Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – Charlie is a lesson for us all

I watched the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory today. This is one of my all time favourite movies and Gene Wilder’s recent death had brought it to mind.

The movie is based on the 1964 book by Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and was remade in 2005 with Johnny Dep playing Willy Wonka. I’ve always wondered why film-makers have never made a film of the sequel published in 1972 – Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. As a child, I loved both books.

When I was being recruited from England I had to give a formal presentation about my research at a number of universities that were interested in hiring me, across North America. Like many of my formal talks, I used a theme to bring seemingly disparate areas of interest together. In this case, I actually used Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as my theme. As this is what resulted in my being recruited by the University of British Columbia, back in 2003, and immigrating to Canada it has a lot of good memories associated with it.

Roald Dahl’s work has always intrigued me. His stories are often fantastical yet ultimately have a moral message running throughout. In Willy Wonka of course, Wonka is looking for an honest child to take over the factory from him. Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all too self-centred and greedy and initially it looks like Charlie messed up too. He did steal the fizzy lifting drink after all. However, when he gives back the everlasting gobstopper, even after feeling hurt by Wonka he shows his innate integrity.

I really like the fact that Charlie wasn’t perfect. He and Grandpa Joe did drink some of the fizzy lifting drink. However, when Wonka confronted them about it Charlie didn’t lie, he didn’t make excuses or blame his Grandpa he just accepted that he had done wrong and been caught. He then showed remorse and his true character by handing back the gobstopper even though he knew that it was potentially worth $10,000 to him which would have fed and taken care of his family for a very long time.

I think that there is a really important lesson in there for all of us.

We don’t have to be perfect.

We can mess up.

But when we do, how we deal with it shows our true character and integrity.

It would have been nice if Charlie had owned up himself before Wonka made it clear that he knew what they’d done.

However, I really do love the way that he acted when Wonka told him that he knew what he had done, and was angry with him. Especially, as Grandpa Joe is all about revenge and getting back at Wonka.

Despite the fact that he clearly broke the rules Grandpa Joe is mad that Wonka has gone back on his word to give Charlie a life time’s supply of chocolate.

I wonder how much of that anger is due to Grandpa Joe being cross with himself for setting such a bad example? Or whether he’d have been as mad if it wasn’t Charlie that he thought was being hurt as a consequence.

Is it easier to be angry on behalf of other people? Or for ourselves?

Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all clearly warned by Willy Wonka not to eat from the chocolate river, not to take a golden goose, not to eat the gum, and not to try being transported by TV themselves but they do these things anyway.

Now Wonka doesn’t exactly shout at them not to do these things.

He says it quietly but still very clearly.

Isn’t that rather like our conscience?

Often it isn’t the loudest voice speaking but the quiet, calm one that reminds us of our own true north, our own values and how to act with integrity.

Sometimes the world feels rather like the Wonkavator, in that it’s hard to tell which way is up.

But the Wonkavator goes sideways, slantways, backways and frontways?
and any ways you can think of

It is then, I think, that it is most important of all to remember to listen for that calm, quiet voice and to act with honesty and integrity, just as Charlie demonstrates.

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