Ok, my not so amazing prediction: “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” will not be nominated for any academy awards next year. The new Oz comes out just over 11 and under 12 months after The Hunger Games (premiered March 23 2012) which is its ideological opposite: Hunger Games is a movie of the people against the government crowds are shown, but closeups of faces in the crowd are not cartoon snapshots of stereotypes—in the new Oz, all the common people are cartoon snapshots).
Oz is a movie which not only glorifies but presumes that monarchical government and autocracy, a government of “Archons” is both natural and essential. In Oz: the Great and Powerful, we see only the cartoonish choice between good dictators/kings and bad dictators/kings (reminiscent of the 1939 Glinda’s question to Dorothy: “are you a good witch or a bad witch?”)
“Oz, the Great and Powerful,” may neither be certainly a great or powerful cinematic event, but it is not a bad movie. It is more than worth seeing and thinking about. As a statement of political power mythology, it is closest (but superior both as a movie and as a dramatic contribution to mythic evolution) to “Batman, Dark Knight Rises”.
As a Disney Production and product of the Magic Kingdom, Oz finds pro-monarchist, elitist ideological common ground with The Lion King (June 15, 1994). But whereas world of Simba and Mufassa was elegantly pure Dumézilian structuralist mythology in support of the absolute monarchy of the lions, Oz merely celebrates Bush-Cheney-Obama low-brow dictatorship by deceit.
Fair to say I enjoyed Oz: the Great and Powerful more than I thought I would given the almost universally disappointed/disappointing reviews. It is true that the three witches are pretty much flat, two dimensional, and on the dull side even if they are more conventionally attractive than even Glinda was in the 1939 Classic and each is more beautiful possessing more sex appeal than Elphaba in “Wicked.” But Elphaba is a MUCH more interesting character, developed with oh so much more depth and dimensions.
“Wicked” has ten to a hundred times more lasting mythological power as a post-modern statement of relativism than anything in “Oz, the Great and Powerful.” But on the other hand, James Franco’s Oz is more realistic as a portrayal of conservative, monarchical values than Batman or Bruce Wayne was in the last installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy. Oscar Diggs is not exactly Scar from the Lion King either. He is really closest to any of the past four U.S. Presidents Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama. His personality comes nowhere close to as engaging as Ronald Reagan or as articulate and humble as Carter.
There are really only three ways to portray political power in a story: (1) as natural and necessary—so that the struggle is between good and bad “rulers”, (2) unnatural and not only unnecessary but oppressive and therefore evil—so that the struggle is between the people and the power structure, and (3) natural or at least “a given” —“always with us” (kind of like “the poor”) but essentially trivial and irrelevant.
Movies of the third type used to be fairly common in the American cinematic repertoire, but they have all but vanished in modern times. The third type of movie was the “heroes ride off into the sunset” variety of “Western” or “rugged individualist” myth embodied and exemplified seriously as in (1) Casablanca, (2) High Noon, and (3) The African Queen or comically as in (4) Cat Ballou.
Recent years have seen Hunger Games and Serenity in the “Government is the Enemy” category pitted against Batman: Dark Knight and now Oz: the Great and Powerful. Oz and Batman presume the paradoxical necessity of autocratic rule in society, with “Good” Autocrats guaranteeing “Freedom & Justice” while “Bad” Autocrats are just like the Good Autocrats only “Bad.” Television series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”, “Angel”, and “Dexter” tend to vacillate between “Government as the Enemy” and “Government is always there but Irrelevant.”
