As I’m sure most of you have seen the great Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the silver screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this movie doesn’t need much of an introduction. While this has been one of my favorite films for most of my life due to its pure whimsicality and use of imagination, there is no doubting that parts of it are downright strange. Case in point: the tunnel scene.
During the span of this two minute clip, Wonka’s group of excitedly naive children and their exhaustive parents have just boarded the “Wonkatania” while still on a sugar high from their trip through the elaborate chocolate room. Unexpectedly, the sweet melody playing in the background picks up in speed and volume becoming strikingly eerie and suspenseful as the group is quickly propelled into a kind of psychedelic hell. The tunnel is a manifestation of the dark side of both the fantasy that the factory beholds, and consequentially, Wonka himself. Colored lights flare as the boat speeds down the chocolate way and clips of a centipede crawling across a man’s face, the severing of a chicken’s head, and disturbances of the like are projected on the surrounding walls. Much like the factory itself, the clips seem to be a representation of things that humans usually find to be frightening, or unusual, yet also somewhat mystifying, hurling the group out of their comfort zone and into a realm of unquestionable confusion and awe. The image of a scanning eye also appears during their journey, and as the eye is said to be the gateway to thought and to the soul, its as if the group is being not only watched, but mentally observed and analyzed. As the trip continues, Wonka starts to chant a song in which his pitch gets louder and more abrasive, which not only increases the omnipresent terror, but causes his guests to raise the question of his sanity if it had not already been pondered. As a side note, according to IMDB, Wilder was so convincing in this scene that some of the actors were truly frightened and wondered if he had actually been going mad.
Throughout the ride, television obsessed Mike Teevee makes comments regarding his fascination in the happening saying “Boy, what a great series this would make,” and “Now why don’t they show stuff like that on TV?” This reminded me of how in The Manchurian Candidate television was such a prominent sign, and also can bridge upon the idea of society’s obsession with sensationalism.
This film also plays upon many different societal stereotypes be it with Wonka, the kids, or their parents. For example, Veruca Salt was a brat. She had everything handed to her on a silver platter and through her journey in the factory, her greed became her demise. Charlie Bucket was a thoughtful, kind boy who always thought of others before himself, and it was this selflessness that won him the factory in the end. Although he was quite witty, Wonka was pretty much a nut, though dare I say quite a brilliant one. We know nothing of Wonka’s past, which adds to the spectacle behind his character, causing viewers to wonder how he became the way is. He speaks in literary quotations, oversees a group of small orange men who teach valuable life lessons through song, and everything in his office is split in half. Though there is no explanation as to why any of this is, it certainly adds to the overall idea that the movie is built upon the juxtaposition between the expected and the unexpected; the real, the fantastic, the imagined, and the unimaginable.