses of negative character flaws such as deception and trickery. Thus, bad is not so bad if it is used for good. But again, according to what set of moral standards? For instance, in the case of Theordora, can we identify with the transformation into evil if one was lead there through a set of unfortunate events?

I enjoyed my trip to Oz and the presentations of these various themes. The movie reminds us of the complexities of the human psyche. Recent articles have focused on some of the problems with heteronormativity in the film. While challenged by some of the presentations of gender, I was overall pleased with a message that was as bright as the yellow brick road itself. To fully embrace the human existence, navigate the internal struggle of good/bad, or truly "see" oneself is to accept the messiness and intricacies of a life-long process. Like Oscar (Oz), do we proceed by employing smoke and mirrors out of the fear about who we believe we are? Or, like Theordora, will we arrive at a comfortable level of acceptance in whatever form it will manifest? Either way, you will find your path along the yellow brick road quite zig-zagged, jagged, yet full of insight and lessons.

Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can follow her writing at


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