Very few things can be considered brilliant, but it takes a special scene in a special film to call it brilliant.
For years, the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has entertained children both young and old. Every generation has shown this film to their kids and allowed them to discover a world of up sugary imagination. Every year, new kids discover the films beautiful songs, bright imagery, memorable characters, learn important lessons, and the true childhood joy of candy. And every year new children are introduced to Gene Wilder and his amazing performance as chocolatier, Willy Wonka.
This also means that every year, new kids will watch one of the weirdest, most nightmarish scenes ever committed to a family film.
Wow… were to even begin.
It’s incredible to look at this moment, and almost forget that the candy eating room scene while Wonka is singing “Pure Imagination” happen just earlier. For the film to all of a sudden to turn to a ’70s expressionist film nightmare is insane. Faces with bugs calling over them? A chicken with it’s head getting cut off? Close up shots of various insects and creatures. The dark reds, blues and purples surrounding the children and the adults.
And to top it off….Wonka’s terrifying rant that makes you question his sanity.
From Wonka’s introduction in the film, Gene Wilder and director Mel Stuart’s goal is to keep both the audience and the characters in the dark of Wonka’s intentions. You will never know where he will be coming from, and what he’s planning on doing next.
This moment, as insane as it is, is the first real test of the characters to see how far they will go to handle Wonka and his games.
Gene Wilder is just stupendous in this scene, and it’s a true sign of his range. Like I said, earlier in the film, we saw him be warm and whimsical but we already have seen him have a dark and wicked sense of humor. This moment was created to be a full on assault on your trust in Wonka, and Wilder effortlessly can switch tones on his performance. He’s utterly terrifying in this moment, so terrifying that he even scared the cast with them fearing that Wilder might have actually lost it the moment when Wonka screamed.
What’s incredible to me about this scene is how different I view it now as oppose to when I was a child. When I was a kid, this scene DID scare me. I pretty much closed my eyes or fast forwarded it when I was watching the film. Now…I can’t stop laughing at it. Now I see it as an Wonka playing with his guest, knowing exactly how they will react to him. That incredible scream at the end? You knew Wonka was giggling with glee when he decided to do that.
I can’t stress the importance of this scene. It’s importance in setting up character, setting up tone, setting up the next act, setting up the visuals for the rest of the film, and it’s a true showcase of a master performer.
As we sadly will mourn the loss of Gene Wilder today, it’s hard to not look back and smile and think about all the joy he has given to us in his work. Even if part of that joy is remembering the time he scared the crap out of me. Rest in piece Gene Wilder.