Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

The freak-out is what happens when we slam into the unknown, the unknown both brought about through the sudden changes that technology brings to our interface with the world as well as the unknown within ourselves. The freak-out is very often a journey. Such is the freak-out scene in the 1971 film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In the film, lower class Charlie Buckets is one of five golden ticket winners. The golden ticket that he has found inside a Wonka Chocolate bar is his invitation to join four upper-middle class children, fellow ticket-holders, on a tour of the mysterious chocolate factory owned by inventor and chocolateur Willie Wonka (Gene Wilder). The factory explorers are led by Wonka into a world not unlike that behind Lewis Carrol's looking glass, but one much more moralistic and vengeful on children who display inappropriate behavior. The other four ticket-holders are forced to leave the tour to attone for their sins of gluttony, gum-chewing, brattiness and overconsumption of television.

With four children and their respective guardians still on the tour, Wonka leads the group onto a boat that will take them down a river of chocolate, the river that mixes the chocolate for his candy bars. The boat heads into a tunnel and strange things occur. Violet Beaureguard, the gum-chewer, comments soon after the boat enters the tunnel, "Is this a freak-out?" displaying her familiarity with the genre, and adding to the film's witty tendency of commenting upon itself.

This freak-out journey involves children; it gives the generation that would ultimately reject the freakout a chance to experience it. We see images out of a light show projected behind a boat that the characters explain is moving very fast tho we see little movement. We see huge closeups of small animals; birds with beaks large enough to peck off our heads. We see streaks of light behind it that might indicate movement, but the boat is lacking any kind of rocking that might index delirious fast movement. This is perhaps at the heart of the freakout: the dichotomy between two opposites, in this case, movement and stasis. We are going somewhere, and we feel we are in our minds, but the only things that really seems to be moving are the media images behind us and time, which always moves forward. Perhaps this is something that can only be understood in a certain time in history, at the time that would accept the possibility of the freakout. This movement forward is something that comes with much more difficulty today. The space exploration that seemed to be leading us to new planes of existence by the year 2001 has turned into just another commercial venture, a space shuttle that is a glorified delivery van and astronauts who are just truckers of the atmosphere. Real progress demands a realignment of the neurons of the brain. This is part of the role of the freakout: an exposure to something that we do not understand -- and not just an exposure but an immersion. This immersion may only mean scattered things to us at the moment but thru time we may come to understand it.

Willie Wonka was one of those movies that I saw when I was fairly young but that stayed with me quite strongly, coloring how I would look at things for a long time, probably for the rest of my life. The film was set in a kind of Euro-international every-village, one of red slate roofs and closely packed houses and slanted streets with shops and constant activity and newstands, a polar opposite of the small dusty town in Wyoming where I was living. It was a place that I wanted to be, a place that seemed warmer than the spread-out town of oil-paved streets and treeless distance where I found myself. The film, altho less than 90 minutes in length, passed like an eternity, and the freakout scene, which does not stand out in my mind more than any other scene in the film, was just a drop in that eternal bucket. The entire film was, in a way, a freakout. Here we had a completely different way of living, a traditional tightly-packed village rather than the spawling suburban-like small town where I lived. There was a giant factory surrounded by a tall iron fence and vast industrial interiors with ceilings and windows of great glass panes. The sad poverty of Charlie Buckets, whose four grandparents lived together in one small bed, constrasted to the great wealth of fellow golden ticket winner Veruca Salt, whose father gave her everything that she wanted, and "everything" was exactly what she wanted.

Perhaps one of the greatest freakouts of the film was the freakout of recognition. One of the golden ticket winners, Violet Beauregard, was from Miles City Montana, which was maybe only 200 miles or so from where I lived, which in the American West is like just down the block. Hearing the words "Miles City" from the huge authority of the movie screen was something of a miracle, one of the first few signs that we did indeed share the same world that the world of movies was representing. There was a Miles City in the world of the Willie Wonka movie, there was a Montana, so one would assume that even in the world of Willie Wonka there would be a Wyoming nearby, and maybe even a Powell, Wyoming somewhere in the corner of an eye. This was the freakout of suddenly realizing that you were noticed, that someone is looking at you, and maybe a little feeling of embarrassment for they are able to see you as you are, or are able to see you in relation to what they are.

Wil Shepa incorporates the notion of the Freak Out in a page from his web site. Click on the Violet Beauregard image to get there.

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This page last revised 4 March 2002