I can see how the critics have been tepid to OZ The Great and Powerful while audiences, at least as measured by the box office, have been favorable.
It is easy to review OZ The Great and Powerful cynically as a formula stealing rehash of the beloved original The Wizard of OZ. In OZ the Great and Powerful most of the characters and plot are taken from the 1939 movie. There is the familiar Oscar Diggs, the circus magician who becomes wizard, the tornado, the witches, the transposition of the pre-tornado characters into their Oz counterparts and even the Munchkins. One character who doesn’t fair so well is Frank, Oscar’s haggard circus assistant who becomes incarnated as Farley the talking flying monkey wearing a bell hop uniform.
Even watered down and weakened, the growth and redemption theme of the 2013 movie resonates. The question is why? because Oscar Diggs is nowhere near as sympathetic as Dorothy Gale. Can it really be that spectacular computer graphics and 3 of the more beautiful woman on the planet as witches plus James Franco is enough to make some studio exec calculate that spending $210 million on this film is a no brainer?
In the Wizard of OZ Dorothy finds a fundamental sense of worth by developing abilities to cope with danger and strange novelty. By the end of the story the audience feels she is well equipped to handle what life might present her.
Oscar is presented as caddish Lothario in Kansas as well as Oz. The audience is asked to care about his developing into a genuine leader and not just a bullshitter full of chutzpah. Plus we are asked to believe he has emotionally matured to the point where he has the capacity to feel love and not just cover for deep insecurities by narcissistically taking advantage of women. That Glenda (Michele Williams) seems to have arrived at this conclusion might be Oscar’s greatest bit of showmanship. And not believable.
Psychological themes in The Wizard of Oz
Even though a cliche, I have always thought that the story of The Wonderful Wizard of OZ is a pretty good analogy for therapy. A young girl comes to terms with with the dangers of the world be discovering her footing as a person. In so doing, new aspects of her identity are incorporated into her personality.
We can postulate that the back story is related to Dorothy being an orphan and raised by people who are either an aunt and uncle related by blood or kindly folks who take her in as foster parents. It is never made clear in the Frank Baum Oz series.
In Kansas we have Dorothy confronting meanness in the adult world in the form of Miss Gulch, played by Elizabeth Hamilton who morphs into the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of OZ. Miss Gulch seeks to have Toto euthanized for biting her which freaks Dorothy to the gills.
A tornado ensues transporting the Kansas cast of characters to OZ. We might look at the tornado as representing danger to Dorothy’s psychological, physical, and spiritual well being. Waking up in OZ, Dorothy encounters an altered universe or altered state of consciousness. Her preconceptions to how things are must be set aside. That danger lurks everywhere means that she has no choice but to figure her way out of her predicament. She has a death sentence on her head for landing on the Wicked Witches’ sister.
So here we have a great set up for the audience to identify. Grow up or die. Needing guidance, Glenda the Good Witch suggests Dorothy see the Wizard, who depending upon one’s point of view, is a stand in for a therapist or guru. With a rousing send off by the Munchkins Dorothy is sent on her way to get help only the Wizard can give her.
Along the way she meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion who have specific needs for the very things Dorothy will need to find in herself (ie smarts, lovingness, and courage), if her quest to return home (home being a metaphor for a healthy, integrated person) is to be successful.
By the time she even meets the Wizard she is already faced dangers which have sharpened what her needs from the Wizard (for her therapy). The wizard (therapist) sends her on a journey (psychological quest) where she will incorporate the abilities she will need by confronting her fears in order to reach her return home (her goals for therapy include her development as whole and competent person).
She defeats the Wicked Witch by accidently hurling water on her. It is interesting to see how for a 1939 audience all conscious manifestations of anger or aggression have been conveniently excised via Dorothy’s involvement with deaths of the 2 witch sisters. She passively and involuntarily kills both evil witches. I don’t believe many people in 2013 would blink if she just took a flame thrower to any and all evil witches. Of course the movie would then lose most of its charm.
When she returns with the witch’s broom and discovers the wizard is really a con, she becomes indignant. Having originally idealized the wizard with the blessing and encouragement of everyone in OZ, she now declares that he is a deceiving fraud and not a good man. To which, Oscar proffers the perfect retort, “No, I am a good man, just not a very good wizard.” I have known many a therapist would love to use that line at some point in a therapy. All I can say is that sometimes it might be appropriate to do so and sometimes it would not.
The image of Oscar the wizard being a therapist breaks down as Dorothy and he have so little interaction. Modern therapies of the 21st and late 20th centuries see the relationship between therapist and client as the vehicle for help to be dispensed.
Actually I would make the case that it is relational aspects of Glenda the Good Witch (or mother) that are the more therapeutic for Dorothy. Glenda points out what Dorothy needs to do. She is a presence who allows Dorothy her own experience including the ability to feel anxiety and have troubles so she might learn from them. Glenda shows up to give help only when Dorothy needs support or her life is in danger.
Plus Glenda delivers the classic line that for Dorothy to return home she only need click her heels 3 times and repeat, “There’s no place like home.”When Dorothy exclaims to the effect of, ‘Well why didn’t you just say so in the first place?’, Glenda says therapeutically, ‘I could have but you would not have believed it,’ thus underscoring the growth Dorothy has achieved. That this growth is evident to Dorothy herself is a key insight and allows her to manifest what Glenda suggest.
Or as America, the soft rock group of the 1970’s put it, “Oz didn’t give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.”
Perhaps therapists would be well equipped if they could be both Oscar the Wizard and Glenda the Good Witch in the right measure. That is, possess the combination of a stern father figure asking a person for more than he or she thought themselves capable and a nurturing mother who is there when truly needed but otherwise is a benevolent presense content to be watchful and admiring in the background.
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