In “Oz: the Great and Powerful”, we see a very specific “real world” dramatic retelling of the story of the disembodied leader becoming more powerful after death, as an Icon and a Myth, than he ever could have been as an earthly individual. The Character of the Wizard Oscar Diggs is not even “intriguingly” Banal and Ordinary. He is really kind of uninspiringly banal and ordinary—much like the real life Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Like George W. Bush, Diggs is a master of illusion and deceit, and that is his primary qualification as a leader. Like Clinton, Oscar Diggs’ “Oz” is attractive to the ladies and that makes the movie at least somewhat pleasant to watch. But as with last year’s somewhat deadly dud “Dark Shadows” with Johnny Depp, stories involving beautiful but jealous witches are really so awfully unoriginal as to be boring—and I’ve not only watched too many I’ve lived the story in real life just several too many times….ahem, but I digress…
Unlike the stories of both Dorothy Gale (or her as yet cinematically almost unknown friend and colleague in adventure in most of L. Frank Baum’s later stories, “Ozma”) and Elphaba, there is hardly a hint of feminism or “girl power” in any of the three witches. (No “Buffy” or “Willow” or even “Anya” on the scenes of this Oz). Even Glinda (Michelle Williams) is at best a kind of exquisitely delicate, weak, very pretty and attractive but only marginally talented “second rate” witch outshown and outperformed by Oz’ mechanical illusions which ultimately succeed in vanquishing and exiling the evil sisters to the East and West of the Emerald City. [It made sense to see Oz on St. Patrick’s Day weekend since Oz, like Ireland and Ancient Maya Yucatán, is a magic land divided into four color-coded cardinal direction (NSEW) quarters of the world with Green at the Center—the Emerald City = the Yaxché at the Center of the Maya universe and Tara at the cosmic and ritual center of the Emerald Isle itself].
[The beautiful witch who turns green and ugly (the future W.W. West, Mila Kunis) reminds me ever so much of my own former wife Elena K….. beautiful and ambitious in the beginning, looked really good in red, but ultimately deadly and green for all the wrong reasons (Elphaba was green for “good” reasons).]
What are interesting from the standpoint of mythic deconstruction in “Oz, the Great and Powerful” are Oz’ assertions that he is more powerful as a disembodied image than as a man, that illusion is more powerful than reality. This IS a valid post-modern deconstruction of the American Presidency, and of Institutional “Corporate” government and economy in general.
Does the generalization apply to the life of Julius Caesar, or merely to the post-mortem TITLE of Caesar, which endured for a thousand years as the Supreme Emblem of “Imperial” Authority in the non-Latin monarchs (Kaisers & Tsars) of Germany, Austria, and Russia?
A certain kind of post-modern deconstructionalist will tell you that Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar both planned their deaths for the purpose of Apotheosis and Institutionalization of Power. This is exactly what Oscar Diggs does in “Oz: the Great and Powerful.”
Power by deception and illusion is the political science of Machiavelli’s Il Principe and Cardinal Richelieu’s dictum “to dissemble is to rule” as well as the apparent embodiment of the theory underlying American foreign policy probably since the sinking of the Battleship Maine. Power by deception and illusion is a very anti-democratic theory of the origin and nature of power, totally opposed to the Katniss Everdeen or Buffy Summers schools of “Divine Kingship through Combat and Sacrifice.” Katniss and Buffy were both pitted against dictatorships built on bloody lies and concealment of the truth, as were the “Wild West” type heroes on the Crew of “Serenity” (paired with Buffy and Angel, also by Joss Whedon). As I have been writing for more than ten years, Buffy Summers’ death in Season Five of her series was a classic “Golden Bough” moment, though after Buffy’s resurrection in Season Six she was not quite “divine” after all. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in Hunger Games together played the game of the Rex Nemorensis in Diana’s Wood at Aricia very well as a team (a wonderful team unprecedented in history or myth).
Essentially, the lesson we should learn from “Oz: the Great and Powerful” is that all institutional (aka “Corporate” = permanent but impersonal, perpetual) government originates in and works best when founded on lies. In this political theory, lies and falsehood and illusion are sources of strength, and the secrets must be kept by those in the “inner circle” of government, even by China Dolls….(a reference to the “Dainty China Doll” in L. Frank Baum’s original book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which did not make it into the 1939 Judy Garland “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” musical movie).
Batman: Dark Knight surely reflects the same ideology, but never states it quite so bluntly. So Oz now joins with certain deconstructionist interpretations of the lives of Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy…. in articulation the rule by deception explanation of the origin and nature of political power. I can only pray for the ultimate triumph of the poor man’s “Divine Kingship” model of weak government, an essentially anarchical theory of government as a model of or metaphor for nature red in tooth and claw…. wherein the King (or Queen) is normally only a symbol of nature rather than an actual wielder of power.
In which connexion, long live Buffy Summer & Katniss Everdeen.