WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
In this horror/comedy/musical for children, a poor child wins a contest with the coveted prize of a personal tour through the famous Wonka chocolate factory led by the reclusive and eccentric chocolate-maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) himself. But as the tour commences, the mysterious and unpredictable Willy Wonka proves himself a sorrowful and tormented misanthrope capable of both great beauty as well as great hatred. Soon enough, it becomes clear that this contest and tour actually serve mostly as means of Wonka’s revenge against the outside world, an excuse for him to ironically punish children he despises.
This movie makes me cry from start to finish. Willy Wonka is one of my favorite characters. I relate to him a lot. I often feel that my life is a beautiful place as long as others aren’t allowed inside. Once Wonka lets people in, he has to endure near-constant stupidity and hatred. One of the most powerful moments of the movie is when Wonka excitedly tells the children on his tour that his wallpaper decorated with images of berries is lickable. “The rasberries taste like rasberries!” he says. “The strawberries taste like strawberries! The shnozzberries taste like shnozzberries!” Veruca Salt, a spoiled child that is easily one of the most entertainingly reprehensible characters in all of literary history, snaps at him skeptically, “Shnozzberries!? Who ever heard of a schnozzberry!” Wonka grabs Veruca’s face violently in his hand and says, “We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.” As a child, I used to fantasize about saying that to those who mocked me. It’s arrogant, but an arrogance I can stand behind. The artists with imaginations should not have to endure derision from fools, just as children should not have to endure the closed-mindedness and blindness of adults. They look at Wonka’s beautiful chocolate factory and don’t understand it. That’s why he shut the world out in the first place. Anyway, all ranting aside, Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka is one of the greatest; he’s somewhere between a loving father, an excited mischevious child, and a sadistic maniac. There’s a gentle sorrow in the voice and eyes of Wilder’s Wonka that moves me to tears when nothing sad is even happening. And the ensemble cast is all brilliant and hilarious, especially the actors playing Veruca Salt and her father and Grandpa Joe. And of course the music is beautiful to the point of magic. The most famous song, Pure Imagination, is about how fantasy is preferable to real life, a rebellious theme song for all the misanthropic artists who retreat into themselves because it’s the only place where they find joy and beauty.