Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ALICE (Jan Svankmajer, 1988, Czechoslovakia)

Childhood is a jar of honey spiked with thumbtacks, a sweet dessert that often draws blood. Jan Svankmajer travels into a surreal dream world where narrative form and cause and effect are suspended by childlike fascinations, fertile images born from the strange womb of imagination.

Svankmajer doesn't adapt Carroll's magnum opus as much as transform it, shape it into a playfully wicked journey of puerile perspicacity. Alice seems banished to her room, surrounded by a jumble of toys that will soon live in her imaginary world, for you can only see when you close your eyes. Her stuffed white rabbit escapes from his glass menagerie, bleeding sawdust, razor teeth clacking together while dressing for a very important date with the Queen. Alice follows the Lepus Lagomorpha through her bedroom wall, across a field of thick mud, and into a wooden desk, bridging the gap between reality and perception. Her many bizarre adventures include shrinking into a ceramic doll, sparring with a rat who sets her hair on fire, the ferocious feast with the Mad Hatter and March Hare, being chased by flying bird skulls and a skeletal assembly of soldiers, playing croquet with cutout flamingoes, and a trial in two dimensions. Alice narrates the film and becomes the voices for every character, as if reading a book to the audience. She must utilize her own wits and ingenuity to escape this ferocious fairy land before she loses her head.

The art design and stop motion animation is brilliant, more creative than any Timothy Burton CGI vomited from a mainframe. Bird skulls erupt from chicken eggs, sandworm socks burrow through a wooden floor, and a ganglion of clacking skulls chase the frightened heroine until she finds her way home (where all is not as it was...or should be!). The only adult depicted in the story is beheaded by the composition, her identity kept out of frame, a purposeful reduction of adult reasoning and alluding to the churlish “off with her head!” that fascinates Alice so. ALICE is a film for the child in all of us who lives in the dark, but always sees the light.

Final Grade: (A)