Few films exist that are as universally beloved as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. The songs are fun, the sets are colourful and the food looked so damned delicious that we wanted to be the ones trapped in a single, middle-aged man’s sinister factory.
But I had several questions and, in the process of answering them, came to love the story even more while probably ruining it for the rest of you. Let me explain.
The first question is ‘Why’? We’re told that Mr Wonka wants to pass on the chocolaty goodness of his legacy but that doesn’t really make sense. He’s already created the everlasting gobstopper and ice cream that never melts, so people will be eating his candy right up until doomsday. And a child? Really? When I was twelve I wasn’t qualified to look after a goldfish, never mind a company and thousands of indentured orange servants. For someone who has, objectively, run the most successful chocolate company in his universe, Willy is making some terrible business decisions.
The selection process shows no reasoning either. Five golden tickets were sent out and the children that find those five tickets will undergo a cotton-candy flavoured Battle Royale for the rights to Wonka’s factory. Only that’s impossible. Kids have little-or-no money, meaning they have little-or-no chance of ever finding the tickets. Even if adults were exempt from playing, there’s no guarantee that the tickets wouldn’t sit in some unopened, forgotten box of chocolates forever and even if by some miracle everything went perfectly to plan, Charlie still cheated. He lost. By all rights, none of the children should have won the factory, making the whole thing pointless.
So there has to be something else. Either Wonka chose those children or, for some reason, those children were chosen for him. And what’s that reason?
They’re all sinners.
That is to say, they are sins incarnate. The children were dead before they entered the purgatorial chocolate factory. The real test is to see if any child is worthy of everlasting happiness and, in a child’s eyes, a chocolate factory has got to be pretty close.
Let’s take a look at the seven deadly sins. Some are easy to match up; Augustus Gloop, the overweight German child, is clearly Gluttony, who falls into a literal river of chocolate because he’s eating too much. Veruca Salt is Greed, who demanded a trained squirrel/Golden Goose (depending on the version) at any price. Sloth would be Mike Teevee, who spends all day sat in front of his television and Envy is Violet Beauregarde, who hates to lose any competition.
But what about the others? Well, for the final sins we can look to the ‘Lost Chapters’ of Willy Wonka, deemed too wild and inappropriate for younger audiences. A lot of characters changed names, sometimes two or three were amalgamated into one, but only two characters were cut completely.
Miranda Mary Piker was an aggressive, disobedient little girl. She nearly made it into the book, getting so close that Roald Dahl came up with a full song for her, ending when she was crushed into peanut brittle.
“Oh, Miranda Mary Piker,
How could anybody like her,
Such a rude and disobedient little kid,
So we said why don’t we fix her
In the Peanut-Brittle Mixer,
Then we’re sure to like her better than we did.
Soon this girl who was so vicious
Will have gotten quite delicious
And her parents will have surely understood
That instead of saying, ‘Miranda,
‘Oh the beast we cannot stand her!’
They’ll be saying, ‘Oh, how tasty and how good!'”
So we get three adjectives to describe little Miranda; Rude, disobedient and vicious, making her the likeliest candidate for the sin of Wrath. She’s the violent one, the little hellion who made people so miserable that her own parents couldn’t stand her.
Finally we have Pride. This one’s a little harder, as the only reference to Marvin Prune is hidden away in ‘The Missing Golden Ticket and Other Splendiferous Secrets’, a companion text to the original Dahl stories. Even then, in this tiny description, he is described as a ‘conceited little boy’, rounding off the list with a pre-pubescent narcissist.
But for anyone clever or obsessive enough to keep count, we’re a sin short.
See, Charlie loves chocolate. He papers his room with it’s wrappings. He scrimps and saves pennies to be able to feed his habit. When he finds money lying in the snow, instead of feeding his starving family he uses it to indulge in a few brief moments of sugary goodness. If you threw a spoon and a lighter into the mise en scene, it would be no different to Trainspotting. Lust is Charlie’s crime, even costing him the factory when he can’t help but imbibe the fizzy lifting drink that almost led to a fan-based decapitation.
But it’s okay, because Charlie is honest and returns the everlasting gobstopper. He ‘passed the test’ and is allowed into kid heaven, even though Charlie running a Chocolate Factory is a lot like a Meth-head running a Meth lab.
So what happened to all the other kids? We’re lead to assume (and even see, at the end of the Tim Burton version) that the other children are returned to the normal world, more or less unharmed. But that can’t be right. Once you’ve been in purgatory, which is so clearly what the chocolate factory is, you either go up or you go down. Those kids are all in hell now, burning.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of this theory is just how well it fits. Roald Dahl himself was agnostic and later, arguably, atheistic. His life was filled with the seemingly random death of loved ones, so it would be entirely understandable if his view of any God-like figure was fickle and competitive, balancing the scales on a game that didn’t make sense to begin with. After all, the children in these stories, the characters who represent the very essence of sin, aren’t to blame, their parents are. So is it possible that, just maybe, Dahl used his writing to show how his God punishes the blameless and ignores the wicked? A man who’s sister, father and daughter all died seemingly random and undeserved deaths? That’s why Charlie got to go to heaven, in spite of his faults. Because heaven is the only place an everlasting gobstopper could exist.