A particularly tasty contribution from Matthew Linder, a blogger over at The Retuned:
I knew very well that only the night before this preacher had shown neither Forgiveness nor Mercy in flogging some small boy who had broken the rules. ― Roald Dahl, Boy: Tales of Childhood
You see, nobody ever goes in… and nobody ever comes out. — A Tinker outside the Wonka factory
In the final scene of the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie, his Grandfather and Wonka fly over the factory as Charlie becomes the candy mogul’s successor. And like any fairytale, it ends with:
Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.
But is this really happily ever after for Charlie? The journey up to this moment was fraught with difficulty, as Charlie and four other children traversed a candy-laden world filled with the curses and blessings of on eccentric candy man. Unbeknownst to the children, Wonka is able to dole out the rewards or punishments because of the contract that each of the children signed at the beginning of their journey together. So these blessings and curses (to be honest, mostly curses) are not dispensed randomly or erratically by Wonka but are rooted in an agreement, a covenant if you will, that the children made with Wonka.
In WonkaMania: The Search for Your Golden Ticket, Kris Rasmussen comes to a similar conclusion about law operating Wonka’s factory: “…the story is, in fact, an imaginative moral fable. Goodness and kindness are rewarded in the end. Greed, decadence, selfishness are not rewarded. We all want to behave more like Charlie, when we are at the same time all too aware of the fact that we really behave more like Veruca or Violet.” A world of straight law, within the construct of blessings and curses.
Though, what the children are first exposed to as they enter the factory is not a curse but an Eden-like paradise of chocolate. Wonka leads them into paradise singing a song of freedom, with wide musical spaces capturing the awe of living out every child’s dream—access to an unlimited supply of candy.
The world of my creation
What we’ll see
Will defy explanation
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it
There is no
Life I know
To compare with
You’ll be free
If you truly wish to be
Then it happens, Augustus Gloop ruins paradise for everyone. Drinking greedily from the most vital part of the factory (the chocolate river) Gloop incurs Wonka’s wrath and is swiftly booted out. Hastily, Wonka then forces the rest of the children out of the heart of paradise, onto a boat and moves them deeper into the factory. As the children and adults freak out on the psychedelic boat ride, Wonka creepily sings about how their adventure together is now filled with darkness, death and hell. Fitting words for what is in store for the children as they exit Wonka’s chocolate Eden.
Round the world and home again
That’s the sailor’s way
Faster faster, faster faster
There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing
Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing
Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing
Now east of paradise, a narrative begins to emerge: If you follow Wonka’s law, then all will go well with you. If you disobey, then you are cut off from the factory (see parallels to Lev. 26:3-4 and 14-16). Creator of the film and book, Roald Dahl, learned this truth about law as a young boy, possibly helping frame his understanding of Willy Wonka and his factory:
He was an ordinary clergyman at that time as well as being Headmaster, and I would sit in the dim light of the school chapel and listen to him preaching about the Lamb of God and about Mercy and Forgiveness and all the rest of it and my young mind would become totally confused. I knew very well that only the night before this preacher had shown neither Forgiveness nor Mercy in flogging some small boy who had broken the rules… It was all this, I think, that made me begin to have doubts about religion and even about God. If this person, I kept telling myself, was one of God’s chosen salesmen on earth, then there must be something very wrong about the whole business. ― Roald Dahl, “Boy: Tales of Childhood”
Wonka acts similarly to Dahl’s former Headmaster, condemning Augustus for his transgression and eventually, all the children. This is a world devoid of a mercy and grace (see 1 Tim. 1:8-10 for law as condemnation). In turn, each child receives their due curse in equal portion to their sin (see parallel to Gal. 3:10). Augustus, obsessed with chocolate, becomes part of the chocolate making process. Violet, the never-ceasing gum chewer, becomes one of the ingredients of gum herself. Bratty and self-centered Veruca Salt ends up in the incinerator after being labeled by a scale as a “bad egg”. Avid TV watcher Mike Teavee is split into a million pixels only to be reformed as a miniature TV version of himself.
After each curse is given, Willy Wonka’s trusty aides the Oompa Loompas appear and recount the child’s offense through song. They pronounce Wonka’s judgment on the child, pointing them toward the correct moral behavior before proclaiming that “you will live in happiness too” if you follow the law that even the Oompa Loompas are bound to. The weight and burden Wonka’s law on these children is highlighted by the lowering of key and slowing tempo in each presentation of the song.
But what about righteous and innocent Charlie? The Oompa Loompas sing no song about him. Charlie commits his sin in secret (consuming Fizzy Lifting Drinks) and thought Wonka was not privy to that knowledge. Though, when Charlie does not receive his free chocolate at the end of the tour, his Grandpa inquires about the injustice only to incur Wonka’s wrath. Charlie broke Wonka’s covenant of law and Wonka angrily pronounces his judgment, as he reads from the contract (which Charlie agreed to): “It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! [Under section 37B of the contract] You stole fizzy lifting drinks! You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be washed and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!”
After receiving his curse, Charlie then does something unexpected. He places his Everlasting Gobstopper (the candy Wonka competitor Slugworth asked each child to bring to him in exchange for $10,000—money Charlie and his family could really use) on Wonka’s desk. This righteous act by Charlie allows him to be blessed by Wonka, who then quotes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” With this one act, Charlie is overwhelemed with rewards, winning the promised chocolate, inheriting a kingdom of candy and escaping the condemning world of the factory. Glorious gifts only obtained through a righteous deed and not freely given. As noted by This Recording editor, Alex Carnevale, “The hope that Wonka himself offers is also desolate – like James Trotter [from Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach], his happiness consists of escape from a hateful and confusing world.”
In the end, the candy man “who makes the world taste good” only leaves the children (even Charlie) with the bitter taste of condemnation by the law. Perhaps if Dahl had experienced mercy and forgiveness from his Headmaster as a young boy, then the narrative of covenantal law would have also included mercy and forgiveness, abundantly given, even to the most undeserving child. The Oompa Loompas instead might have sung a more gracious song:
If you are wise you’ll listen to me. You will live in joyfulness too. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4)
Wonka hoped that with his law the children would leave his factory “a little bit wiser for the wear” but an undeserved righteousness bestowed on them, would have far exceed the glory of the law which condemns (1 Corinth. 3:9). Only then would all the children have enjoyed the contentment and joy that Wonka thinks he has provided Charlie in the end.