Neco z Alenky
written and directed by Jan Svankmajer
based on the novel by Lewis Carroll
starring Kristýna Kohoutová
In this surrealistic, exquisitely crafted interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová in her only screen appearance) finds herself in a bizarre world populated by terror-laden characters, garbage, animated socks, and a grave mystery regarding her place in this new and utterly strange world.
Svankmajer has created an exceedingly dark take on the story as everything within this codified world possesses a definite menace which never washes off. Alice innocently plays in her room tossing stones into a cup of tea. Her stuffed rabbit comes to life and she quickly follows him out over a bed of rocks and into a writing desk from which she emerges in Wonderland.
The film doesn’t attempt to deliberately show anything fantastic or peculiar and indeed the scenes are rooted in a domesticity that causes them to come across as familiar and comforting. But there is nothing comforting in this place that has a specific if perplexing logic that is maintained over the course of the film. Precisely where this realm exists is not pursued and so we are left to ponder just where young Alice has landed herself. Is it a dream? Is there truly such a place where a little girl can exist and make her way alone? Or is she just conjuring it up through the power of her imagination?
The White Rabbit in this version is rather bent on assaulting Alice which he does throughout the film. He pelts her with anything he can find and tries to smash her fingers. It’s clear he would do anything to retard her progress as she represents a terrible threat to him.
Alice shrinks into a little doll that resembles her quite effectively. She becomes part of a bizarre tableau where everything is alive and she is forced to maneuver herself around countless obstacles that seem designed specifically to give her trouble. At one stage her tears floods the room she is stationed in and she endures the Mouse as he pounds two stakes in her head and begins to cook the contents of a can before Alice gets tired and shakes him off. This is the pool of tears and Svankmajer creates magic out of this simple set from which Alice is eventually able to escape.
The scenes in this film are claustrophobic and the viewer often feels trapped and barely able to move. Alice is never free to move about for much of the film as the walls and ceilings conspire against her. She is always threatened by spaces and a hodge-podge of objects and creatures that want to prevent her from making any progress. This is like a dream where one can barely make any headway and the film makes one feel they are sinking in quicksand. No matter what Alice tries to do she is hardly able to press through until the very end where she is tried for her many transgressions against the order as administered by the King and Queen.
There is an entirely organic quality to this film as pieces of the enormous logic puzzle morph in and out of one another leaving Alice to use her intelligence and imagination to maneuver her way through it all. Mostly she reacts to sequences as they unfold before her. She becomes trapped in a small house and is routinely accosted by the rabbit and the other animals until she takes control of her situation and escapes.
The film feels dirty and Alice herself becomes filthy as the film progresses. In a sense it feels as if Alice has descended into a type of hell where spaces and objects have been eviscerated and left open to rot and putrefy. Decay and degradation is everywhere and Alice remains a purely innocent being who is brought into a place of ruin from which she is to emerge changed somewhat.
Kristýna Kohoutová makes for an excellent Alice and the camera takes advantage of her youthful vigor and sense of wonder. She seems close to what Carroll imagined as she crawls and steals her way through a landscape not conducive to her existence. It seems odd that this is Kohoutová’s only screen performance as she impresses routinely through her gestures and facial expressions which always seem open and inquisitive.
Alice’s journey is excruciatingly Romantic in the sense that she is seeking a higher love than what is offered her during those impossibly long and tortuous days that plague every configuration of childhood. She is clamoring toward a vision that will remain embedded in her child’s consciousness to be exploited and explored into the dreaded realm of adulthood which usually strips the imagination bare and uses it to fuel adult lusts and self-constructed frustrations and pet miseries. Alice is the great hope that certain aggravating measures will be transcended or more ideally avoided altogether in the mad rush to become someone who impresses others.
This film follows the book quite closely and employs an ingenious structure and application to create a version that is slightly disturbing as all worthy childhood tales are otherwise the wee ones would become hopelessly bored and left wanting to melt all their toys down into a mound of goo.
Overall, this film puts a truly nightmarish spin on the story and elicits the fears inherent in a journey of Self downward into the very depths of consciousness where hideous things populate landscapes filled with desires corrupted and hopes mercilessly dashed against the rocks. This is perhaps the only Alice-related film that understands this aspect of the story. Alice here travels deep into the bowels of some horrible realm where she is routinely stuck and abused and eventually tried in a court for being nothing more that an interloper in a kingdom she doesn’t recognize.