Disney’s latest adaptation sees the return of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and her exciting adventures in Wonderland – an engaging story for adults and children alike. Since last we met her (in 2010’s star-studded Hollywood revamp) sea-faring Alice has now commandeered the Earth’s oceans, captaining her late father’s ship through treacherous seas and thwarting enemy pirate attacks. From the outset, it’s clear Alice’s determination and bravery is equal, if not more, than that of her male counterparts, as she returns safely to shore invigorated.
“You cannot cheat time”, Alice was warned…
Reunited with her disapproving and financially struggling mother, her enthusiasm for planning her next voyage is soon in jeopardy as Alice’s future is dictated by a dishonest landlord, holding her and her mother to account for their debts (and without Alice’s father to protect them). Alice faces the ultimatum of saving the family home by relinquishing her father’s ship and thereby quashing her wanderlust, which is too much for her to bear! The pressure to conform to the social mores, results in Alice escaping behind the looking glass, returning herself to the ‘topsy turvy land’ where the impossible is possible, and usefully depicts the potential for a psychological breakdown. Reunited with all her eccentric friends, she finds herself central to an important mission – to find the Mad Hatter’s lost family by travelling through time, rewriting the course of history as she changes past events and the effects they had.
However, Alice quickly realises it’s impossible to re-write the course of history. Time passes – and the past has been cruel to Alice by taking away her father and biggest supporter – but what’s happened cannot be undone and in trying to save Hatters’ family, she realises that her own relationship with her mother is special and important – a realisation that the mother mirrors in her own way and the two come to a profound breakthrough independently. The take-home message we can all agree upon is that time cannot be changed, altered, stopped or re-wound, but we do have the crucial power to learn by grieving the past and moving on differently.
You cannot change the past, but you most certainly can learn from it
-Time, Alice Through The Looking Glass
Interesting to note, Lewis Carroll’s own mother died suddenly when he was 19, a similar age at which we meet Alice in this version of the story. Alice Through The Looking Glass provides a meaningful metaphor capturing the complex psychological transition required in belonging to a family while becoming a separate individual at the same time. Living as we do in the crucible of family environments of one type or another, we actively seek to become separate individuals in our own right and the hope is to be validated as such in the process. This does not always go smoothly as becoming separate individuals can often feel threatening to the family psyche, resulting either in rebellion or compliance. Alice’s swashbuckling adventures at sea, which contain feelings of excitement and terror, mirrors the internal emotional storms involved in the journey to become separate individuals. The complexity of adolescence entails finding out what we can do by actually doing things, as we enter adulthood.
“The only way to achieve the impossible is to believe it is possible”
Unsurprisingly, ‘belief’ occurs throughout the story as a transformative theme. Needing our parents to believe in us is vital to developing our individuality and holds important currency in the development of young minds. Building a strong sense of personal identity is essential in preparing for adulthood, even if breaking with convention and pushing the boundaries of what is possible is the cost.
Just like Alice, the psychological voyage of becoming a separate individual is like captaining our own ship, endeavoring to stay on course while navigating unchartered and emotionally unpredictable oceans. Weathering emotional storms and warring ships whilst discovering new personal horizons is a tricky balancing act, prone to fragmentation and requiring supportive infrastructure.
We all look for the happy ending and we are not disappointed in this version, as Alice’s story concludes with finding her own family in the form of a renewed relationship with her mother, as they embark on a new voyage together. Symbolizing how Alice now understands what it’s like to be a powerful women in her own right and finding a new identification with her mother.