21 Jul

Discovering Reality: An Analysis of “Alice in Wonderland” (1951)

“Alice in Wonderland” is a classic animated film directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske. The movie, adapted after Lewis Carroll’s novel with the same name is a production that has been seen by millions of children (and, why not, adults) from around the world. The story, while it may be packaged as an easy children’s journey, can be seen as a philosopher’s exploration of the real world, in a way similar to Plato’s cave story, of a man who goes outside the cave where he and his fellow people could only see shadows on the walls, thinking they were reality and then telling them about what the world really looks like, its colors and shapes but is disregarded and mocked by his people.



Right at the very beginning of the film, when Alice is sitting under a tree, she is reading a book. The book is a book on history, a choice that tells the viewer that Alice is, more or less by choice, interested in discovering the world, but that she is presented only a controlled, superficial version of the world, as history can be correctly described as the current establishment’s view of the world.


It’s not long before the beginning that Alice starts chasing the rabbit that is always late and soon enough she finds herself going down the rabbit hole. As she falls, she is first passed by objects of art, the highest expression of people’s emotions and living and then she is passed by everyday objects that compose the medium in which humans live.


In order to be able to pass through the door she encounters, she drinks what others call poison. It can be said that for ages the truth has been seen as something that is not be wanted and presented in a negative light. The first encounter with something different is of course a negative one: soon enough Alice is sad and floating on a sea of her own tears. She regrets it because it’s not what she expected or wanted, but there is no going back, regardless of what she may want.

Looking for the white rabbit who is in a hurry, she enters the forest, a clear symbol of the mysterious and the natural. The first characters she meets are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. These two characters, which appear human, but immediately show that they are not are trying to keep Alice from going further, they want to lure her with their actions and words and the reason is not apparent. They are the distractions one meets along the way: they make crazy images and sounds, they morph and don’t get hurt when hit and act silly and foolish making an illusion of interest, when in fact they are just there to keep a philosopher from going. The “razzle dazzle” is something a veritable philosopher always encounts: the flashes of the world, of arts and culture that seem to be full of meaning, but are not more than an empty way of spending time trying to make sense of them.

After getting away from the two, Alice meets The Dodo. While he is a cheerful and polite character, The Dodo is also absent-minded and quite aggressive. He is the reflection of a politician whose main problem is that he does not know where his job begins or ends. The confusion that is in his mind leads to a lot of harm, for which in a way, he cannot be directly blamed.

Alice is now slowly making sense of the world, she is confronted with all the appearances and obstacles that compose the world. No wonder that at this point, every time she eats something she becomes either very big or very small. Every truth she comes in contact with, every decision she makes is taking her on a rollercoaster. A philosopher either feels on the top of the world for conquering things or small as an ant in the face of the discovery of what is yet to be discovered.

After having faced entertainment in the shape of distractions and politics in the shape of collateral damage, she needs to be faced with one of the biggest challenges: the talk of the town. While some people have physical power over you, the chatter of the community can “talk” you to non-existence quite easily. To express this, Alice meets with some flowers who mistake her for a flower, lacking the ability to see beyond their world. While they appear to be friendly, as most moralists in life do, the flowers become quite aggressive and condescend towards her quite rapidly, only one young and innocent flower being able to see Alice for who she is and saying she liked her.


After dealing with the three blocking entities, Alice starts to meet the holders of the truth. She first meets with a caterpillar. Pretentious and wise, the caterpillar is resembling a guru who knows things, but whose overconfidence can do him harm. He asks Alice who she is and she says that she is not herself anymore. To our heroine, everything is confusing, but not to the caterpillar. What is remarkable in the conversation between Alice and the caterpillar is that she says she doesn’t remember things the way she used to. And that is a sign of a strong philosopher, who, after dealing with the façade of the world and coming in contact with truth speakers, does not see the world, and more specifically, their own world the way they used to. A truth seeker does not get stuck in the way they perceived the world when they were younger, he reconsiders his past and his present, seeing them through a different prism.


After taking the big step and overcoming her caterpillar-caused frustrations, Alice meets with one of the deepest characters of Wonderland. She meets the cat. The cat, whose presence is mysterious and captivating, is a representation of the detached “madman”. He knows so much about the world, that the world would see him as the complete outsider. And the cat is OK with that – he knows that he can’t dumb himself down for the world and that those who refuse his truths won’t grasp them, regardless of how much he may try. This is why, he has no intent to make himself like the others. Alice is scared, she says she does not want to go among mad people, but the cat explains that there almost everyone is mad. If the outside world is fake, then the underworld, or Wonderland is the truth. However, given that in Wonderland the creatures use the same language as they do in the outside world, one needs to understand that “madness” in Alice in Wonderland actually means “right”, “correct” or “true”.


Meeting the cat is just an introduction to “madness” , as the next characters she meets are the Mad Hatter and the rabbit who were having the maddest of mad tea parties. Right from the start, the couple seems odd: they celebrate when somebody doesn’t have a birthday, an indicative of the fact that people can be more than it says on their birth certificate. The fact that the Mad Hatter celebrates any other day but one’s birthday shows that a person who sees the truth can choose very well who they are. A philosopher selects and makes his own choices about who he is, he does not follow society’s dictates. It’s about choice rather than giving in to defaults.

Alice is asked whether she wants “more” tea, but she replies that she cannot ask for more, given that she did not have any yet. However, the Mad Hatter replies with a deep thought, that you can have more of nothing. With this, he puts the pin on life as acceptance: this sentence is a brief, but compelling discourse on the nature of the anti-element, of the fact that an element can have two types of opposites, the non-element and the anti-element and that they are not equal and the same.

When Alice mentions the cat, mayhem breaks and it takes some time until things cool down. The rabbit tells Alice that if she does not think before she speaks, she should not speak. This remark is in relation to the fact that language is extremely important, not only in the Looking Glass, but everywhere and that words are the tools which we use not only to understand, but also to shape the world and establish its boundaries.


Tired and fed up, Alice wants to go back home and she finds a path that she thinks will take her home. However, a dog shows up and sweeps it away. The dog is a usually a symbol of trust. In this case, it can show the creator’s thoughts that one needs to trust the road to cohesion in thought and that once that way is taken, there is no going back.

At this moment, Alice realizes that there is more to the truth than wisdom. As she is angry and sad, she says that she gives herself good advice, but has a hard time following it. She thus understands the difference between the abstract knowledge and the actions one needs to take. At this moment, the cat appears again, being the right companion for a mood where you have a hard time taking things seriously.

Alice learns that all the ways are the queen’s ways and that there is no way reserved for her. She must either take the path between the roads or follow one of the queen’s paths and see what happens. Having little choice, Alice takes a path that goes to the queen’s castle. The first interaction she has in the land of the queen is with some playing cards whose job it was to paint all the roses red. The queen is angry and downright furious all the time and asks for the roses to be painted red for no apparent reason. She is a symbol of a tyrant (not necessarily a political one) who forces everyone to do as she wants, otherwise placing bad consequences on others. She is the symbol of the unhappy person who is always forcing others into her unmotivated unhappiness. The white rabbit Alice chased throughout the story finally shows up for his job at the court and we understand why he was so scared all the time. Not only from a narrative point of view – because he had a job, but also from a psychological point of view: the rabbit who can never be on time is a symbol of a person living in the shadow of a tyrant who can never be pleased and who imposes their requests through aggression and blackmail.

The king, a character who has a just heart does not seem to have much power, but he influences the way things happen in a strong manner. He is the person shaping people’s minds and events from the background, he is a symbol for the unknown people who stay in the shadows of rulers and who influence the world for good, without the tyrants to notice or to change. He is a hidden gem.


Right when Alice was going see the queen’s fury, she remembers that she had some mushrooms in her pockets, which she eats and grows large enough to scare the queen for a while. She then has the courage to tell the queen everything she thinks about her, before turning small again.

This is a powerful symbol, the mushroom here is a placeholder for consciousness, relating maybe to experiences people have when exploring their minds with the help of different substances. When taking in mushrooms, representing her own true consciousness, Alice not only grows a lot, but finally sees the world for what it is and dares to speak the truth in a manner that resembles the way the cat talks, detached and ironic.

But such a position does not last for long (just like the cat always quickly disappears) and Alice must run away from all the chaos that is around her. She runs through a tunnel resembling the cat (the highest expression of “madness” – again, in the looking glass “madness” being “reason” and “truth”) and finally goes back to her outside self.


While Alice did learn about truth in her excursion in Wonderland, she must get out or else she can end up badly. She puts order in her consciousness and structures information, but in the end, she must get out because living only inside your mind can have some bad consequences. We need the world, but we also need “dreams” or deep thoughts to be able to navigate the world. To learn about the workings of the world, one needs to go in their consciousness, that is where structured and uncensored information lies. Through systematic learning, a philosopher will get to be able to merge the two: the physical world and the truth.


We may not live only on one part of the world, just like we can’t have a completely careless life. In the end, if it wasn’t for problems, we would not go down the rabbit hole. In the end, this is what the white rabbit is: he is someone full of problems and dysfunction. Alice follows him and discovers the truths which will help her have a full and virtuous life. In a way, he is a symbol of the cross one bears to eventually find the truth.


The book and film have been analyzed in a variety of ways: as a fairytale, as a biography, as a social satire, many of the names of the characters being references to movers and shakers of the time, but also from a mythological (referencing Persephone, Proserpina and even Ēostre), theosophical, philosophical and even a mathematical point of view (for example, the cat could be a reference to the “catenary”, which is a shape of a perfectly flexible chain suspended by its ends and acted on by gravity).


Anyway you look at it, “Alice in Wonderland” is a profound story about how curiosity might lead to trouble, but how it is also highly rewarding, as, as Alice would say, “it would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.” And that’s the veritable mission of the philosopher.


02 Jun

Fantastic Spaces: An Evolution

Ever since the dawn of humanity, mankind has sought to reach or dwell in other worlds than the world that we live in on a physical level. Other worlds have always been part of the arts and of storytelling. In some cases, within the respective storylines, people don’t have access to these worlds, while in other cases; they interact in one way or another with these worlds. The results differ, sometimes the “other” worlds have a positive impact on people’s lives, sometimes a bad one and sometimes the result is mixed.

Other worlds serve not only as an escapist way of being something different in a world that hardly changes, but also a way to explore ideas and concepts of the unconscious.



The evolution of the way we perceive and think of other worlds has evolved in time and, more often than not, it has accompanied the evolution of society as a whole. The type of fantastic world has not always been created at the same time as it was in fashion. As is often the case, there were some forward thinking authors that created books and stories that came later in fashion, as in the case of many books that became movies in the 21st century, discussing contemporary 21st century topics.



Ancient Times

In ancient times, fantastic characters and otherworldly beings used to live someplace accessible and near, yet still far out and out of reach. In many old, traditional folk tales, these lands are behind a hill, across the lake or on a mountain. Think of mount Olympus and the gods that inhabited it. Mount Olympus was a place the Greeks could see, but it was in a way out of reach. A village somewhere in the region or a valley were also common places where fantasy events took place.



Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, as populations started to engage in strong migrations and pilgrimages, the world became more open and soon enough, the mythical spaces of old times lost their mystic charge. People became aware of their environment, and yet, many “other” people and places were seen as strange and dangerous. And that was for a good reason. In the Dark Ages, people did not know what to expect from foreigners. They were a threat to their gene pool and could carry diseases or have aggressive attitudes towards them. In these times, we see fantastic worlds being described as far away. This is a reflection of the fact that people knew that there was a world beyond their own, but that they did not know what could be there. These works were mostly popular creations, in written literature allegories were the dominant ways of conveying stories.



Exploring Time

As men embarked on journeys to the East and the West to discover new lands, the fantastic stories of the 17th and 18th century often took place on fantasy islands. The illuminist character of the times also had a strong influence on the ways in which these lands were portrayed. Here we can mention works such as Tommaso Campanella’s “La città del Sole” (“City of the Sun”), or Sir Francis Bacons’ 1627 novel “New Atlantis”. Also, Margaret Cavendish’s “The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World” is another great example of a world that is very hard to reach (it can be accessed through the North Pole), but which is accessible nonetheless. The background for these had been already laid out by authors such as Thomas More, who had published “Utopia”, completely called “Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia” in 1516, where he depicted an imaginary island and its social and political customs.



The Era of Mechanics

The 19th century was the time of the industrial revolution. This era started out in 1760 and by the time the 18th century started, many machines and intricate systems were already in place and quite common. In this period, writers saw the potential that these machines and technology at large had, and thus the first sci-fi works appeared. It was now that characters such as the monster of Frankenstein appeared and Jules Verne wrote his stories on explorations with the use of technology. Now, unlike any other time, places that had been completely inaccessible became accessible to the mind. In 1870, Jules Verne published his famous “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas: An Underwater Tour of the World” (“Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin”), in which a team of explorers uses a submarine to hunt a mysterious sea creature. The book was very much ahead of its time, but it made sense for it to appear at that time, as, for the first time in history, people could go underwater.

Fantasy worlds now were a mix of exotic places and places found outside of the Earth or, as another Jules Verne example goes to show, inside the Earth. Fantasy was now starting to become science-fiction, the 18th century being a transition from mystical creatures and magic happenings to a mix of unknown creatures and fantastic technology.

G. Wells’ 1897 “The War of the Worlds”, in which extraterrestrials visit Earth after arriving with the help of a spaceship is another great example.



Rediscovering History

In a world that was overwhelmed with mechanical devices that were loud, rough and that threatened the human spirit; the romantics of the 18th century went back to the days of old and rediscovered the past. In this sense, as people were marching more and more towards technology, many romantic writers rediscovered stories in which fantastic stories took place in nature – as nature was becoming a new mystery. The tales of the Grimm brothers in Germany, which were retellings of folktales, are a very good expression of this phenomenon. In these stories, we often see the main character wander off in a forest to meet with humans with superpowers, witches or otherworldly creatures. The story of Hansel and Gretel, who walk off to the woods and meet a witch, or Snow White who meets seven dwarfs in a forest home are good examples of these views. Romantics also discovered the ruins of the past and old castles (many times haunted ones) were at the center of fantasy storylines.



Screen Worlds

The invention of cinema in the late 1800s and its popularization in the first years of the 20th century made way of a new way of telling stories. This can be regarded as a time when a shift took place, as the screen started to become the go-to place for fantasy and sci-fi stories.

The fantasy stories of the early cinema were an extension of the literature of the late 19th century. They were exploring at the same time scientific fantasy, as well as terror-based storylines.

The move from country life to the big cities that were emerging in that time also turned the city itself in a playground for mystery and fantasy. If you think about it, films such as the 1933 “The Invisible Man” directed by James Whale was in a way a symbol of the anonymity of people we meet in big cities.

The fear of the unknown, monsters and the going wrong of technology were all fantastic topics that were explored in mundane places. As technology entered the lives of people more and more and as the outside world stepped into the lives of people through radio, newspapers and magazines, artists and storytellers realized that one does not need to go to a land far away to meet with otherworldly creatures.



The Space Age

In the 1960s, after a period of disaster and then a decade of recovery, people started looking outside the planet for fantasy-based stories. As the space race was underway and the first men landed on the moon, space became “the final frontier”. Series such as “Star Trek” and films like “Star Wars”, Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” were all sci-fi stories that took place in other galaxies, in space ships and so on.



Home-grown Fantasy

The topic of human exploration of outer space changed during the 1980s and 90s and went in reverse, as more and more stories about extraterrestrials exploring our world started to appear. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” released in 1982 and directed by Steven Spielberg is a great example of how aliens entered our homes and how the quotidian life became again a place for the meeting between humans and extraterrestrials. Launched in 1993, “The X Files” was a series that continued that trend.

After 2000, however, while the home was still at the center of most media productions and stories, the focus shifted from aliens and advanced technologies to fantasy worlds where technology was almost lacking. This was most likely a reaction to the spread of technology in daily life. The combination of these two elements: the home and other daily environments and a world of fantasy, but barely any technology has given birth to stories such as the “Harry Potter” and the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, which all start out in the quotidian world, but soon move to an undefined place, to which once can arrive with the help of everyday elements – Harry Potter enters a wall to find his train and the gate to Narnia is in a closet.

The concept of the undefined fantasy place was also a big trend during the 2000s. The fact that storytellers realized that placing a film in a certain time and space would make it subject to revisionist histories, politics and accuracy criticism; as well as because things were changing so rapidly in the decade and technology was advancing so quickly that “futuristic technology” could have been redundant in a few years, many films of the 2000s take place in spaces that, while they may be defined, are generally lacking a relation to the world of planet Earth. “The Lord of the Rings” series and the “Golden Compass” movies are great examples of how this concept is expressed.



The Mind

Around 2010, the mind started more and more to become the last frontier. After this year, more and more fantasy and sci-fi movies started to appear that took place inside thoughts and imagination. “Inception” directed by Christopher Nolan, which was launched in 2010 was the stepping stone for this motif, which has been processed even in indie cinema, in films such as the 2014 production “Comet”, starring Justin Long, in which the characters go back and forth between different, alternative universes.




While it is hard to predict cultural trends, we can go on a limb and make a forecast for the years to come. It is highly probable that in the near future, the fantasy worlds will take the shape of robotics. As technology becomes more and more embedded in our bodies and lives, we are likely to see an increase in films and cultural products that deal with robotic worlds or, more likely a mixture of robotics and the mind. The 2009 film “Avatar” is probably the foregoer of what is next. Sci-fi worlds will discuss the concept of using technology to overcome the world itself, to exist in other worlds and have more and different abilities than you would regularly have. Technology and humans will go hand in hand. In other words, they are somehow derived or based on the concept of transhumanism, which wants to overcome the human state through technology. Space and time won’t matter anymore – people can go from one dimension to another with the help of technology and maybe even be different creatures in those worlds.


Worlds of fantasy are embedded in the human mind, because they fulfill a very important need. They are an expression of our imagination, but more than that, of our inexplicable experiences. They give shape not only to the things we see and think, but to the things we cannot think of. They tell stories that cannot be grasped with the means of the ordinary world and calm our anxieties about the unknown. Therefore, analyzing and understanding them is essential for the understanding of the human mind and generally of the human experience.