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I bought my very first copy of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland while doing graduate work in India. Renowned for its mysticism and unusual happenings, India seemed like an appropriate place to enter into the intriguing world of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, best known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.
Funnily enough, I never read the entire book. I tried several times but for some reason it just didn’t work. Perhaps Caroll was a bit too intellectual for my tastes. Although the book is often regarded as a nonsense tale, author and director Philip Gardiner and co-writer Brian Allan rightly point out in The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland: The Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll that it’s anything but nonsense.
We all know the basic story. Alice’s adventures have become a part of pop culture. The rock group Jefferson Airplane released a hit single “White Rabbit” on their 1967 record Surrealistic Pillow, and the Quantum Physics / New Age movie What the Bleep Do We Know?! (2004) was enhanced and expanded in a 2006 version called What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole.
Although I’m reviewing this DVD without having read Alice In Wonderland in its entirety, that doesn’t really matter. If I can enjoy a documentary about a book I haven’t finished, if I can get what the film is saying and learn from it, then that’s a testament to the skillfulness of its creators. And this surely is the case with The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland.
The DVD offers some provocative biographical material on Carroll’s childhood, struggles with his family’s Anglican religion, Oxford days as a respected mathematician, and possible links with the esoterica of Theosophy and the Rosicrucians. It also delves into his controversial pursuits as a photographer, a hobby that seemed to reflect an interest in girls.
The commentary on the considerable controversy around Carroll’s photos of nude or semi-nude girls is noteworthy. Essentially, The Initiation of Alice asks us to bracket our 21st century Western notions of normality and try to imagine things as they might have been in the genteel Victorian circles in which Carroll moved.
This segment should spark heated dialogue around notions of absolute versus cultural morality and I’ll leave it to God to find the right answer to this potentially divisive issue.
After working through Carroll’s biography, the film moves, quite competently, into the imaginary world of Alice. The novel Alice in Wonderland is mostly interpreted from the perspective of contemporary Gnosticism, where several belief systems are said to point to a common inner truth.
On the whole, the analysis of Alice’s underground adventures conforms to the Jungian idea of a collective unconscious where the conventional rules of space and time no longer apply. And like Jung’s work, the concepts of magical, mystical and The Holy are not as clearly delineated as some might hope for.
When exploring the symbolism of Alice’s eating and drinking of unusual substances in Wonderland, for instance, The Initiation of Alice sets up an analogy between the reception of the Holy Eucharist and the imbibing of psychedelic mushrooms.
Gardiner and Allan’s extensive analogical theorizing leaves much room for interpretation and debate. As with C. G. Jung’s work, some would applaud the far-reaching use of analogy while others might not. Regardless of one’s take on this, it would be hard to come away from this film not feeling a little bit closer to Carroll and his amazing imaginary realm.
Just a day before watching this video, I saw the movie The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time, having made a few unsuccessful attempts to read the Douglas Adams novel on which it was based, and for much the same reasons as Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Its seems these two great stories – the one set in Victorian England and the other in modern society – have something in common. Both seem silly and nonsensical but at the same time point to political and especially quantum realities that humanity will eventually have to come to grips with.
Altogether, The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland: The Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll is a probing, wide-ranging film that Carroll enthusiasts and interested browsers should learn much from.