Return to Oz is not a sequel to MGM’s, The Wizard of Oz. Return to Oz combines elements of about 5 different “Oz” books to create a story drawn directly from L. Frank Baum. However, Disney did pay MGM for the rights to use the Ruby Slippers, which do not appear in the books.
Because this movie is not a musical, and draws perhaps more faithfully on the Baum books, it seems to be darker in tone. So there are not those bright moments along the way; even “Over the Rainbow”, a song that almost didn’t make the cut because it was felt children couldn’t understand such longing, had a bittersweetness you could savor.
The movie opens in 1899, 6 months after the famous tornado, with Dorothy in a kind of vacant stare. As you watch the opening scenes, you may put yourself in the place of her guardians, you might wonder what you might make of Dorothy’s condition. Is she depressed? Is, perhaps, the whole family depressed? If you were Dorothy’s guardian, what would you do about Dorothy’s condition?
This movie represents a couple of frequent movie themes or genres. One is the story of someone who has a fantastic journey that helps them learn crucial life lessons. This is the story of “It’s A Wonderful Life”, another Disney Movie-“One Magic Christmas”, Alice in Wonderland, “Truly, Madly, Deeply…even arguably The Last Temptation of Christ.
The other is the story of the child who won’t be believed. Prancer, Millions, Georgia Rule. This is an element rooted in darkness because of the secrets children are so often forced to carry. If you were Dorothy, how would you deal with it if you knew no one believed you? Would you doubt your own beliefs, or the disbelief of others? If you did believe in Oz, how would you integrate that into your life? What if you were the friend, or therapist, of someone telling you such fantastic stories?
Finally, you might consider the fact that Dorothy’s mother is absent. What happened to her. Make note of a number of “mother” references that appear in the film.
Keeping this all in mind, I now invite you to let go of your preconceptions from The Wizard of Oz, and join us in a Return to Oz.
Return to Oz as a case study of Dorothy. What might a clinician think if Dorothy presented?
Dorothy offers pretty good insight about why Aunt Em is concerned: “Because I can’t sleep… And I talk about a place I’ve been to but nobody believes it exists.” (Why does she say, “I’ve never been past Franklin before”, if she has been to Oz?)
One factor that was glossed over in The Wizard of Oz, is that Dorothy was an orphan, or at least her mother has died. [Her mother is described as “a dreamer”; could it be that her mother suffered from depression, or hallucinations?] If Dorothy’s mother were depressed, many clinicians would be more likely to diagnose a mood disorder. In fact, with the grandiosity of her Oz story, she might sound like she is having a depressive episode following a manic phase of Bipolar Disorder.
We don’t know the circumstances of her mother’s death, but could it have traumatized Dorothy? If this were the modern day, we would consider that the trauma of the tornado could have elicited a PTSD response, with symptoms such as emotional numbing and flashbacks.
Aunt Em says, “I’ve never left her out of my sight with strangers”. This suggests an isolated farm girl, without playmates, without much exposure to the outside world. Dorothy appears to live a fairly isolated life, out on the farm, in the country. Does she have any friends her own age? In Oz, no matter how unusual, any creature that will communicate with her is a potential friend. Even on the farm, she talks with her chicken, Billina.
Let’s look at the treatment offered Dorothy. First of all, for anyone ever considering taking a child to see a counselor or psychiatrist, please think about what you see here. How much is Dorothy told about where she is going and why? She is left overnight with out any preparation. She is then left alone in a strange room, and again after the power outage in the treatment room. This is really outrageous.
Finally, the treatment is offered. Electricity “will draw all those unpleasant dreams out of your head.” But, of course, they are not unpleasant dreams for Dorothy. They are memories of her friends, her achievements, her lessons. This parallels a fear many people face regarding mental health treatment: Will it somehow make me someone else, different from who I really am, take away essential parts of my identity?
(In the interests of historical accuracy, this would not have been Electroconvulsive Therapy, or Electroshock Therapy, as it was not developed until 1937. There were, however, other treatments experimented with in the 1800’s to treat nervous disorders with electricity.)
So given a chance, Dorothy throws herself into the raging river rather than risk going back for treatment. (This is sometimes called leaving treatment “AMA”-Against Medical Advice).
Later on, as they are escaping from Princess Mombi, someone asks, “Why don’t we just fly back to Kansas? By then, though, Dorothy is sleepy.. “just glad I have my own head to be sleepy with”. When she becomes “her self”, she is able to sleep again.
Consider Princess Mombi—Changing heads: Is that what mental health treatment is???
Later, she is explicitly given the option to go home without risk, but never remember Oz again. Sometimes our clients are offered similar options and don’t want to give up delusions, hallucinations, fantasies, etc, even when promised better mental health.
In the end, I would emphasize that the problem is not whether Oz exists, or whether Dorothy went to Oz, problem is that she hasn’t “slept the night in 6 months”, that she appears to be depressed.
Return to Oz as a parable of the Psyche.
I see, in Return to Oz, themes of wholeness and integration, balancing the unconscious and conscious.
