There are few films that have been viewed as many times as the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Televised annually since 1958, the baby boom generation has grown up fearing flying monkeys and understanding that wicked witches are melted by water. But what helped us all deal with the film’s scary moments was to understand that it was only a dream in which Dorothy conquers her fears and assists her friends. But now, seventy-four years later, this classic tale has evolved into a redemptive story of a womanizing conman who finally recognizes that the love he was offered but rejected is the best choice he can make for his life. We note that a similar evolution occurred in Jack the Giant Slayer, a familiar fairy tale transformed in that film into a love story.
Based on the 1900 book by L. Frank Baum but dramatically revamped by screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaine, this version is directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman Trilogy). This most recent tale focuses on a flim-flam man from Kansas named Oz (James Franco). A handsome but conniving man who desires to be great, he is only a modest magician in a travelling circus.
When an enraged strongman discovers that Oz has been seducing his woman, Oz flees by jumping into a hot-air balloon only to realize that he has launched directly into a raging tornado. Crying to God to save him so he can do something great with his life, Oz is lifted out of the tornado into a magical land with musical plants and biting river fairies. When he meets the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis), he is soon informed that he is the fulfillment of prophecy as the one who is to come and rescue the kingdom from an evil witch. The focus of the story is this redemption, not only for the kingdom of Oz but also for Oz the man.
The nod toward the classic tale recurs throughout this most recent version. This is seen in the dual role of Michelle Williams as both the innocent Kansas woman Annie who loves Oz and the good witch Glinda of Oz. The underlying love story is that Annie/Glinda believes in the goodness of Oz even though he does not believe in it himself. Other similarities are the flying baboons rather than monkeys and the projected image of Oz to impress and protect the people. This film is described as being a prequel to the classic tale as we experience how and why Oz came to be the great wizard and yet became a projection of himself.
An evolution of this story is that it is the common people with their unique skills that come together to save their own nation. With ingenuity and innocence, the people of Oz are committed to non-violence and even put the vicious baboons to sleep rather than kill them. It is this trust in the goodness of humanity that is the basic message of the film. Although evil exists and revenge can cause us to choose to harden our hearts into impenetrable fortresses and create hideous caricatures of who we once were, if we will work together and believe that good will prevail, even evil such as this can be beaten. That is a message that is needed in our polarized revenge-seeking and fear-filled world.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. It is obvious that Oz desires greatness when it is goodness that will satisfy his soul. How have you dealt with this deceptive desire for fame, wealth or power? Have you found your place in life that fulfills your soul? If so, how did you find it? If not, how are you searching for it?
2. The revenge and deception that fuels evil is found not only in palaces but also in places of poverty. What do you think we can do to protect ourselves from being caught up in revenge and deceived by evil?
3. The ability of Oz to heal the legs of the china doll (Joey King) in Oz is a direct reference to his inability to heal the legs of a girl in a wheelchair in Kansas. Why is Oz successful in the land of Oz when he is not in Kansas, and what do you believe is the message in this reference?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.