In 2010, Tim Burton re-imagined Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. His world is set in Alice’s young adulthood. She must remember her original adventures in Wonderland (the ones from Disney’s 1951 film) and save the land from the Queen of Hearts! She discovers independence, rejects a terrible suitor, and strikes a business proposition with the same suitor’s father.
Jump to 2016, where James Bobin reimagined a lesser-known book of Carroll’s, Alice Through the Looking Glass. This was exciting because it was something new; while the story branched off of something that had already been done twice, the particulars of the looking glass world had never been explored in cinemas. And today, I would like to talk about Bobin’s movie—strictly the movie, though. I will not be discussing any ways in which it differs from the original 1871 book.
As the title of this article states, I believe that Alice is her own worst enemy in Bobin’s 2016 movie. Now, I don’t want to write a hateful piece about a well-made film, I simply want to take a different look at the main character.
The style of the movie and layout of the plot suggests that Time is the villain: He is introduced in a sinister yet silly way, making him out to be a mean “person” as well as not worth being taken seriously; he calls Alice a kindergartener, which is both a joke as well as a jab at her self-declared independence; he refuses to help her save the Mad Hatter’s life; and he chases her through time viciously. Time is made out to be a mean character who should be laughed at (think of how many times he crash-lands his handcar compared to Alice landing the chronosphere in a cleaner, nicer manner). But throughout the whole movie, Time is seen deteriorating, weakening, and breaking alongside the Grand Clock. He is trying through his fatality to save the world of Wonderland, and Alice is only concerned with saving Hatter.
We know that Alice is the real problem in the film because of her behavior before she meets Time and before she even enters Wonderland. In the very beginning, she risks tipping her ship over to escape pirates in order to prove that anything is possible, as she tells her first mate when he suggests how impossible the move would be, “You know how I feel about that word!” Later on, back in London, she holds her own by being stubborn and unwilling to bend when Hamish, her former suitor, demotes her status as ship captain but still offers her a job with the business. She is firm in saying that nothing is impossible, including a woman doing whatever she wants in a world where that wasn’t as easy as it is now. In addition, we are made to believe that she is the witty, clever, funny character, as in instances where Hamish’s new wife, Alexandra Ascot, asks her how her travels were. Alice smartly responds by telling her that the world was “very enjoyable, you should visit it sometime.” While the audience may be tempted to laugh at Alice’s snark, Lady Ascot is asking a fair question about her travels in general, and for Alice to respond in such a disrespectful way comes across as just rude. She also gets mad at her mother for selling off her father’s ship, but should she? If that ship belonged to her father, then after her death it, as his property, would have been passed down to his wife. Therefore, she was well within her rights to sell it, especially because her daughter did not marry into money, providing her with something to live off of, and she as a woman past her prime cannot do much in the world. Alice assures her that after one more voyage they will never have to worry about money again, but her mother still have to survive somehow between now and then—but I’ll stop myself before raging out on her. In short, Alice’s views are clearly established, yet the whole plot revolves around Ms. Anything is Possible being uncharacteristically skeptical.
When she finally gets to Wonderland and meets with the Mad Hatter, she tells him that it is not possible for his family to have survived the horrors of Horunvendush Day.That causes him to wilt into further sadness, triggering her need to time travel in the first place. Now, maybe she would have had to do so even if she told him that she believed in him, but as far as we see, her skepticism is what causes the White Queen to pull the idea of the chronosphere out.
I mentioned before that, when Alice gets to Time’s palace and asks for the chronosphere, he is made out to be a villain right away. This image is furthered when he rejects her request to borrow the chronosphere. He seems like the heartless one for not caring about Hatter, a character whom we have grown to know and love through the last movie, and now worry for as his color fades. But he still denies her, and with damn good reason! When Time tells Alice that she is asking “to disintegrate history,” she simply responds by saying, “I need it.” Time continuously insists to Alice that “you cannot change the past, but I daresay you might learn something from it.”
