“You cannot change the past, miss, but I daresay you might learn from it.”
Fans of Lewis Carroll will know that Alice Through the Looking Glass is a reference to his second story about the young girl named Alice. However, since the previous Disney film Alice in Wonderland conflated the stories and characters from both books into one film, the title of this sequel is just about the only thing that Carroll contributes. But then, it really doesn’t matter because fans of Lewis Carroll were probably not the real audience for either film. Rather these films are really a whimsical setting for Carroll’s characters to come to life in new ways. The opening credits point out that the film is “based on characters from Lewis Carroll” rather than on his books. And the story that unfolds in this film is not from his writings—although at times it may reflect a bit of his way of playing with logic.
While this is a sequel to the Tim Burton-directed film, this film is directed by James Bobin, although Burton is still attached as a producer. It still has the look and style of the Burton film, however. All the key characters from the first film are back: Alice (Mia Wasikowska), Hatter (Johnny Depp), The White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and The Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham-Carter). Alice has just returned from a trip to the East on her father’s ship. She still believes that doing the impossible is possible. Arriving back in England, she learns that her former suitor now runs the shipping company and that she’s out of a job—there are no women sea captains! She locks herself in a room where she is invited by one of her old friends from Wonderland to return through a looking glass in the room because Hatter is not himself and only she can save him.
Hatter has gone into a deep depression because he has found evidence that makes him believe his family, killed by the Jabberwocky, must still be alive. He wants Alice to bring them back—but how can she bring people back from the dead? When she does set out to try to help Hatter, she travels to the realm of Time (who is an actual person played by Sacha Baron Cohen) to find the chromosphere and travel back in time to make things right. However, it is a very dangerous undertaking because she could bring time itself to an end. Time tells her the past cannot be changed, but it is possible to learn from the past. When Alice steals the chromosphere Time comes after her to try to stop her and save the world she may destroy. It is a journey that very nearly does destroy everything, but also gives Alice the knowledge she needs to save Hatter. Along the way we see the characters in earlier times and observe key events that shaped their lives.
I like most time travel stories in part because of the paradoxes they create. I expect if Lewis Carroll had written about time travel, it would have played with those paradoxes. Here, the paradoxes are mostly set aside (although not entirely). This is more a road movie that uses time as a medium. The film does however touch on some interesting themes—themes that could have been fruitfully explored more deeply. For example, early in the film Alice tells her mother “The last thing I want is to be like you.” Those words come back later on Hatter’s lips speaking to his father. Yet we sense that both of them love their parents. The sentiment is nearly universal as people grow up.
Another area that could have been looked at more closely was Time itself. By having Time personified as a character in the film, it opens possibilities (that might have been quite fun) of the ways we understand time. Early in the film, Alice and her mother speak of time as “a cruel master” and as “a villain and a thief.” When we first meet the character of Time, he seems menacing, yet by the end of the story Alice has come to appreciate that Time has good aspects that we need to appreciate.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures