Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice in Armor...Joan in Wonderland?

It's hard not to think of Joan of Arc when you see a teenage girl in armor swinging a it's no surprise that the second the latest Alice in Wonderland appeared as a shining knight-girl ready to slay the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton's new flick, my husband leaned over to whisper "ALICE OF ARC!" as I nodded vigorously in the dark. I am a sucker for such images so I delighted in it for a moment. Then I just got annoyed.

That's because there's not much in common between the real Joan of Arc and the fictional Alice in Wonderful but that simple, iconic, visual image (and here's where I envied the kids sitting around me..I doubt any of them had read the original story and none of them knew who Joan of Arc was...they were all having a great time and I can't fault them for that. The little boy next to me was so giggly I wondered if he'd drank some suspicious liquid himself, and the girl behind us kept talking "to" Alice telling her what to do...she had way more chutzpah than the actress). There are many obvious name a few: Alice falls into her fate while Joan rides boldly towards it. Alice is constantly diminished (literally and figuratively) by the quirky characters she encounters and doesn't argue as fiercely with them (if at all) Joan surely would. I wished Alice would have put the armor on from the beginning and demanded it as Joan did, rather than feeling she was forced into it...although the sassy dresses she keeps changing into are part of the fun in Burton's eye-candy version.

As a child I found the story of Alice scary and confusing rather than amusingly surreal...nothing was appealing to me about being lost underground with strange creatures who seem to lie and scheme and tease. I guess we have to give Tim Burton credit for giving Alice some victory at the end. Yet while she does seem less lost as she emerges scratched and disheveled from the hole, and seemingly suddenly able to control her own fate, you don't feel she has won a huge battle. She's just, basically, changed her mind, spoken her mind, and possibly, as she admits, lost her mind. None of this is really as empowering as a girl who has a goal and follows it. Alice lives more or less as many of us do...falling into situations and then finding a way out of them. What makes Joan so unique and astoundingly inspiring is that she created her situation.

I kept thinking about what Sister Rita said during her panel on Joan's Canonization...that Joan chose to listen to her Voices. She could have ignored them or fought them but she believed in her voices and in herself as the savior of France. Call it insanity, call it egomania, call it religious fervor or nationalist fanaticism, Sister Rita insisted that Joan was in no way manipulated by the Voices, the Church, or anyone. She mentioned this in terms of Joan's trial, and the inquisitors trying to get Joan to say she was a tool of this institution or army...she wasn't. She listened and she acted and she believed. On her own.

Alice fell down, got up, and wandered...and ended up fighting a battle that she didn't really choose, although the White Queen says it's up to her. Alice knows it's not up to her but it's something she must do. This alone is not a bad message for young women--sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Maybe that's the closest thing resembling a message that Hollywood can pull off and maybe that's why the young women (teens) I spoke with enjoyed the film much more than women my age...we grew up watching Wonder Woman and Charlie's Angels (campy indeed but surely they impressed us with some superhero powers, unmistakeable sex symbols though they were), emulated Madonna, and willingly chose our battles. This generation of girls grew up watching Survivor and Britney Spears, thinking that was empowerment--self-conscious, sarcastic, indulgent "role models" who couldn't fight a Jabberwocky in their dreams, let alone real life. A girl fighting a beast in armor must seem quite brave, comparatively.

The White Queen does tell Alice it's "her choice" to fight the Jabberwocky, and while Alice cries and seems to struggle with it, we don't feel the sympathy we might if we didn't already know from the Oraculum Scroll presented in the beginning that this is what will happen--destiny has already been written.

What makes Joan so amazing is that she created her destiny--and the destiny of a country. We can't expect other teenage women to take on such a task, and truly, we don't really want any martyrs these days. They're not as fun to watch in 3-D glasses.