Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And a Nazi.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And a Nazi.
When I was a kid we had a double VHS of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and The Witches. I must have damn near worn that thing out. The opening shots of Wonka are as vivid and clear in my mind as they are on the screen – the factory churning out ribbons of melting chocolate, the glistening foil and shimmering caramel. There was something so soothing about the film as a child too. The music was ethereal, Gene Wilder’s performance calm and calculating, the factory churned along quietly. It’s forever remained a favourite film of mine.
So imagine my surprise when, whilst re-watching it recently, I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. At the point when the 5th Golden Ticket is revealed to be a fraud, the perpetrator’s photograph is displayed clear as day in the paper. Remember the man from South America, who dastardly forged a golden ticket into Wonka’s factory? Who would DARE to do such a thing?
“That bloke’s a Nazi!” yelped my mother.
I’m sorry, come again?
“That bloke there, he’s a Nazi! A proper one!” she reiterated.
I looked at the man on screen again – really looked at him. He did look familiar, but was that just because I’d seen the film before? Hardly. I did a little digging and, lo and behold, the guy WAS a bloody Nazi. And a very important Nazi – we’re talking Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann! And where did the majority of Nazis flee to in the aftermath of World War Two? South America.
There’s a term you learn early on in film studies – mise-en-scene. This is basically a fancy word which means “what’s in the frame.” The basic assumption is that, when a director knows what he’s doing, everything means something. That’s not just a picture on the wall. That isn’t just any old pair of shoes. That’s not just a random picture of a would-be chocolate thief – in fact, it’s a prominent member of the Nazi party!
So why would the director use Martin Bormann’s photo, above all others, in this part of the story? First up, let’s consider exactly where the chocolate factory is in the world. Wonka and Charlie’s family sound American, but Augustus Gloop is definitely German and Verruca Salt (the posh one) is probably from Hampshire or somewhere ultra-posh and British. There’s also that moment when the newscaster is placing stars on a world map, in a bid to pinpoint where the winners are from, but he never mentions where the factory itself is. I mean, Wonka sounds like a European name, doesn’t it? And, indeed, the architecture in the film all looks rather Germanic – which makes perfect sense, especially as the film was shot in reconstruction-era Munich for the most part, working around the bombed out buildings and flattened streets. That couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.
Next up, there’s the Oompa Loompas. Chillingly enough, there weren’t actually enough dwarves in Germany at the time of filming to make up the full cast of Oompa Loompas – Hitler had seen to that – which meant that producers were forced to scour Europe for a suitable cast. With this in mind, and given the direct references to Nazi Germany in the film, Wonka could, in fact, be a candy-loving Oskar Schindler.
And then there are the beautiful songs which catapult the film into truly magical realms. “If you want to view Paradise / simply look around and view it / anything you want to, do it / want to change the world? There’s nothing to it.” Those words are as direct a political statement as you will find in any film, perfectly casting Wonka as a character with a very specific world view: the world is rotten, the world has experienced unspeakable horror, the world must be changed. Cue the heavy punishments bestowed upon the kids visiting the factory. These sinners aren’t welcome in Wonka’s paradise; they are part of the rottenness of the world that he wants to eliminate. Why? Each of the winners reflects an inherited privilege that is so at odds with Charlie Bucket’s poverty; Verruca and Violet Beauregard both come from the families of successful businessmen, Augustus Gloop reflects gluttony and Mike Teavee, whilst arguably from a working class American family, is still Republican to the core, proudly gun-slinging in his suburban home.
What is the one major tenet of capitalism? Planned obsolescence; the idea that things are made to be broken and to be replaced. Capitalism would crumble were this system not in place. So why would Wonka invent a sweet that never ran out if he was a true capitalist? As he explains in the film, the everlasting gobstopper is candy for poor people, a sweet that never runs out. A commodity that goes against the entire principle of planned obsolescence, and therefore the entire principle of capitalism. Want to change the world? Nothing to it.
Willy Wonka & Chocolate Factory is a truly marvellous film that is layered with detail upon detail, relating to a period which the world was still clearly reeling over. It’s a perfect example of how cinema can touch upon social issues with such subtlety that you might not even notice they’re there. And, without any hint of irony whatsoever, it is my absolute favourite movie. Watch it. Watch it now.