So today being a Monday, I decided to start the week with a not-so-serious article and talk about one of my favorite movies growing up. There are few films that convey “pure imagination” like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (I know… I had to use it). The songs, the sets, the characters, the candy: I love this movie. In my opinion there are few cinematic portrayals that rival Gene Wilder’s enchanting yet haunting Willy Wonka. It’s a performance that is right up there with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Heath Ledger’s Joker. But I’m not writing here today to talk about Wilder or the Oompa Loompas or anything so magical. Let’s instead talk about Grandpa Joe.
For any who haven’t seen this movie in a while, Grandpa Joe is one of four elderly invalids living with protagonist Charlie and his mother. It is established right away that this is not a financially secure household. The place is very tiny with all four grandparents having to share one bed. Their poverty is further established by the fact that Charlie, despite his young age, works a job while the other kids play and sing songs with candy vendors. In addition, when Charlie gets his pay raise and spends it on a loaf of bread, his mother refers to the food as “a banquet”. Yeah, he get the idea that the belts are tightened with his family.
This is good character development for Charlie as it establishes him as both responsible and selfless, despite his young age. He didn’t spend any of his hard earned money on candy, no matter how catchy the opening song. No instead he goes home and buys food for his family. In addition, he nobly volunteers to support his Grandpa Joe’s tobacco cost. Nice kid… let’s talk about Grandpa Joe.
Grandpa Joe lives a boring existence. Every day he lies in a bed, chatting with its three other occupants and watching television. He will also talk to Charlie and his mother if they are available (you know, not working to feed him and let him smoke). Let’s talk about some of the conversation he has with Charlie’s mother, in particular his commentary here: “One of these days I’m going to get out of this bed and help him.” Grandpa Joe is of course referring to Charlie, sympathizing with the protagonist. That’s all well and good but as Charlie’s mother responds: “Dad, in all the years you’ve talked about getting out of that bed, I have yet to see you set foot on the ground.” Guess what the response here is: “Well maybe if the floor wasn’t so cold.”
Yep, it’s that damn floor. Ruins so many plans doesn’t it? Here is tiny Charlie, a kid matured passed his age into supporting his family and why? Because that accursed floor holds Grandpa Joe prisoner, preventing him from, you know, being a responsible adult and supporting his family… or at least supporting his own tobacco habits. I never liked the character of Grandpa Joe and I didn’t get why the movie wanted to present him as a good guy. Certainly Charlie loves him but Charlie is a young and naive kid. We’re taught to think all the other kids that go with Charlie to the chocolate factory are horrible, wicked people that get what they deserve but what about Grandpa Joe? Seriously? Those kids may have been jerks but they were like eight. What’s his excuse?
So Grandpa Joe, despite loving Charlie and sympathizing deeply with his plight, cannot be moved to help. He’s old damn it! Now maybe I’m being harsh. The film appears to establish Grandpa Joe as unable to leave the bed. Sure he has a fighting spirit, but that cannot overcome old age and a potentially debilitating condition. Maybe Grandpa Joe really would like nothing more than to spring out of that bed and help Charlie to support his family, he simply no longer possesses the strength. Yeah, I might be being too harsh.
As soon as Charlie wins the last coveted golden ticket, Grandpa Joe is suddenly more limber than Usain Bolt. Where was this energy when his family needed it? Where was that drive when his grandson was delivering papers or his daughter was up late at night washing laundry?
Grandpa Joe doesn’t get better either. Any who have read the book know that the film differs in more than just its name. There is a whole added sequence involving fizzy lifting drinks which is not present in Roald Dahl’s novel. The scene occurs shortly after Violet Beauregarde as transformed into a giant blueberry and wheeled off to whatever fate awaits her. Point is: this scene occurs after children have failed and been kicked out (or worse killed). So Charlie and Grandpa Joe have reason to be on their toes. Now Charlie is a young kid, young kids are eager, impetuous – stupid. Point is, I don’t fault Charlie for wanting to try the fizzy lifting drinks. It shows that he’s human. Without this error, he would look like a young Christ figure (just watch Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to see what I’m talking about).
Now Grandpa Joe is the adult in this situation and the bulk of the responsibility falls to him. AND IT’S HIS IDEA! “Let’s take a drink, Charlie. No one’s watching.” Really? Really Grandpa Joe? This is the man who, not ten minutes prior, called Violet Beauregarde “a nitwit” for not listening to Mr. Wonka. So what does that make him? Did Mr. Wonka say the drinks were okay? No, no he did not. In fact he said the opposite.
And yet, despite this, when Willy Wonka informs Charlie and Grandpa Joe of their failure to keep to the contract (one that Charlie signed without reading at request of Grandpa Joe), it isn’t Charlie who flips his shit. I know that Charlie is supposed to be the protagonist and he’s an awesome one but this movie can be read with a very cynical undertone. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: a story about how an old man uses his grandson to promote his living status. Think about it.
At the beginning of the film, Grandpa Joe is lying in bed and a small rundown home. At the end of the movie, he is essentially co-owner of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Did he do anything to deserve this rise in fortunes: nope. Well he cultivated a good relationship with his grandson… although why Charlie listens to him is beyond me. Why he’s not portrayed far more negatively in the movie is beyond me as well; really looking at everything, he is an antagonistic figure.
I feel Grandpa Joe is one of the people that republicans must imagine when they fear unemployment benefits and welfare. Obviously his guy is taking advantage of not just his grandson but the system too. I can only imagine what happened after Charlie took over the chocolate factory and gave Grandpa Joe a job. What if he put him in charge of something important like keeping track of company income? I can only imagine the ordeal ending with: “Sorry Charlie, I know the factory closed but – the floor, it was just too cold to keep a cost efficient budget.”
Well played Grandpa Joe, well played.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.