One of my favorite movies of all time is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I love the story, the actors, the visuals, the songs, and the faithfulness to the books. I even like Johnny Depp’s version of Willy Wonka. And it seems that I’m in the minority on that point, since most seem to prefer the loveable yet quirky Gene Wilder in that role. “Look at Depp’s Wonka,” some of them say. “He’s insane and painfully creepy.” And I would agree. I would also be glad that he’s at least open about his insanity. Because mark my words, Wilder’s Wonka is every bit as crazy as Depp’s, if not more so.
Depp’s Wonka shows no concern for the brats that get their comeuppances, but at least he makes an attempt to warn them off. At best, Wilder’s Wonka offers the least discouraging discouragement he can; for example, mumbling “No, don’t, stop.” At worst, he shows a complete lack of empathy for the children. When the salts head for the incinerator with a 50% chance of survival, Wonka never looks worried or even raises his voice. That kind of inability to care about the suffering of others is one of the key symptoms of a sociopath. And if you look at the scene of Augustus Gloop falling into the chocolate river just right, it looks like Wonka almost pushes him into the river to drown. It can look like an accident, sure, and he does seem put out about his ruined chocolate (more so than about the drowning boy). But those Oompa Loompas did have those songs prepared beforehand…
And what about that tunnel ride? All those horrifying images flashing on the wall are specific to Wilder’s Wonka; neither the book nor the second movie shows them. Every time that chicken gets its head cut off or the centipede crawls across the man’s upper lip, I keep thinking of how serial killers get their start by torturing animals. And no single moment in Johnny Depp’s performance has anywhere near the creep factor of Wilder’s rendition of “There’s No Knowing Where We’re Going.” Knowing he keeps that side of him suppressed is extraordinarily unsettling.
And then there’s Wonka’s office. Inside, everything is cut in half, from the documents in his half-safe to the bust on which he hangs his hat to the sink. At first, this seems like an amusing quirk, but why is everything sliced in half? Is it a hobby of Wonka’s to saw everything in half? Just imagine this man sitting on the floor in the privacy of his office taking a hacksaw to his chair for no reason except to discard one half and keep the other. Nothing but the repetitious motion of the hacksaw, back and forth, back and forth, as it slowly rips the wood apart. Disturbing picture, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s symbolic for some kind of mental illness. Could it be a second personality or some form of schizophrenia? That could explain all the mood swings he goes through, from ecstatic to calm to frightening to enraged.
Still not convinced? I’m not the only one who sees the insanity behind Wilder’s Wonka. Check out this video that shows just how much of “an inhuman monster” the guy can be. You’ll never watch the movie the same way.
Does that mean I don’t like Wilder’s version of Wonka? Not at all. I think he can be very loveable and a nice guy. But that doesn’t mean the hidden layer of insanity isn’t there. He’s a character written by Roald Dahl; there’s a 79% chance he’s going to be stark raving mad.
And there’s a 99.9% chance I made up that statistic.