Alice Through the Looking Glass: Time Travel and Grief

Alice Kingsleigh is back – and it’s up to her to save Underland before it runs out of time. Due for a Philippine release this coming July 6, What’s a Geek got the great opportunity to attend a special screening of Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass last June 29 at SM Megamall. Read on for our contributor’s take on the film and its plot – beware though, Spoilers Ahoy!

Alice, as a character, is remarkable perhaps because of her capacity to “go down the rabbit hole” and face whatever challenges meet her. At first this complex might be fatal at best: are viewers in sight of a character too remarkably brave she has a death wish?

The rather obvious “time-travel-is-bad” setup aside, the film has a remarkable take on Alice’s stance concerning grief. Bobin effectively turns Underland and its citizens into elements of Alice’s psyche, transforming a young girl’s loss into the Hatter Tarrant Hightopp’s frustration surrounding the disappearance of his family.

Other members of Alice’s friends return more intact than ever, revealing a more “organized” Alice than in the first film, where her psyche struggled to reform because of unsettled differences (and the new changes that come with them) with parts of her life.

Alice Through the Looking Glass becomes both a window to a glaring part of Alice’s personality, and the conflict anyone may have with the concept of time and finality. When she refuses to give her father’s pocketwatch to Time – an entity who has a habit of organizing “pocketwatches” that represent every living person’s timeline – that refusal is a hint of denial; the first step to the act to letting go.

Where Alice’s curiosity and inclination to adventure captured the hearts of Lewis Carroll fans in the 2010 Tim Burton rendition, this time, Alice’s persistence to save the Hatter’s family – leading to the twist near the end – is reminiscent of the five stages of grief.


The Hatter: Change and the “Self” (Denial)

“You’re not my Alice,” is a recurring and memorable line in the film. It speaks of Alice’s hesitation to believe the Hatter’s story on his family – not because she has matured, but because she believes her grief is a part of her life she cannot let go.

Only when Alice decides to trust the Hatter’s speculation and tries solving its mystery regardless of whatever challenges she comes across with, does the Hatter acknowledge her existence. This is not because she is back to her adventurous self, but because this is the start of her willingness to recognize a new part of herself: letting go.

This is a reflection of the first film, where she is acknowledged as “the” Alice by the time she finds the courage to stand by her beliefs without succumbing to others’ expectations. Alice, like the viewers, can only become “themselves” when they realize that change is a part of life, and being stagnant will not help anyone grow at all.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) tries to decipher the mystery behind his family’s disappearance.

The Hatter, who is a representation of Alice’s curiosity, has become sick because Alice is becoming stagnant. Her desire to keep Underland as the place that reminds her of her father’s acceptance makes her stagnant, uncurious, and ungrowing. This unwillingness to grow forces her Hatter to wonder about what happened to his family, as if prompting Alice to explore what made her curiosity “sick” and make her life stagnant. It is only by uncovering the truth about the past and accepting it, that she can truly save Underland, “let go”, and finally grow once more.

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The Queens: Anger and Reconciliation (Anger)

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway return as the Red and White Queens (Iracebeth of Crims, Mirana of Marmoreal), the conflicted sister-rulers of the kingdom. The film finally explores the rift between the siblings and reconciles the rather dark story of sibling rivalry – one tart at a time.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

The rather childish nature of a sibling rivalry that extended through to their adulthood is hilarious to watch, but the anger that grew deep within the Red Queen is not something anyone could easily ignore. Unfortunately, her unwillingness to listen to others will only mean she has to find peace within herself on her own – much as Alice’s unwillingness to get treated in a psychiatric facility, because she is “not” crazy.

Deep inside, the Red Queen’s anger is also a reflection of her desire to be reconciled with the White Queen, as if one can only be truly angry if one is expecting something from the enemy. It is revealed that her goal is not domination, but to hear a certain phrase – similar to Alice’s goal to finally find herself, but the only way she knows how is to run away.

