Oz, The Great and Powerful: The Familiar Subtext

It’s easy to dismiss OZ, The Great and Powerful as just another ill-conceived sequel, and rightly so given that’s precisely what it is, and precisely the treatment it deserves. None the less, this latest foray down the Yellow Brick Road is hardly lacking in the themes and symbols so frequently pointed out in this site, and the subtext of this children’s film is quite entirely insidious, espousing, among other strange and morally obtuse concepts, the notion that ends justify means.

**SPOILERS**

The film begins innocently enough, with a shrunken black-and-white starscape which reveals itself as the Disney logo. We’re then treated to a trippy sequence of opening credits replete with classic hypnotic imagery (black and white spirals, swaying coins, ect.) as well as symbol I think any frequent reader of this site is bound to recognize.

 

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We’re then introduced to the old-timey circus in which the young Wizard of Oz is plying his trade as a stage-magician. We are initially introduced to him through the gorgeous young woman acting as his assistant, a girl who’s role it is to pose in the crowd as just another observer until he calls for a volunteer. That he’s using her deceive his crowd is one thing, but we rapidly come to understand he’s also manipulating her emotionally in order to sleep with her. We learn that manipulating and exploiting women in this way is a trend for the Wizard, as his male assistant is instructed to get him ‘another’ music box, which he gifts to her with a ridiculous tale of it belonging to his grandmother, who died in ‘the war’. Between that and ripping off his assistants, the Wizard is revealed as not a good guy.

Though his performance is impressive, it all goes wrong when a little girl in a wheelchair asks him to heal her. Rather than simply explaining it’s beyond his abilities, he blames a ‘disquiet in the ether’, and is boo’d off stage. Angry, he returns to his train-car domicile, and finds his true love there waiting for him, a girl whom he finds above the exploitative ‘music box’ technique named Annie. (Coincidentally, the actress playing Annie also recently played Marilyn Monroe in ‘My Week with Marilyn.) He seems to generally respect this woman, and she’s all warmth and goodness, speaking of her faith in his ability to be a good man, if he wanted too. He goes on to explain that’s not what he wants, and at the very moment he utters the words “I don’t want to be a good man… I want to be a great one…!” the Camera conveniently pans up a little to briefly but fully expose another very familiar symbol, hovering above and beside his head.

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His male assistant bursts in on the scene to let the Wizard know the husband of one of the women he’s exploited, who just so happens to be the circus strong-man, is out to clobber him, and in his effort to escape the man’s wrath he climbs into a hot-air balloon and sets off. It’s in this way that he finds himself caught up in a tornado and whisked of to the technicolor world of Oz.

Upon arrival, he meets a beautiful girl named Theodora (played by Mila Kunis) and immediately begins exploiting her as he learns he may fulfill a prophecy that would make him king of Oz. He uses his music-box line on her, and though Theodora has never ‘danced’ before, the two of them wind up ‘dancing’ together all night. Again he reveals his incredible talent for manipulating women.

On his way to the palace to assume his role as king he comes across a monkey bell-boy who parallels his male assistant in the real world, to whom he confesses, as the monkey has already sworn to serve him no matter what, that he is not in fact the Wizard of prophecy. He then meets Evanora, Theodora’s sister as played by Rachel Weisz, who though pretending to pleased at Oz’s arrival, is secretly furious, being the dreaded Wicked Witch.

She’s convinced her sister that Glenda the Good is in fact the Wicked Witch who murdered their father, and sends the Wizard of Oz on a mission to kill Glenda in order to prove himself. On the way, he meets the Little China Girl.

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In a tea-pot village that’s been utterly smashed by the servants of the Wicked Witch in retaliation for their having celebrated the coming of the Wizard of Oz, the China Girl is the only survivor. Following the sound of her tears, they find her behind a table, from which she peeks with one eye multiple times before finally addressing the wizard and his monkey-servant. She tells a traumatic story of the death of her whole family, and reveals that, in a parallel to the girl at his show, both her legs have snapped off. Where have we seen these sorts of themes and imagery before? Damn often on this site, to say the least.

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Though physically broken and emotionally traumatized, the Wizard offers to ‘fix’ the broken China Girl, and using a bottle of glue he puts her back together again. Filled with gratitude (in spite of the fact he had a hand in the brutal murder of her family) the China Girl insists on following the Wizard on his mission, with the somewhat manic urging ‘Lets go kill us a WITCH!’ This is a big change for the China Girl, who was previously all tearful innocence, and it goes further.

As they await Glenda the good, whom they still believe to be evil, the China Girl asks Oz how he’s going to kill the witch, him replying he simply needs to steal her wand. “Why don’t you just use this?” Says China Girl, brandishing a kitchen-knife.

When Oz discovers Glenda the Good has the appearance of Annie from Kansas, he cant go through with his effort to kill her, and learns the truth about the real Wicked Witch. In order to turn her sister against him, she convinces her that he’s actually in love with Glenda, and using a magically reproduced music-box, that he was just exploiting her before. The thing is, this isn’t actually a ‘trick’ at all. Oz does indeed fall for Glenda, and he was indeed just exploiting her with the music-box line, having no intention of being with her. As a result, she begins to cry tears that burn and scar her as they trail down her face. The comparison to self-harm and self-cutting is a clear one as she watches herself in the mirror, calling herself a fool.

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As Glenda and Oz get closer and closer, Theodora gets more and more upset, until her evil sister convinces her to bite a magic apple which transforms Theodora into a green, clawed monster… the wicked witch of the west ala the original films. The transformed Theodora is even more deadly and dangerous than the original wicked witch, and its left to Glenda, Oz, and the citizens of Glenda’s kingdom to come up with a plan to defeat the witches.

The plan? Use Oz’s skill as a liar and manipulator to trick the Emerald City and the wicked witches into believing in the power of Oz, with technological illusions. This expert exploiter of women pulls yet another fast one on Theodora, convincing her that he’s invincible, and banishing her into exile. In the end, Oz’ ability to manipulate women ‘saves the day’, him and Glenda the Good hook up behind the curtain, and everything’s honky-dory… all of his deceit and all of his cruelty forgiven, because his final massive lie was for the greater good.

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