Sunday, 12 December 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - A Communist Tale?

On Saturday I happened to attend the UCLU Chocolate society Christmas party which was a showing of the Tim Burton remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Maybe it’s just that my degree has finally taken over my life but I noticed some distinct links between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and various historical figures, ideas and literature from the Soviet Union.

If you take the character of Willy Wonka to be Stalin and the chocolate factory to be the Kremlin then the whole plot of the film can be seen to be modelled on the 1930s trope of the average worker gaining the opportunity to meet Stalin after achieving a great feat. In this case finding one of the golden tickets is what will grant you access to the closed off leader and the quest to find the golden ticket can be seen as the way to excel yourself over your fellow citizens.

Turning now to the characters it is possible to see further links. The Umpalumpas who work inside the factory are all dressed identically and are a literal representation of unity among the collective workers. Working for Willy Wonka in the Communist heaven of the factory has removed all of their differences making them all entirely equal. As they are the ones who make the factory work through harvesting the cocoa beans they too can be taken as a representation of the peasant farm workers on a kolkhoz. In this case the songs that they sing can be taken as the songs sung by both Soviet factory workers and collective farm peasants.

Turning now to the children in the film it is possible to see an example of a spoilt bourgeois family through Varuca Salt and her father. The girl who demands everything and does not listen to the advice of anyone winds up being labelled ‘a bad nut’ and is expelled from the factory. Indeed each time one of the children does not heed the advice of Willy Wonka some misadventure befalls them and they are removed from the factory, an event that could be seen as a parallel to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

Two of the three children are specified as being American, one is German and the other English while Charlie is only noted as having come from the same town as the factory is located in. Taking this place to be Moscow it would make Charlie a Soviet boy and would show a distinct Cold War feeling towards the children of Western origin. They are all removed from the factory through their faults, which could arguably be blamed on their capitalist backgrounds. Charlie is also seen to be living in a tumbledown old shack with his whole family which could be seen as a peasant’s izba on the edges of Soviet Society.

As the only ‘Soviet’ child to enter the factory Charlie is the only one who understands Willy Wonka and the philosophy of the factory (Candy has no point it’s just candy). This is also why he is the only one to survive the ‘purges’ and be asked to be the successor of the factory. At this point Charlie must choose between the personal and the good of the collective after Willy Wonka tells him that he can only become his heir if he gives up his family. Erring from true Soviet films Charlie chooses the personal rather than the collective and ends up showing Willy Wonka that family is a very important thing. While choosing the personal is not strictly the Soviet way it does wind up showing that family unity is important; Willy Wonka can no longer make good chocolate until he is reunited with his father. This can be taken to show that the Motherland will not function unless all of her workers are in harmony.

The final references to Soviet literature can be seen through the subjugation of the squirrels in the nut sorting room they can be linked to the subjugation of the bear in Platonov’s The Foundation Pit. The great glass lift and the TV ray that causes the downfall of Mike TV can be seen in Zamiatin’s We as the glass houses where the citizens dwell and the ray used on the dissident citizens.

Having seen the evidence for my theory it might not be that my degree has taken over my life but that Charlie and the Chocolate factory is in fact a Communist film. I'll let you make your own mind up.