The story that inspired us was Oz the Great andPowerful.
I (Josiah) have always had a soft spot for the world of Oz; the first book I ever read (aside from those dreadful elementary readers) was The WonderfulWizard of Oz. I also love to see artists take established worlds and reimagine them. You can imagine my delight, then, when I saw the teaser for Oz the Great and Powerful this past autumn. I expected wonderful things, and, happily, I was not disappointed.
Oz unapologetically acts as a prequel to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, making several delightful references to the classic film. The focus of Oz, however, is on the titular wizard. This man, as we meet him in the film’s black-and-white opening sequence, is a self-centered charlatan, ladies’ man, and con-artist—hardly the makings of the wonderful wizard. But when a cyclone transports him to the magical Land of Oz, the carnival magician is expected to fulfill a prophesy by killing a wicked witch and restoring balance to a kingdom.
Near the start of the film, Oz explains “I don’t want to be a good man… I want to be a great man!” Oz wants to forge a legacy, not to simply do his duty. Despite his ambition, however, Oz is not a great man; he is merely a selfish one. This tension between the man Oz is, the man Oz wants to be, and the man Oz ought to be, represents the heart of the film.
In our generation, many of us aspire to become great men and women. Heck, I (Jeremiah) want to be a great man. But goodness is often seen as a hindrance to greatness. Look at Hollywood; look at Washington DC; look at New York City: movie stars, politicians, and business executives all seem eager to sacrifice their goodness on the altar of their ambitions.
Like many of us, Oz fights most of his battles against his own faulty character—no outside power conspires to corrupt him. And as the shortcomings in Oz’s character continue to exhibit themselves, it becomes painfully clear that Oz can never be the savior and ruler of the land that bears his name.
Flawed heroes are a staple of modern fiction because audiences can identify with internal struggles. But, typically, a hero has one major flaw such as fear, or vengefulness, or pride. The wonderful wizard has many faults, and he sees each of them as an impassible obstacle, preventing him from ever becoming a good man. It’s not that some fault inhibits Oz’s inner heroism; it’s that, in his despair, he doesn’t want to be a hero at all.
Oz is not the sort of movie in which the arrival in the magical land completely changes the perspective of the protagonist. The moment he dismounts his balloon, Oz finds occasion to exercise his roguish tendencies. He soon ascertains an opportunity to win the greatness he so covets: if he can convince the inhabitants of Oz that he is the wizard foretold in their prophesy, then immense power, riches, and prestige will belong to him. The selfish man in Oz grasps at the great man Oz would be.
Oz demonstrates that the would-be-wizard’s self-absorption does nothing but multiply the kingdom’s problems; the selfish Oz is not good enough to save the realm. The question Oz asks is “Can such a thoroughly flawed man become a leader for the forces of good?”
The movie’s answer is consistent with what we know as Christians: Christ can transform the worst of who we are into something that is good and beautiful. When Oz surrenders his selfish ambition, he learns that, despite his weaknesses, he can be used for good.
At one crucial point, the good witch tells Oz: “If you can make them believe, then you’re wizard enough.” And, they do believe: a porcelain girl, a good witch, a flying monkey—these and other characters believe that Oz, despite his faults, can become the wizard of prophesy. Their faith ultimately helps Oz to let go of his own ambition. By valuing Oz above his worth, the wizard’s supporters help to turn their belief into reality.
Heroes aren’t examples of perfection; they are people who face their own imperfections and emerge victorious. Heroes needn’t be flawless, only willing. Oz reminds us that we shouldn’t wait until we’ve achieved personal perfection before we reach out to others.
Oz does become a great man, but not by seeking that status. As long as he pursues greatness, Oz is left with only hollow ambition. But when he allows himself to be used for the good of others—when he seeks to become a good man—then Oz becomes a great man as well.
Other aspects of Oz don’t disappoint. The eye-candy is delightful, especially with the use of 3-D. The film effectively utilizes 3-D effects that are stunning, but not distracting. The slightly-convoluted plot wins no awards, but the nuanced character development and phenomenal acting more than compensates. James Franco plays the sleazy wizard convincingly, and both Rachel Weisz (Evanora) and Joey King (the porcelain girl) deliver breathtaking performances. These elements combine to create a charming world that communicates a meaningful truth.
In the film, Oz learns from the example of his hero, Thomas Edison, that seemingly worthless materials can be combined to create something truly magical. We learn from Oz’s story that our messy lives can be shaped into something equally magical.
This review was written by Jeremiah Lorrig and Josiah Duran and originally published on Looking for Overland: Young Evangelical's Speak. You can find more reviews, political, and cultural articles written by Jeremiah at YEspeak.org, or eccentric philosophical ramblings and short stories by Josiah at Dark and Brite.