Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite films from my childhood. It would always be on the rerun channel at my grandparents' house when we were visiting. There's something strangely magical about it. As a child, I never quite understood why the everlasting gobstopper thing won Charlie a new life, but now that I'm an adult, I understand it so much better.
There is a theme of Consuming and Creating in the film. Even in the imagery, ranging from the orderly manufacturing of chocolate to the innovative ways Wonka makes his chocolate, there are distinct comparisons between the consumption and creation.
For example, the film starts out directly with those mesmerizing pictures of chocolate creation that someone could watch for hours.
And then there's Wonka's river of chocolate.
Which is wildly peculiar and childlike. Wonka is the only factory to mix chocolate by waterfall. And he's rather proud of it. I think the director set this up on purpose. It shows us for what a factory SHOULD look like, then throws Wonka at us with his whimsical rooms, rivers of chocolate, and fun (and not so fun) ways of transportation.
Willy Wonka is the genius character that epitomizes the joy of invention. He doesn't seem to ever think 'oh I can't do that'. That doesn't mean he doesn't have his struggles.
The fact that he fails a lot of his experiments is a testament to the idea of creating and inventing. Inventors and dreamers fail a lot before things work out. Willy Wonka is no different.
Then there are the consumers, represented by four odious children and their parental figures. First, there's Augustus Gloop, who, like his father, literally consumes everything. Then there's Violet Beauregard, who consumes for show even if it's rude. Veruca Salt, who consumes the energy of all around her, particularly of her father. And finally, Mike Teavee, who consumes television and acts like a know-it-all.
Where does Charlie Bucket fit into this conversation?
Charlie is a character that finally has the opportunity to consume. He's been poor for his entire life. But now he has a choice, he can eat greedily, without thought of how or why the chocolate was there to eat, or he can eat respectfully, knowing full well the amount of dedication and wonder required to create such a gift as chocolate. Which will he choose?
Why would Charlie choose to give back the everlasting gobstopper (which is genius, by the way, it's a symbol of pure consumption) when it was the ticket to feeding his family?
I think the reason lies with why Willy Wonka does what he does.
Doesn't Wonka create for consumers?
I think the entire message of this movie is a big fat 'no' to this question. Wonka doesn't create to satisfy greedy children, though that's what happens, he creates to give the Oompa Loompas a job and because he loves creating. I think Charlie sees that and that's what makes him special. He'd give up a lifetime of luxury so Wonka can continue to create.
Like the song in the very beginning of the film "Who can make the sun rise? Cover it with dew? The candy man can.", Wonka makes the sun rise for Charlie.
There are some great compositions in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Seriously.
Some of these shots are so flat, like the one where Wonka is coming out of his factory or the one of Mike Teavee in the TV.
Gene Wilder's Performance
I don't think this movie would be what it is without Wilder's performance. Before writing this post, I wondered how the movie related to the book, so I read it and in it I discovered a more eccentric Willy Wonka. A Wonka that would blatantly insult his guests, that sometimes forgot the children were even there, and was generally more excitable. The Oompa Loompas were different too. They giggled and laughed a lot more when the naughty children were in trouble.
Gene Wilder's Wonka was more sarcastic than rude or excitable.
I think Wilder had an influence in that. There's a story that Wilder wouldn't take the part unless a certain scene was included. Can you guess which scene that was?
When asked why that scene, Wilder said "Because from that point on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth."
Like the Wizard of Oz, this film stands the test of time. It's a work of great craftsmanship and I wish more movies today had this kind of magic to them. Rest in Peace, Gene Wilder. Thank you for the stories and the characters you brought to life.