“Why did you lie?” she asks the White Queen, much to Mirana’s silence. Indeed, why is Alice lying to herself when she knows the real answer to how she could let go?


The Alice: “Destructive” healing (Bargaining)

People want to be Alice – to take risks and to gamble what they have for a prize, or to just “get on with things” and do them. This is a remarkable reflection of a real, “sane” person’s contradicting line of thought, where the fear of falling is always blocking the desire to fly. This is also a reflection of man’s subconscious desire (or inclination) to adapt or change, but it also requires a certain degree of sacrifice – whether one realizes this or not.

Alice does not fear falling. She knows it’s bound to happen when you fly. Her unorthodox wisdom is something not everyone possesses. This is learned, which in turn helps us learn. It is only by taking that first step and getting hurt (or lost, in Alice’s case) can we truly find ourselves.

Herein lies Alice’s true weakness. It is not actually that she is too nice, and more that she is willing to risk destroying time itself for a chance to save the Hatter’s family. In her persistence to do so, Alice’s grief has turned her “uncurious” and the only way she knows how to solve this is what she does best – running, leaping and “saving” Underland.



Charles Kingsleigh: Grief and Letting Go (Depression)

Alice’s grief over her beloved father’s loss makes her willing to try out anything in order for others to not suffer the same fate. She believes that her own suffering can rid them of the opportunity to grief, because the Alice should be the only one to grieve. One could almost consider this reminiscent of survivor’s guilt, where one is convinced it is his or her fault that harm fell on someone else, and that it has become his or her personal mission to make sure no one else suffers a similar fate.

Alice’s entire journey to try and stop major events in Underland from happening to save the Hatter’s family is reminiscent of a particular speedster’s persistence to change a fixed point in time, and it ended remarkably bad for Alice and her friends.

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For every part of the past Alice tries to stop, she actually “helps” initiate – like the Grandfather Paradox. This made the film a bit of an A+ in the science geek department, and it is bolstered by Alice’s reaction which is priceless – if not precious. The best thing to look for during this part of the film is not Alice’s helpful nature, but her persistence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and the chronosphere travel back in time to figure out the Hatter’s past.

It was as if Alice was desperate to make everyone happy. This was her psyche’s last line of defense – Alice will do remarkably anything the “old Alice” would do. Her good-natured self would keep on helping everyone, but in doing so, jumpstarts every significant event as though everything was meant to happen after all. It takes several trips back further in time before she finally realizes the truth. In a way, this is similar to how a grieving individual reaches the deepest trenches of his personality to get a taste of his darkest moment, only to realize that the light is not too far away. And like the grieving fellow, Alice just refuses to see it, but the answers are always there.

“You can’t change the past,” Time tells Alice from the start. The past, after all, is there for you to learn from.


Father Time: “Change” and the Self (Acceptance)

Time’s presumed destruction was not an ultimate lesson on “not messing up the timeline.” Instead, it tells Alice that no matter what she does, she cannot undo her father’s death. No amount of mementos – houses or ships or clothes – will transmogrify back into her father. It is only through accepting that he is gone, that Alice can learn to move on.

Alice’s entire endeavor to save Underland is Time’s attempt to tell Alice that she can become the “old” Alice all she wants, but she will not honor her father that way. Her father would be more than happy to see her change for the better, for his absence to have meaning.

Alice learns how to save Underland by learning from the younger versions of her friends as she travels with the Chronosphere – by going through the past. It is because of this that she finally starts to acknowledge her desire to change, which prompts all to begin to crumble. It is in her final test – Underland’s potential destruction – that Alice must prove to herself that she can truly change.

This is why Alice understood the significance of going home – not because she has matured, but because she has finally let go of her father and in doing so, it may be time to shut down the doors to Underland for eternity.

In the end, that is what paradoxes are all about. Learning is not about knowing where to change the past, but knowing where to go from there.


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Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.
Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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