Netflix & Chill: 420 Edition – ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

On Monday, comedian Gene Wilder passed away at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. With his downy halo of yellow curls and impish blue eyes, Wilder was maddeningly funny in “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers,” but you can probably tell by the outpouring of quotes and stills from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” what his most enduring role remains.

Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was adapted for the screen in 1971. The film begins and ends with Charlie Bucket’s sad, impoverished plight; but most children fast-forward through his mother’s interminable “Cheer Up Charlie” (could a song get any longer or more leaden?) and the movie version concentrated on the infinitely more charming Wonka.

Wonka is an isolated, sadistic, paranoid genius without no paternal inklings. Wilder imbued the character with far more sadness and lunacy than even Dahl’s original had. A master candy manufacturer, Wonka is a public mystery; until he announces he’s hid five Golden Tickets inside retail Wonka Bars, and the lucky ticket finders will win a factory tour and lifetime supply of chocolate.

Sly Wonka has ulterior motives, however. He doesn’t like children, but he is searching for someone young and spry to take over his empire when he retires. The chocolate factory is a psychedelic nirvana (or purgatory, for diabetics) and the coveted tour is a morality test which most of the Golden Ticket winners fail because of gluttony or greed. Their fates are as grisly as any Brothers Grimm fairy tale, yet Wonka cares not: He just seeks an honest kid.

The irony of this is that Wonka is far from honest himself. When he first greets the public, he masquerades as a cripple, only to drop his cane and topple forward before somersaulting gracefully and landing on his feet. This jest was Wilder’s suggestion, the reason being “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

Everyone recalls the nightmarish tunnel boat ride, but a penultimate scene where Wonka screams at Charlie’s grandfather is almost as disturbing. It’s technically funny how upset Wonka gets before doing a complete 180 and embracing Charlie – but I always found it unnerving. Wilder vacillates between tenderness and volatility. You love him, but you can’t trust him.

You needn’t be a genius to know why this is a ‘high movie.’ It’s about candy. The sets are eye-popping, lurid and tangible (very little CGI!) You can gorge yourself on candy whilst you watch it. It won’t be edible wallpaper, but if it’s gummy, sweet, tangy or bright, I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself anyway.

Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

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