Sunday, May 29, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass: Top 10 Changes from the Book to the Movie

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016 Film)
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871 Book)
Hi book-lovers and cinephiles,
I wanted to mention the entire audiobook for Through the Looking Glass available on my Youtube channel here. Each chapter is a separate video in the playlist:

Through the Looking Glass is public domain, and the complete text is also available online.  If you’re interested, I read Through The Looking Glass on the Gutenberg Project’s website, here  Also, a reminder that this is not a book review, nor is it a movie review.  It’s a dive into the differences and similarities of the book and the 2016 film. We’ll discuss the setting, a few Easter Eggs the movie included, some major character changes, and overall themes and symbols in both the movie and the book. Finally, you can check out the video edition of this post, here

Without further ado, let’s jump down the rabbit hole-

1. Looking Glass World versus Wonderland
In the movie, Alice returns to Wonderland. I completely get why the movie did this. For the sake of simplicity and the returning characters, it’s an obvious decision. However, in Lewis Carroll’s books, Wonderland and Looking-Glass World are not the same place. Looking Glass word is divided into squares by a series of little brooks with hedges growing perpendicular to them, to resemble a massive chessboard.  Wonderland has a lot of card playing imagery and Looking-Glass World has chess imagery. Wonderland uses frequent changes in size as a plot device.  Looking glass world uses frequent changes in time and spatial directions. Other than Alice and Dinah (Alice’s cat) none of the characters from Alice in Wonderland carry over to Through the Looking Glass, though some the characters have “mirror-image” counterparts, such as The Mad Hatter and Hatta, Haigher and the March Hare, the Red Queen and The Queen of Hearts.  

2. Looking Glass Room
There’s an iconic illustration of the moment Alice steps through the looking glass and into a  room that is a bizarre reflection of the room she just left. John Tenniel’s original book illustration includes a clock with a face on it. In the book there’s also a chess board with the pieces come alive.  I love that the film included these little Easter eggs from the book. A literal egg they included is Humtpy Dumpty.  He’s a main character in the book. The movie didn’t do that, but I appreciated that they at least did a quick hat tip to him in the film. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are also major characters in the book that have a reduced part in the movie, but one detail about Tweedledum and Tweedledum that the movie kept is that they fight each other with umbrellas after one of their toys gets ruined. And of course, Tweedledee still says “Contrariwise” to everything.

3. Alice
First, let’s talk about Alice’s age, because it’s really different. In the book, Alice is 7 and half. In the movie, it’s not clear exactly how old Alice is, but Mia Wasikowska, the actress who plays Alice, is 26.  I think it’s safe to assume the movie’s version of Alice is at least in her mid-twenties, and she already has a mounting career as a ship captain. A major theme in the book is growing up and the concept of leaving childhood and growing into an adult. The loose plot in the book is centered around a game of chess, in which it’s Alice’s destiny to become a queen. Becoming a queen is kind of a metaphor for growing up or becoming a woman. Despite the age difference between the movie and the book, the overall theme of growing up is still left largely intact.  In the movie, Alice struggles with figuring out what it means to be her own person and how to make tough decisions as an adult. The idea is still there, but I actually think the movie built more context around it.  In the book, very little is mentioned about Alice’s life outside Looking Glass World, but the movie uses Alice’s adventure to save the Hatter as a catalyst for her to face hard choices in her “real” life.

4. Hatter
The movie centers around The Hatter, and everything Alice does is essentially for the goal of reuniting Hatter with his family to make him well again.  A character called Hatta is in the book as a sort of mirror-image of The Mad Hatter from Wonderland.  Hatta is barely in the book at all.  He makes a small appearance in chapter 7, The Lion and Unicorn, where he appears as one of the White King’s messengers. The King says he must have two messengers “to come and go. One to come, and one to go.” As per usual, Hatta is drinking tea in the book. John Tenniel illustrates Hatta as the same character he illustrated for The Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

5. The Red Queen
In the film, the main villain is the Red Queen.  Based on the movie trailers, I thought  Time was going to be the villain of the movie.. That was a bit of a bait and switch. To be honest, I didn’t love the Red Queen in this movie. All the  events that led to the Red Queen becoming bent on revenge were shown, but despite showing us her motivations, it still seemed poorly explained and insufficient. I also didn’t buy her sudden change of heart after the White Queen’s apology at the very end. It’s like, you burned down a village, stole human beings and forced them to live as ants for years but now all of a sudden you’re cool? I don’t buy it.  In the books, The Red Queen isn’t really a villain, but she is something of an antagonist.  She’s like a caricature of a Victorian nanny.  She is overbearing and often makes trite assertions like “Speak when you’re spoken to!” She’s mostly silly and full of nonsense.