Not long after that, the Red Queen comes asking for the same exact thing, and he says no to her as well—the same woman with whom Time is seen to be in love with! This makes it clear that his decision is not bias against Alice, nor is it made maliciously. He knows the ramifications of removing the chronosphere from the Grand Clock, and makes this well known to both women, just in a sharper way to Alice. By this point, we the audience should be clear on Time’s stance and accept that the method of the chronosphere simply isn’t viable. But instead of moving on, we see Alice sneak around after politely being escorted out by one of Time’s minions in order to steal what was already firmly denied to her. In fact, not only does Alice steal the chronosphere, she then proceeds to drop it, paying no heed to the possibility of it breaking! 40 minutes into the film and Alice breaks time; she is the direct cause of Time’s decay; and she is doing all of this for the sake of her friend—i.e. Risking the fate of the many for the fate of an individual. Time, the inherent victim of the whole charade, must now spend the film chasing after Alice, not for the sake of being a meanie, but for the sake of all of Wonderland!
It really doesn’t end there. Alice is opaquely, ignorantly unaware of anything larger than herself. She may be doing all of this on behalf of a dying friend, but when “all of this” means jeopardizing the whole universe for the sake of one dispensable person, then her actions are undeniably selfish. She pays no mind to the rules of time travel (at least as they have been defined in pop culture). The first thing she does with each landing is talk to the past Hatter; the first time she sees his younger self, she straight up tells him that they will meet in his future, but have already met in her past. She then pokes her nose into the affair of the Red and White Queens as children, trying to prevent Iracebeth from enduring the accident that left her head swollen. Her interference does nothing. At all. Nothing changes. But it gets worse than her actions in Wonderland alone. About halfway through the movie she wakes up in a mental ward, about to be treated for “female hysteria.” Her mother is devastated and worried, but Alice doesn’t blink twice. Her mother leaves so that the doctor can do his work, and that’s when Alice, the villain of her own story, attacks him with his own needle. She then goes on a chase throughout the hospital to escape, harms a horseman, steals a coach, and breaks into Hamish’s place. These deeds are supposed to pass without quarrel because, again, it’s all in the name of the Hatter.
Toward the end, Alice finally returns with the chronosphere, but is captured and has the time device stolen by the Red Queen. She tries to warn the angry woman about the dangers of messing with time, and I suppose this is supposed to represent the start of her redemption arc, having learned from her ways. But let’s be real: if Alice, the “good” one, wouldn’t listen to Time himself, then why on Earth would the Red Queen listen to her mortal enemy, the very reason she was exiled? She wouldn’t, shouldn’t, and doesn’t. The story line with the Red Queen, I believe, is supposed to give the audience a person to blame for the destruction of Time at the end instead of Alice, but really the whole series of events was triggered by Alice. The 1 hour, 32 minute mark, where everything is rusted over and the world of Wonderland is destroyed, should have been the end of the movie. Alice caused Time to weaken and become more vulnerable, she was the reason the Red Queen even had the opportunity to take the chronosphere (because she definitely wasn’t getting it from Time), and she failed to place the chronosphere back within the Grand Clock before everything was frozen in place. Really, she should have been frozen much further from the clock than she was, but by the power of movie magic she was just close enough for a cheap, infuriating, unexplainable deus ex machina. Somehow magically, the chronosphere was close enough to its pedestal to have some surge of power and reconnect to the Grand Clock. If my description of the scene sounds bizarre, it’s because the scene itself was bizarre, and did not make sense. Whether you think it was direct or indirect, Alice caused the collapse of time within the Wonderland universe. What’s more though, consider this: Time froze at 1 hour, 32 minutes. It unfroze at 1 hour, 33 minutes. And Time forgave Alice at 1 hour, 38 minutes. Pardon my language, but if I were Time I’d be pissed.
Alice returns home, but not before the Hatter enables Alice’s immaturity and stubborn non-acceptance of the way the real world functions. She tells him right before she leaves, “A dream is not reality,” a sound fact to which he retorts, “Who’s to say which is which?” I get that her wonderment is what makes her stand out in her world and it should be preserved for the sake of her character, but knowing Alice this is terrible advice. The smartest thing Alice does in this movie is tell her mother to sign over her father’s ship to Hamish when she rejoins the real world. But of course, her mother instead tears the contract up and tells him that her daughter can do anything she wants. The most fantastical part of this movie is two women, a widow and a maid, starting their own business with no funds or income in any way. We are left feeling like Alice learned nothing because her mother inevitably gave into her hectic, inappropriate behavior and untimely beliefs. Alice robs Time, almost kills him, destroys a whole universe, and then is let off scot free? No, what we really watched is the trials of a poor victim named Time at the mercy of a selfish antagonist named Alice, supported by her trusty band of enablers.