Alice - Jan Švankmajer

Alice, by Jan Švankmajer - is a haunting film based on Alice in Wonderland and set in the world of the macabre.

The film starts out with a small child throwing rocks in a stream, and then reaches over to a book in the lap of her tutor - quickly moving through the pages. Her hand is slapped away. The next scene is one in which the same child is sitting in her room - taking from a similiar and small pile of rocks and throwing them into a teacup.

And then white rabbit - locked in a glass case - animates himself, pulling his feet free and then shears off the nail through his paw with his sharp teeth. He removes a secret compartment that contains his clothes - and then leaps away to a desk where he opens a drawer and drops into another world. Licking sawdust from his the rip in his chest, where he keeps his watch.

The descent into wonderland is made through the drawer portal - and then becomes an elevator drop past translucent jars of things that are somehow being preserved well past dead - skulls of bird, rabbit, rat and snake. As she descends, Alice catches a jar from one of the shelves. She sticks her finger in a jar and inspects it. We find it coated with jelly and thumbtacks.

At a later point, she is swimming in her tears when a rat swims over to her head, and climbing atop - hammers two stakes into her head, reaps hair, and burns it - to cook a stew. She brushes him off - saying 'enough!'.

Recurrent through the film are two main themes. The first, is Alice herself in narration - every spoken word is delivered by Alice. This follows from the question that the narrator asks of us at the beginning. Is this a child's tale?

The White Rabbit - endlessly pursuing his chronological agenda - is the second theme. Bits and pieces of himself are falling away. He is forced to consume materiel - sawdust and wood shavings. His role is much different than previous representations of any White Rabbit - in other versions of Alice in Wonderland. In this representation - the White Rabbit is not only a herald. He is an executioner.

In the end, the two themes converge and the last notes of the film are of Alice wondering if the White Rabbit will return , and whether or not she will cut his head off with scissors. Late again.

Alice strikes a chord in the viewer - an eerie sense that life itself is subject to the whim of fate and darker forces beyond our control. It is a vision of eerie sensibility that somehow remains remarkably true to the original story of Alice in Wonderland.

Except in this wonderland, execution is real. The carriage is drawn by skeletal birds. And the white rabbit, reaching not into his pocket but instead - into the rip in his chest is , like always pulling out his watch and checking the time.

And then licking the watch and stuffing it back into his chest.