6. Time
I was happy to see the movie center their plot so much around time, because the concept of time is a significant theme in book.  Looking-Glass world plays around quite a bit with time and space.  For example, when Alice meets the White Queen, she boasts of (and demonstrates) her ability to remember future events before they happen. For example, she yells in pain before getting a cut on her finger, because she knows it’s going to happen.
However, there is definitely no time travel in the books.  The movie made time travel possible and made time a character. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Time was one of my favorite things about the movie. I thought he had some of the best lines. In the book, time does not move backward toward a final point of origin (like when the movie’s Alice when back to see what happened to the Queen and the Hatter’s family)  Instead, characters move forward while the order of events moves backward. The White Queen illustrates this principle by explaining that the King’s Messenger will first be put in jail, and then have a trial, and then commit a crime. All of the characters, the White Queen included, “remember” both the past and the future. They have knowledge of events before they happen

7. Fate
The concept of fate was very similar in both the book and the movie, and to be honest I was happy the movie didn’t change this, or else I think the time travel plot would have been far too convoluted. Sacah Baron Cohen’s character Time expresses fatalism when he insists that Alice cannot change the past.  Alice of course doesn’t listen, but realizes Time is right when she saves the young Red Queen from hitting her head on the clock, only to watch the Red Queen slip the next second and hit her head on a stone. It’s essentially the belief that what is meant to be will find a way to happen.
In the book, because characters have knowledge of events before they happen, which reinforces this fatalism. Alice is destined to become a queen as she goes along the chess game. The concept of free will is pretty tenuous in Looking Glass World.  For example, just before Alice starts the chess game sher gets distracted by elephants that look like bees.  She wants to go look at them but realizes she can’t because she needs to get on the train to start the game of chess.

8. Time period (Steampunks and Trains)
I love that the movie  kept the same time period as the book. The book was originally published in 1871, and I think the year the movie showed on the screen once Alice arrived back in London was 1875.  The book uses trains as a symbol for the unstoppable, forward movement of events. Even though time is mixed up in the book, the characters continue to move forward in the chess game  as a metaphor for Alice’s eventual passage into adulthood.  Alice rides a train to begin the game of chess  and Tweedledum and Tweedledee show Alice the Red King, who is asleep and  snoring like a train engine. Tweedledee tells Alice that the Red King is dreaming about her, and if he stops dreaming, she will vanish. The Red King is a little bit like Time is in the movie.  It’s presumed that rather than Alice dreaming up this world, the world actually the Red King’s dream and Alice is just part of his dream (This upsets Alice quite a bit.) The Red King is forced to wake up at the end when Alice grabs the Red Queen, thereby putting the Red King, and releasing Alice from his dream.   Anyway, the reason the Red King sounds like a train is because the events in his dream are unstoppable, like a moving train.  I loved that the movie kept a steampunk kind of vibe for Time himself and his castle. In the movie, Time was even using a railroad handcar to get around the past to find Alice, which I thought was nice touch.

9. Plot
One difference I wanted to mention is that the movie actually had a more concise plotline than the book did.  The overall plot in a nutshell is Alice is trying to save Hatter who seems to be dying, and she tries to do that by using the chronosphere to go back in time and save his family. The book is much more nebulous.  There’s the game of chess that Alice is playing on a giant chessboard, but the story as a whole is more like a series of different episodes that are loosely connected.  Alice meets different characters who come in and out of the story, and she’s trying to become a queen, but that goal often falls to the way in the conversations and encounters she has with a slew of different characters.

10. Poetry

Through the Looking Glass has poetry interspersed throughout the book.  Jabberwocky is the most famous poem, it’s filled with nonsense words that sound like realistic speech patterns, and actually the word chortle, which is a real word in the dictionary that means to laugh or chuckle in glee, originates from the Jabberwocky. It became so widely used. Anyway, in the book the different characters Alice meets in the episodic way mentioned earlier, where she’s walking along and meets this character, and then that one, and so on and so on, the characters often recite poetry to her, and she doesn’t necessarily enjoy the poetry.  Her attitude is kind of like, okay, nice poem. Can you show me the way out of here? I loved that they played off of this in the movie.  Time recites a brief poem to Alice, which I actually thought made Time rather endearing.  I think it was the moment when he recited that poem that I was like, wait, ARE you supposed to the a villain in this movie?  

Those are my top ten changes from the book to the movie. Let me know down below if you've read the book or plan to see the movie!

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