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Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its Successful Use of LGBTQ+ Ideas

‘I’ll Decide Where It Goes From Here.’ 

Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, despite being made over ten years ago, contains contemporary depictions of gender. Whilst Burton is globally recognised for his stylised Gothicism (women in lace-up corsets not at all going amiss in his movies), ‘Alice in Wonderland’ subverts ideas of costume, gender, and performance, making for a refreshing watch— all with an accessible PG rating.

Alice Chases her Identity with Costume

The character of Alice is played brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska. Alice begins as a semi-defiant young woman with an avid imagination that has found herself being pushed into an arranged marriage. When she enters ‘Underland’, her identity as ‘The Alice’ is instantly thrown into flux. Throughout the film, Alice wears a spectacular array of dresses and costumes, magnificently designed by Colleen Atwood. She chases her identity with each costume, and eventually gains the title ‘Almost Alice’. The Hatter observes how she’s changed during her absence from ‘Underland’, famously saying: ‘You need to be much more. . .muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.’ 

Appearance and Self Expression

Many of the colourful characters in the film have their personal attributes emphasised over their traditional genders; such as ‘Mallymkun’, the brave dormouse (Barbra Windsor), or Absalom, the wise caterpillar (voiced luxuriously by Alan Rickman). Especially The Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp), ‘he/him’ pronouns aren’t commonly used. Instead, characters use ‘Hatter’ to reference The Hatter, which fit the character spectacularly. Similarly to (although not as obviously) as Alice, The Hatter experiences a series of changes in appearance: the makeup darkens and morphs to express The Hatter’s mood and mental state on-screen. It seems internal, personal journey is at the centre of this visually fascinating tale.

After Alice slays the Jabberwocky (proving herself to be ‘The Alice’), she returns to the real-world. In the final sequences of the film, she wears a stunning riding jacket and necktie. The outfit is fashionably ambiguous, fitting with Alice’s unique mix of masculine and feminine qualities. The colours (light, tranquil blues) are reminiscent of Absalom; this indicates to us that Alice’s metamorphosis is only just beginning.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ in the LGBTQ+ Context

The LGBTQ+ Community stands for expression of sexuality and gender, to educate, and to make a safe, supportive space for its members. Similarly, this film prioritises expression of emotion, gender (or genderlessness), and encourages the expression of personal identity. At one point, Wasikowska delivers the line:

“From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I’ve been told where I must go and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. I’ve been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice, but this is my dream. I’ll decide where it goes from here.”

The principals of freedom, expression and acceptance are at the core of many Burton films. His motion pictures remind us time and time again: Nobody should have their identity robbed and we should all do our best to maintain our muchness.

Which Tim Burton is movie your favourite? Which is the most personally poignant to you? What kind of representation would you like to see in more movies?
Let us know in the comments!

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