Hello to everyone out there in Blog Land, today I will be analyzing the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. There are many versions of The Wizard of Oz out there, but you’ve probably never seen them because the MGM version is the one that hogs all the attention. But older film versions of Baum’s Oz stories go as far back as 1910, some of these films made by Baum himself. I will also be talking a bit about Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978) which was a Motown version of The Wizard of Oz that’s rather interesting, it presents us with the idea that the Land of Oz is actually an alternate version of New York City, with the Emerald City being in Manhattan. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you do! Theres also a couple of new Oz films down the line, one of which is set to be directed by Sam Raimi and possibly starring Johnny Depp as Oz.
The thing with this post is that I will be talking about my own interpretation of these films from an anti-religious point of view. I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, many Christians have caught on to this way of interpreting the books and the films, and have even organized The Wizard of Oz book burnings (right next to the Harry Potter book burnings) and have even lobbied to get the books banned. Since I know that religion is a touchy subject, and since I don’t want to alienate any of my readers, if you don’t like people talking negatively about religion, then you are welcome to tune out my friend. But if on the other hand you are a free thinking spirit who doesn’t mind reading about other ways of looking at the world, then welcome, and read on!
So it’s no secret that I abhor religion. If you’ve been reading The Film Connoisseur, you probably know that to me, its one big fat lie. A fantasy that they make you believe from childhood so that you will become a sheep, following the orders of the shepherd; the shepherds in this case being religious leaders, and the government. It’s all one big elaborate plan to make you a docile servant of ‘the system’. Follow these ten rules and you will be alright. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with not killing, not stealing, and being faithful to our partners, but why do you have to make people believe that there is an invisible God watching over all of us? The way I see it, its like George Carlin use to say: “There is an all powerful force watching over all of us. Unfortunately… it’s the government” Look into the origins of religions, it will all make sense. Ever wondered what religion you would believe in had you been born in some other part of the world and how the religion you believe in today was probably chosen by chance? By what your parents believed in or by what country you were born in? Ever wondered who created God? Ever wondered why you only see him in paintings and movies?
Plus, when you’ve studied and read about as many religions as I have, then you kind of get a grasp of what religions are all about, and how similar they all are. They are all there to provide humans with something that’s missing in life. An explanation to the big questions in life, amongst other things. It is only natural to want to know the answers to these questions since life and the existence of the universe makes any logical mind come to ask them. But just because these questions have no answers doesn’t give us the right to make answers up and then believe in them. Why not simply accept that we just don’t know? That the true nature of life and the universe is one gigantic mystery?
Some seem to think that we need religion, the bible and the belief in God to be good. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. I think we all have the natural tendency within us to be good. With the exception of a few rotten apples, humans enjoy being good to each other. I am all for having a society with high moral standards, a set of values and a sense of what is right and wrong. My question is: why can’t they get people to be good without having to feed them a big fat lie? Trust me, you can be a godless person and still be good. There is a common misconception out there about non-believers. A lot of people seem to think we are amoral people because we don’t believe in Jesus, and that my friends simply isn’t so. I don’t believe in baby Jesus, yet I think I’m a pretty decent human being. I try to be the best human I can be. Making people conform to a set of rules, by using fear and lies as a means to do so, is not right on itself. That’s actually a contradiction right there. Getting people to do good by teaching them lies? Whatever happened to “thou shalt not lie?”
Still, religions around the world are extremely popular. They offer people something they need. Hope. Hope that someone has got our backs in the midst of this dark world. Hope that there is something after we die; hope that we keep going on after our bodies turn to dust. Hope that there is such a thing as an afterlife; that death isn’t the end of it all. Some people can’t take the fact that maybe, after we die, there is nothing else. We might simply die and that’s it. Maybe if reality was taught to us from childhood, it would be easier, but right from the get go we are taught not to accept death. We are taught that we turn into some sort of spirit that goes to heaven or hell, depending on your behavior in this life. And the idea of an afterlife changes, depending on your religion. Some religions teach reincarnation, the idea that you come back after you die in another body. Others believe that you’ll live in a Paradise forever and never die. And so on. Take your pick, whichever strikes your fancy, that’s how it seems to go with religion. There are so many of them, you can literally go through and pick one. The problem is they all have one thing in common: you have to believe in them without an iota of proof that their beliefs are real.
Religions also offer people a sense that there is an all powerful force watching over you, guiding and protecting you through life. When the shit hits the fan in life (as it often does) people are taught to resort to praying to a god for help, when in reality, all the help you will ever need comes only from yourself. Still, talking to some invisible force and thinking that said force is going to help you might comfort some, and it might even motivate them to find a solution to their problem. And though they will probably think that it was God helping them, they probably solved the problem themselves and didn’t even realize it. Why can’t we teach ourselves to believe in our own power, in our own strength to solve problems?
