Everything That’s Wrong with THE WIZARD OF OZ (and Why None of it Matters!)

So I watched The Wizard of Oz last night, and I couldn’t turn off the “writer” part of my brain. As a result, I noticed all these “flaws” in the movie:

(1) The movie’s riddled with plot contrivances and outright deus ex machina. The most famous example is, of course, the ending when water just happens to melt the Wicked Witch. This key plot point is never set up, never figured out — it’s just something the writers randomly introduce to save the day.

And Dorothy and her friends get out of the “poppy” field sleep spell because … well, Glinda basically just appears and casts another spell. Why doesn’t Glinda intervene every time the Wicked Witch does something bad? And if Glinda is really that powerful, why doesn’t she just zap Dorothy directly to the Emerald City, or immediately send her home? At the very least, why not accompany her? Because she wants Dorothy to learn a lesson? Really? More and more, this video makes sense:

(2) I know this is just the movie’s 1939 (and the book’s 1900) sensibility, but Dorothy is annoyingly passive throughout the whole story. She mostly just does exactly what people tell her to do, doesn’t really figure anything out except by accident (or plot contrivance), and when she’s finally given a big quest (bring the wizard the witch’s broomstick), she immediately gets captured by the flying monkeys and then needs to be rescued by her three male friends. Even her would-be death is passive: she’s just going to “die” when the hourglass runs out? Yes, the killing needs to be done delicately, but shouldn’t the witch at least stay and watch while the magic of the hour glass kills her? But no, the witch suddenly has better things to do. For that matter, why does the hour glass spell suddenly stop working just because Dorothy leaves the room? If that was all it took to stop the magic, couldn’t Dorothy just throw the hour glass out the window?

(3) The whole stated message of the movie — “There’s no place like home” — is trite, simple, and, frankly, contradicted by the movie itself. Dorothy is desperate to go “home”? But the people at “home” aren’t nearly as nice as they are in Oz. They’re always ignoring Dorothy, and they won’t even stand up against a nasty bitch of a neighbor who’s going to killĀ  her dog(!). Nor is Kansas nearly as interesting as Oz. I mean, the movie literally shows Oz in vibrant color while Kansas is always dreary black-and-white!

The movie basically says that in life, you should ignore the wonderful journey, and hurry back to your drab, stifling home , and then stay there the rest of your timid, miserable life. (“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with”)

Really? I know the movie was filmed during the Depression, but that’s its wisdom for the ages?

If taken straight, at best, the movie’s theme is muddled. At worst, it’s downright wrong.

So after all this, you might think that I hate The Wizard of Oz. But of course nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s one of the best movies every made — a nuclear explosion of creativity, and an example of entertainment in its purest, rawest form. I could also make the case that it’s perfectly tapping into some deep archetypal truths about desire and friendship and love. I’m completely serious when I say that things don’t get much more profound than “Over the Rainbow,” one of the best, most touching songs every written about yearning for something more.

These “flaws” (assuming you even agree with me) are yet more proof that:

(1) Art is basically inexplicable. The rules are important, but ultimately nothing makes any real sense, and no one knows anything. It mostly operates on a level beyond understanding.

(2) The most important part of any art project is the emotional truth. If you get that right — and boy, does The Wizard of Oz get that right! — you can screw up almost everything else.

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6 Responses to “Everything That’s Wrong with THE WIZARD OF OZ (and Why None of it Matters!)”

  1. Chris 26 July 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    and here I was thinking most of the way through this thinking, "Wow, his glass is less half full than mine!" :) Then you go and add that stuff at the end. Feh. I'll grant you three-quarters full.

    …still not a big fan of the movie, however

    • bhartinger 26 July 2013 at 7:20 pm #

      Really? You don't like TWOO? Interesting.

      It might be the great songs. It's a little like GLEE — some of the worst TV writing of all time (IMHO) sometimes made semi-palatable by good musical numbers…

  2. Ulysses Dietz 26 July 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Very smart, and funny, Brent….and right on target. In a weird way this movie (I can't recall if the books do this, too) expresses the deep-seated American mistrust of anything different, new – the opposite of the supposed American love of innovation and novelty. All the plot flaws and contrivances do indeed seem to tap into parts of the American psyche that are contradictory…we are individualists, but conformists; we want to be independent, but we tend to wait for someone else to take care of what we need (eg we hate government but we need social security) … But always that deeply rooted Puritan instinct urging us to be happy with what we've got and not strive for something else, because to want something more than what you've got is greedy and immoral. Seeing the movie on the big screen ruined it for me (having watched it 100 times with my kids and as a child myself). But "Rainbow"
    still makes me cry – a perfect little song.

  3. Bo Attwood 27 July 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I'm with you Brent. I remember watching this movie as a kid every year (it was re-run once a year on TV back in the day) and wondering the same things about the plot but couldn't get enough of it at the same time. The alternate ending is new to me. I laughed so hard it brought tears to my eyes.

    • Brent Hartinger 30 July 2013 at 8:48 pm #

      Thanks, Ulysses!

      And I think your political observations are spot on. We are a very contradictory country (and in many ways, self-deluded).

  4. Brent Hartinger 30 July 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    That's a great little video, isn't it?


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