Monday, September 8, 2014

Charlie Bucket, the Redeemed Sinner

Yesterday my daughter and I watched the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I had shown it to her several years ago, when she was too young to watch it happily without being scared out of her wits. (Oops -- parenting error.) This time we enjoyed it together. And while the movie is quite different from the book in some respects, I still consider it canonical, because Roald Dahl himself, the author of the book, also wrote the screenplay. Read on if you have read the book or seen the film; otherwise this entry, full of spoilers, probably won't make much sense to you.

"I've got a golden ticket!"
First, remember that before the children enter the chocolate factory, each of them is approached by the scary-looking Slugworth, a competitor of Willy Wonka's, who attempts to bribe them into sneaking out one Everlasting Gobstopper so that he can steal the formula of this groundbreaking candy. Indeed, at one point in the tour, Wonka happily gives each child an Everlasting Gobstopper, making them solemnly swear that they will never share its existence with anybody else as long as they live. (Veruca Salt at least has the decency to cross her fingers at this point.)

Now, one scene in the movie that is not in the book has Charlie and his Grandpa Joe sneaking away from the tour of the chocolate factory to try Wonka's "fizzy lifting drinks," after Wonka has explicitly warned them not to do so.

It's not completely in character for these two to break the rules so readily, especially since Augustus Gloop has already gone up the chocolate tube, and Violet Beauregarde has already turned into a blueberry. But leaving that aside, we find that Charlie and Grandpa Joe get caught up in the consequences of their actions, floating helplessly toward a scary-looking ceiling fan that threatens to suck them in and chop them to bits. At the last second, they realize that belching loudly will release the "fizzies" from their system and allow them to float safely back to the ground. This done, they rejoin the tour and behave much better from then on.

The very first of this meme to pop up
in a Google image search ...
However, at the end of the film, after Veruca Salt has gone down the garbage chute and Mike Teavee has been shrunken small enough to fit into his mother's purse, Willy Wonka suddenly turns cold to Charlie and Grandpa Joe. He invites them to show themselves out without mention of the grand prize, a lifetime supply of chocolate. Grandpa Joe confronts Wonka about this, at which Wonka explodes: "You signed a contract stating that if you broke the rules, our agreement was null and void! You lose! Good day, gentlemen!"

Sure enough, Charlie had signed a gigantic contract that was too long and tiny to read. But Grandpa Joe leads Charlie out, mumbling about what a horrible man Wonka is, and that if Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, he'll get one.

Charlie, however, lets go of Grandpa Joe's hand, returns to Wonka's desk, and sets down the Everlasting Gobstopper that Wonka had given him.

This act of contrition changes everything. Wonka welcomes Charlie back with open arms, informing him that not only has he won the lifetime supply of chocolate, but that he will now become Wonka's apprentice and inherit the entire chocolate factory!

Not to be judgy, but ...
Now, being me, I can't help but see this as a potential metaphor for God's grace. How is Charlie Bucket any different from any of the other children? All five of them break the rules by acting on feelings of entitlement in areas where they have no right to meddle. The tour of the chocolate factory is an unearned gift -- the result of random chance in handing a Golden Ticket to just five children out of everybody in the world. They don't have a right to any of it.

Yet Augustus Gloop gorges himself in the chocolate river ... Violet Beauregarde chews the gum she's been warned not to ... Veruca Salt wants her own golden goose so badly that she becomes a victim of the egg-judging machine ... Mike Teavee wants the fame of being the first human to be turned into a television signal ... and Charlie Bucket just can't resist the urge to take the fizzy lifting drink and fly.

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

So, again, how is Charlie Bucket any different? It's not about whether he does something wrong. It's about what he does afterward.

It's not a perfect metaphor. We might still wonder about the God who makes us sign a giant contract we have no hope of reading. When did we agree not to break certain rules? I don't remember doing so. How can I be held accountable?

Yet life is, indeed, like a giant chocolate factory of wonders. Do we want to share the experience with others, or hoard as much of it for ourselves as we can?

And when we find that we have trespassed -- that is, gone somewhere we had no right to go -- even if we didn't know it at the time -- even if we may still personally believe we had every right to go there -- what do we do then? Do we wrap ourselves up in entitlement and vow vengeance? Or do we humbly submit ourselves to someone else's judgment?

The former reaction will never help us or anybody else. The latter reaction just might change everything. In giving back the Everlasting Gobstopper, Charlie Bucket becomes a redeemed sinner.


  1. I love this post! I think popular movies, book and music have so much to tell us about faith and spirituality! Thanks!