Reviews: Alice

An experience, not a story

I first heard about this surreal movie when reading about the Silent Hill games a decade ago. Among the movies the developers listed as inspiration for the series included Jacob's Ladder (think of the rapidly shaking heads) and this one. I ended up watching both.

Alice is slow-paced and will bore many people to tears. But I managed to enjoy it. The story, if you can call it that, is simply that Alice enters a messed-up "Wonderland" and then... stuff happens. There's almost no dialog and literally one human character in the whole thing. Alice eats a cookie or drinks ink and changes size, Alice encounters a sock-puppet caterpillar, etc. It's not a plot, just stuff that happens.

Mostly, it's menacing things that happen: Alice's hand is cut by the White Rabbit (why does she keep chasing him and trying to get his attention?), Alice is trapped inside a doll, Alice picks up a breadstick only for nails to pop out of it and make it inedible, and dishes are thrown at Alice that break on contact (good thing they're tiny). Everything wants to either hurt or kill Alice. There's also a lot of dark imagery, as "Wonderland" feels more like a surrealist ghetto, with lots of darkness and worn-out things. I can see where this film influenced Silent Hill.

And what's more, it all happens in realtime. Other than one moment where Alice cries and her tears fill and flood the whole room, using what appears to be a cutaway to speed it up, the entire movie proceeds at the exact speed at which everything is happening in the story. Alice's journey is about 80 minutes long, the same length as ours.

While Alice is portrayed by a real human (except when she's in doll form), everything else uses either stopmotion animation or is animated by a hand held just offscreen. Any time a character talks, it uses Alice's voice, followed by a close-up of Alice's mouth narrating along the lines of "Said the White Rabbit".

It can be dismissed as "pretentious arthouse garbage" pretty easily and pretty understandably. The slow pace of the proceedings, trippy style, and endless close-ups of Alice's mouth as she narrates will turn off almost any normal human being. But I'm not a normal human being. I enjoyed the experience.

Said the reviewer, wearily.

Dark Wonderland

I found this film to be one of the most fascinating and beautifully made adaptations of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece: While the Disney version captured perfectly well the humor, joy and lighthearted elements of the "Alice in Wonderland" books, this movie does a great work portraying in a very original manner the other side of the same story, showing how dark and twisted it could be…And yet, this is strangely faithful to the original story (Well, at least to a certain point)

The result, in my opinion, was fairly impressive, being one of the best and most memorable works of Jan Švankmajer, combining perfectly well stop-motion animation with live-action, while at the same time it includes many of the recurring motifs in the rest of the movies and shorts directed by this Czech filmmaker.

I would recommend this movie to any viewer who wasn't completely satisfied by the Disney version of this same story, since "Alice" is able to show the dark and mature side of what is often considered just an ordinary fairy tale, despite being much more complex than that.