Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Wizard of Oz (1939)


     For a long time while I wrote “Reel Christianity”, I thought to myself: “At some point, I want to write about ‘The Wizard of Oz’… but I have no idea what exactly to write about.” Well, last semester, as I took a class in college about the integration of faith and media, the instructor pointed out an idea in “The Wizard of Oz” that I hadn’t thought about before. We’ll get to that in a minute, but to address what most of you already know, “The Wizard of Oz” is one of those cinematic staples that everyone needs to see before the age of six. Many have identified the film’s moral as “there’s no place like home”, but I’d like to propose another theme that many of us seem to forget sometimes.

     Again, we’ll get to that in a second. But let’s look at the film itself first. Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) is a young girl living in a very dark, gloomy, sepia-colored Kansas with her Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) on their farm. They have three helpers, Hunk (Ray Bolger), Hickory (Jack Haley), and Zeke (Bert Lahr), and they each persuade Dorothy to cheer up in their own ways. After the mean Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) scares Dorothy and her dog Toto away, Hunk tells Dorothy to use common sense to avoid Miss Gulch; Zeke tells her not to be scared when he suddenly gets scared of the farm pigs; and Hickory… uh, he wants to be a statue. Watch the movie and it’ll make sense.

     So anyway, Miss Gulch takes possession of Toto before Toto escapes and goes back to Dorothy, who decides to run away from home. On her way, she runs into a half-baked fortuneteller known as Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) who tells her that her Aunt Em is brokenhearted now that Dorothy has run away. Dorothy decides to return home, but she is caught in a storm on her way back, and before she can join her family in the cellar, she finds herself in her bedroom caught in a tornado, landing her eventually in a mysterious place.

     This place is known as the land of Oz, a Technicolor wonderland with midgets—err, Munchkins, a fairy godmother—err, a good witch named Glinda (Billie Burke), and a man behind a curtain—err, a wizard known simply as the Wizard of Oz (Morgan), whom Glinda says can help Dorothy return home. Before she sets off on her journey, however, a bad witch shows up: the Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton). See, what happened was, Dorothy’s house landed on the witch’s evil sister, and the ruby slippers that she wore magically transported onto Dorothy’s feet. So now the Witch wants those slippers and threatens to get them from Dorothy at any cost. She disappears, and Dorothy has to follow the Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard and go home.

     So now I’ll cut to the chase. On her way, she meets a scarecrow (Bolger) without brains, a metal man (Haley) without a heart, and a lion (Lahr) without courage, all of who join Dorothy on her journey to see the wizard in the hopes of getting what they need. They eventually get to Emerald City, the wizard’s place of residence, and the Great and Powerful Oz (who seems to be a large head surrounded by fire) tells them that in order for him to help them, they need to perform a small task: bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

     This, of course, is not easy, but through a series of hijinks and threatening situations, they pour water on the Witch, melting her, and return to the Wizard with her broomstick. When the Wizard tells them to come back tomorrow, however, they get angry, and Toto (who at times seems to be the smartest one of the bunch) goes behind a nearby curtain and reveals the Wizard’s true identity: Oscar Diggs! …Just kidding, that name is just from “Oz the Great and Powerful”. But still, the Wizard really isn’t a wizard at all, and the group of friends ask him (or interrogate him) about how to get the things that he promised them.

     And here’s where the moral gets a little weird. Oz proceeds to tell the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion that they each had a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively, in the first place—they just had to discover it through their journey. So in commemoration of their new discoveries, Oz gives them a small token: a half-baked diploma, a clock shaped like a heart, and a gold medal labeled “courage”, respectively.

     Gee, when you think of it that way, the movie does sound a little weird in terms of its lessons. But that all culminates when Dorothy, who was ready to go back to Kansas with Oz, is left behind on accident. However, Glinda shows up and reveals to her a stunning realization:

DOROTHY: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?

GLINDA: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

DOROTHY: I have?

SCARECROW: Then why didn’t you tell her before?

GLINDA: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

     Dorothy explains what she’s learned, which is basically “there’s no place like home”.

SCARECROW: But that’s so easy! I should have thought of it for you!

TIN MAN: I should have felt it in my heart.

GLINDA: No, she had to find it out for herself. Now, those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!

     So yeah, Dorothy says her goodbyes, clicks her heels three times, and repeats “there’s no place like home,” and in a minute, she’s back in her bed in Kansas, surrounded by Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Hunk, Hickory, Zeke, and Professor Marvel (for some reason), awaiting for her to regain consciousness. And she tells them how happy she is to be back in her home, and how she never wants to leave home ever again, and—

     Okay, let me just say. When I realized the weight of this moral of having power inside you all along, it was a little frustrating. And I’ve addressed this theme in a few articles on “Reel Christianity” before, but I don’t think I’ve talked about it in a film that was as well-received as “The Wizard of Oz”. But there it is, and I need to say something about it. There are a lot of people out there, Christians even, that say that man is inherently good and that if we follow Christ, we will have nothing but happiness in our lives. At its core, that’s what this message in “The Wizard of Oz” is saying.

     Friends, I’m sorry to say that this is not true. The apostle Paul addresses this head on in the book of Romans, explaining that Jews and Gentiles alike are sinful. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:22b-24) We were born into sin because we are human, but we can be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Praise the Lord for that!

     So yeah, as great and as influential as “The Wizard of Oz” was and is, this idea of having the power to “go home” all along is a little wrong. We may be capable of it, but it doesn’t come from within ourselves—and thank the Lord that He loves us so much that He wants to do that for us. My prayer for us all this week is that we would allow His Spirit to fill our every being so that we might be His witnesses on this earth.

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