Sweet Morality

CharlieandtheChocolateFactory When I saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child, I had never heard of Roald Dahl. Although I enjoyed the movie, it was never a favorite. Like any kid I liked candy, but I’ve seldom been motivated by sweets. I discovered Roald Dahl when my daughter was young, and read for the first time his somewhat more disturbing original version of the story. Tim Burton has a reputation for going back to the roots of beloved childhood characters and revealing their darker sides. When his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out in 2005, the appeal went beyond sweets, for this was a modern, if sinister, morality play. While rewatching the movie recently a number of what should’ve been obvious religious motifs suggested themselves. The first came when Charlie Bucket is shown in the main chocolate processing room reaching for a candy apple. Violet Beauregarde steps in and snatches the apple from the tree in a defiantly Evesque move. She later receives her punishment by being transformed into a fruit.

Augustus Gloop receives a strange, chocolatey baptism is what might otherwise be the waters of life. After all, the Oompa-Loompas are shown bowing down in worship to a cocoa bean in a flashback. When Veruca Salt attempts to catch one of Willy Wonka’s nut-sorting squirrels, in a rather disturbing scene reminiscent of Ben, the squirrels pin her down and carry her to the garbage chute. She is carried in classic cruciform style, emphasizing the martyrdom she receives at the hands of her indulgent father. Even Mike Teavee undergoes a kind of resurrection after being atomized and projected into a television.

A friend once told me that the characters in the film represent various deadly sins. Augustus Gloop easily falls into gluttony, and Violet Beauregarde is an emblem of pride. Veruca Salt clearly represents greed, and Mike Teavee is full of wrath. Willy Wonka is part devil and part god in the film, doling out just punishment in a seemingly unfeeling way, while rewarding the few instances of virtue. Deprivation forges virtue in Charlie Bucket demonstrating how clearly the movie is in the realm of a morality play. With its horror film tropes and forays into the truly strange, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an example of how morality persists even in the vision of those often considered completely secular. Without it the movie becomes just another excuse to overindulge in sweets.

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