Which brings me to today’s discussion about The Wizard of Oz, which to me is one of the most anti-religious movies there is. What? You never noticed? Okay, here me out then. As I’m sure many of you already know, The Wizard of Oz is a film about a girl named Dorothy who gets whisked away to a magical land where everyone believes in an all powerful Wizard named Oz; a wizard that can supposedly solve all your problems. He can whisk Dorothy back to Kansas, he can give the Cowardly Lion some courage, The Scarecrow a brain and he can give The Tin Man a heart. So off they go on their journey, believing in their hearts that their problems will be solved once they get to the Emerald City and visit the “All powerful Oz” Now, if calling Oz all powerful isn’t enough of an allusion to God, then I don’t know what is. In Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz Miss One (one of the good witches) calls Oz “The Big Guy, The Big Honcho, Numero Uno!”
So down they go on their journey, walking down the yellow brick road of life, having mishaps, confronting enemies and making new friends, like we all do in life. Finally, they reach the Emerald City, a city said to be the home to The Wizard of Oz. When they get there they discover that no one is supposed to see the all powerful Oz. The Guardian of the Emerald City Gates tells them “The Wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz! Nobody’s ever seen the Great Oz! Even I’ve never seen him!” This kind of reminds me of how no one is supposed to see God. Actually, the bible says that whoever sees God will die right where they stand. That quote spoken by The Guardian of the Emerald City Gates also reminds me of how no matter how much you think you know about the bible, truth is you have never seen God, or an angel, or a demon. Its all in your head, same as Oz is in Dorothy’s head. She’s dreaming the whole thing. Oz only exists in her mind.
But anyways, when Oz hears that Dorothy has the magical ruby slippers (something he can no doubt gain benefit from) he grants them an audience. So finally, Dorothy and her friends get to meet the all powerful Wizard of Oz. But what happens then? He appears to them in an intimidating ball of fire and smoke and tells them that he will solve their problems, but that they need to vanquish his worst enemy before he can do anything for them. When they ask if they have any other option he tells them: “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!” Kind of reminds me how the government will send you out to war to kill their enemies in the name of church and country. And here’s another interesting tidbit of information. In L. Frank Baum’s original story Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, The Tinman and The Scarecrow all go to see The Wizard of Oz separately, not collectively like in the film. And this is where it gets interesting: in the book Oz looks different to each of them. This made me think about the idea of God, and how it’s a different thing to everybody. What you perceive as God might be one thing, and it probably means something altogether different to the person next to you.
The Wizard of Oz presents himself in a ball of smoke and flame to Dorothy and her friends
So anyway, trusting that Oz will stay true to his word, Dorothy and company go out and vanquish Oz’s biggest enemy, The Wicked Witch of the West. When they come back, they expect to get their problems solved by The Wizard. But unfortunately for them, they uncover one big dark secret. The “all powerful” Oz isn’t really all that powerful. He is just a man posing as a God. He was lying to them from the very beginning. He isn’t all powerful like he said. He doesn’t even have any magic powers! He was just a man hiding behind a curtain of smokes and illusions. He’d been lying to everyone in all of Oz! Not to mention the poor citizens of The Emerald City. That makes him a villain in my book. A big fat liar! And were not talking a little white lie, this is a huge black lie, the blackest kind of lie there is. The kind of lie that plays with peoples minds and lives. Most politicians know that religion can be used as a tool for their advantage, not only to keep the masses in “good behavior”, but also when the time comes to gather those votes in election year.
The man behind the curtain
If you’ve seen The Wiz starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as The Wizard of Oz, you’ll remember that Oz controls the people of Emerald City by telling them what color they have to wear. Suddenly Red is the color, and everything turns to red. Suddenly Green is the color and everything turns green, and he keeps them in a loop like that. Kind of reminds me of how the government controlled media can control people’s perception of things. The citizens of Emerald City are so docile that they’ll do whatever Oz tells them to, without question; reminds me of how people will believe whatever they read in newspapers and television. But Oz isn’t a Wizard, he’s a man. And a man who used to be a politician no less! Once again proving the connection between religion and government, one is the tool of the other.
Richard Pryor plays The Wizard of Oz in The Wiz (1978)
The Wizard of Oz doesn’t only comment on religion, it also comments on drug abuse (remember the scene in The Poppy Fields?) and true friendship amongst other subject matter. But the best part of The Wizard of Oz if you ask me, is that it teaches us that the solution to many of our problems lie not in the hands of some imaginary all powerful force, but in ourselves. The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow all had what they were looking for within themselves to begin with. They didn’t need a Wizard to solve their problems at all. And we don’t need no magic either to solve our own problems, for that we got ourselves and our friends.