Carl Jung on depression: [W]hen a metanoia, a basic reorientation of one’s attitudes and goals is called for...it becomes necessary to follow the depressive tendency into the unconscious.. .and discover where and how the libido[vital life force] wants to flow again into the world. This requires two things: (1)the willingness to let go of one's habitual conscious attitudes and assumptions, particularly one's so-called "reasonable" convictions about the world; and (2) the overcoming of the fear of …. the repulsion and anxiety that contact with the unconscious calls forth…. the unconscious deplores its depressed condition and longs to be made free of it, … within its blackness contains a germ of consciousness capable of unifying the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche thereby healing the split soul of man.
Dorothy’s whole family seems touched by depression. Now, she returns to Oz, and all of Oz seems in a depressed state. (Does it look like more than 6 months have elapsed?) There are no happy Munchkins. The yellow brick road had been a symbol of promise in the past, the shining path.
Sometimes people are in what we would call a “situational depression”. They are having a more or less normal reaction to difficult, traumatic or painful circumstances. One of the things we can do in therapy is “normalize” this. We can offer hope to someone that, even though the present is bleak, you are on the right path and you will eventually find your way to a better place again.
But the path, Yellow Brick Road was crumbling, along with the Emerald City. And all of the inhabitants were turned lifeless, “everything living turned to stone”, just as depression can make people feel the life force has been drained out of them.
The Nome king rules the world of the unconscious, and he wants their life force; he becomes more “human” with each wrong guess, with each diminishment of the memory of Oz. But the Nome king was destroyed/poisoned by egg, the seed of the life force.
Unconscious may refer to the underground, the Id, the unconscious desires, but it may also refer to the ethereal, spiritual. Dorothy was shown the way out of the mirrored room, the hall of the ego, by the spirit of Ozma.
The Nome King points out that the ruby slippers, with their power, : “Fell out of the sky one day… you were so anxious to get home...” At that time, the return home meant a disconnection from Unconscious. This time, Dorothy rejects the option to go home without risk, but never remember Oz again. She says, “I wish I could be in both places at the same time”. Eventually, Ozma offers, “If you ever wish to come to Oz I will make it so.”
But Ozma prefers to remain secret in the world: I believe Ozma is Dorothy’s unconscious. When Dorothy is in the world, Ozma belongs in the unconscious. In this Dorothy finds her balance. She is allowed to acknowledge the unconscious, communicate with it, and return to it at times by accepting the boundary between those two aspects.
Perhaps Dorothy is revered in Oz because, in the land of the Unconscious, she brings consciousness… action?
Just as the friends in Wizard divided up the heart, brain and courage into three separate but necessary characters, Tik Tok represents separate human parts in character who has everything but what you might call a Self. “I will be your obedient servant… if you keep me wound up.” “If his brain’s run down, how can he talk?” “It happens to people all the time!” Gump: “I’m much happier just being a head.” Tiktok “Every head must have a body if it expects to get around.”
So we see an emphasis, not just on balancing the conscious and unconscious, but the different parts of our consciousness at the same time.
(We might stretch a little bit by adding some information to the case history from the L. Frank Baum books. In the books, it seems that Oz is a real place, just not visible to everyone. )
[Sometimes, people create fantasy worlds for comfort where they can retreat from the uncertainties of worldly life. If you ask them if the place is “real”, they may find the question difficult to answer.] So maybe Oz is a real place and she is just sad because she misses it.
As a therapist, I
don’t see at as my job to rule on whether there is any reality to these worlds,
but I try to see how their experiences in their individual worlds can help us
understand their adaptation to this one.)
Return to Oz as a self contained story.
We get more of the back story of the Tin Woodsman, a man who step-by-step loses his heart, his humanity. While he is not an important player in this story, he does perhaps represent a distrust of the advances of science and medicine.
(No connection to squeaky wheels with Wheelers in OO; OO starts with a trip to Australia with Uncle Henry, who was needing a rest from being “weak and nervous”)
And like the Tin Woodsman Tik Tok, is mechanical and “does everything but live”.
Just as the friends in Wizard divided up the heart, brain and courage into three separate but necessary characters, Tik Tok represents separate human parts in character who has everything but what you might call a Self.
Tiktok’ action runs down: “It can’t be helped.”
Jack apologizes for the fall from gump craft: “It can’t be helped now!”
Jack Pumpkinhead: a bit of a “lost boy”, craving a mother? (“May I call you Mom, even if it isn’t so?”) Built to scare Mombi. “first she was scared, then she was angry.”
The Gump “You are just a thing we have brought to life.”
Dr. Worley dies trying to rescue his machines from fire at his clinic.
One factor that was glossed over in The Wizard of Oz, is that Dorothy was an orphan, or at least her mother has died. [Her mother is described as “a dreamer”; could it be that her mother suffered from depression?] We don’t know the circumstances of her mother’s death, but could it have traumatized Dorothy? (Notice the themes of mother throughout the movie) If this were the modern day, would we consider that the trauma of the tornado could have elicited a PTSD response, with symptoms such as emotional numbing and flashbacks. Or maybe Oz is a real place and she is just sad because she misses it.
In the books, it seems that Oz is a real place, just not visible to everyone. [clients sometimes create fantasy worlds to retreat into for comfort. As a therapist, I don’t see at as my job to rule on whether there is any reality to these worlds, but I try to see how their experiences in their individual worlds can help us understand their adaptation to this one.
Ozma of Oz was the first written as part of series (Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first; Marvelous Land of Oz written to spawn a play as WWO produced a successful one) OO was written with the intention of a continuous series of oz stories.
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