You know, I can never really switch my inner theologian and queer theorist off. Oz was a lot of fun – solid acting, great visuals and a character driven plot. But I also wanted to comment on three aspects of the plot that I thought were theologically or existentially significant. As I commented to those I saw it with: “There were three major ideological points, and the movie got it half-right at most.”
It seems to me that three “big ideas” drive the plot:
1. Non-violent resistance is finally effective. Except for one questionable or ambiguous action by Glenda the Good Witch, I was so happy to see that creativity and goodness were deployed non-violently in this movie, for a positive outcome! Of course, non-violence might have been easier in the movie than in real life, because it was deployed against clearly visible and limited oppressors rather than faceless systems or powers; however, I have difficulty expressing how remarkable it was to see non-violence enacted. I didn’t even notice it until the movie was half-over, and then I waited with bated breath to see if it would be carried through to the end! (It was.)
2. Love stabilizes the universe. As a Christian, I’m gonna be perfectly OK with this one on some level! Nevertheless, this is the point that is only half-right. First, love or goodness has no transcendent referent within the film: goodness or love is assumed as a stable good, but the language used localizes it within the human heart or in human relationships. I didn’t see any indications that love is a magical force, which is typical of Disney fantasy. Second, romantic love–of a specific and hetero-normative sort–does not stabilize the universe. Society as we currently configure it, maybe, but not the universe.
3. Technology will save us. Dark magic (superstition?) was the force that kept Oz under control, but technology and slight-of-hand saved the day in the end. I’m all for the idea that people can resist the “dark magic” of fear in their lives by exercising their creativity in surprising ways. The problem is that in the film, technology, as a cipher for human empowerment, seems to be the only thing that sustains belief, which is the all-important thing. Belief in something larger than oneself seems to be the point, but the content doesn’t really matter. For all the film’s talk of Oz as “a different kind of wizard,” he purposely allows the illusion of his presence to sustain the people’s belief. He (and a select inner circle) know that they are perpetuating an allegedly benevolent fraud by means of technology.
Oz, the Great and Powerful respects the deep impact that The Wizard of Oz has had in our culture, and I enjoyed the film very much indeed. I just wish that films such as this would not be consumed uncritically, especially since it seems to be targeted for a broad audience. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of a much deeper analysis, but perhaps if you see the film, you too can reflect on what it tries to tell our culture about who we are amidst all the glamourous special effects and gentle humour.