Sunday, 23 September 2012

Wonderland: Take One

Vanishing Point do not shy away from difficult content: their reboot of The Beggar's Opera happily followed the original's vision of a world where police and thieves are essentially two extremes of the same system of exploitation, and Saturday Night opened up the precipice beneath the superficial safety of middle-class luxury. Wonderland grabs a few themes from Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, corrupting innocence and disappearing down a rabbit hole that is populated by surreal symbols of a world gone bad.

Director Matthew Lenton attacks on two fronts: the induction of Alice into violent pornography and the seduction of a husband by the increasingly brutal opportunities of the internet. The message, voiced by a mysterious, grubby character who exists only in the husband's mind, is that a darker, shinier reality exists beneath the bland surface of domesticity: both Alice and the husband - possibly her father - descend only to emerge covered in blood and guilt.

From the start, Alice is not presented as an innocent: her audition scene is a  clever mix of her sincerely nervous introduction and uncomfortably believable, but ultimately performed, terror. Her appearance, enlarged, brutalised and frightened, on the video screens at the back of Kai Fisher's brilliantly designed set, forces awkward questions about the reality of violence mediated through the industry that manufactures sexual fantasy. Yet in her final scene, Alice wipes away the blood and affirms that she made the film willingly and, indeed, she'll be back again tomorrow for some more.

It's in the husband's story that Lenton is more explicit about the consequences of violent pornography. If the actors aren't really injured, the husband has been sucked into expressing his  most brutal impulses. His final scene, sat on the couch with his wife, flicking through holiday brochures while covered in blood, is a bleak image of life on the home front. Having been initiated into the darker world, he can never quite return to the cosy domesticity of the first scene.

Wonderland is ambivalent about the cost of violent pornography - the creators are not seen as victims, only the consumers: the final scene suggests that while Alice's path is pretty miserable, it isn't as damning as the husband's fate. Yet the suggestion by the film-maker that tomorrow's filming will be 'spectacular' holds a sense of threat: lacking either a clear condemnation or sense of redemption, Wonderland refuses to judge, becoming all the more unsettling.

Tramway, until 29 September 2012

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