AFI film school #13: The Wizard of Oz — Home away from home


This one is going to be brief, as we’re gearing up toward an Indiegogo campaign, and for real, there’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t been said. The movie so popular Ozzy Osborne kinda named an album after it.

One of the most beautiful things about the film is its simplicity. It’s a clarity often found in family films. The more “adult” a movie gets, the more it tends to complicate what it’s doing. Not that complication itself is a bad thing--I love David Lynch films, and my favorite movies are the ones that you can watch over and over again and get something new each time--but there’s a different kind of depth a movie can reach if it wears its message on its sleeve. A earnest profundity that can speak to people of all ages.

I follow along with the magical podcast Unspooled, and as they take a break from the AFI list, I use it as an opportunity to catch up with some past movies they covered. We’re at 1939’s Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming, and written by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf.

Clear as the Emerald City


Each week I discuss the movie’s message, and sometimes they’re difficult to figure out or even debatable, but Wizard of Oz does not have this problem; it flat-out says its message. In fact, it might even be the most quotable line of the film: “there’s no place like home.”

Dorothy’s main goal is to not defeat the Wicked Witch or make best friends with a scarecrow, a robot, and a cat. She does all these things, but it’s in service of her main objective: to get home.

But what she also discovers is that home was with her all along. All the friends that she makes in Oz are the people from her life. The biggest screenwriting no no is to say the whole movie was a dream. That’s even worse than someone cooly walking away from an explosion.

But The Wizard of Oz can get away with this for a couple reasons. One, it was made before every aspiring sixth-grade writer used the same plot twist. BUT it also works because it furthers the film’s message: it was home keeping her safe the whole time.

All of her friends also discover that the specific things they were looking for were home for them all along. The scarecrow always had smarts, the tin man always had compassion, the lion always had courage, and the wizard always had power.

Dorthy’s home had the power to destroy one witch, and her desire to go back motivated her to destroy another. Or, well, it made her accidentally melt a witch with water, but our bodies are home to 65% water, so it still works.

What can be taken away


A list of some of the big things that make this movie so special, fun and influential (besides the songs):

-The mixture of black & white and color, drawing attention to how magical the use of color in movies is (something we take for granted today)

-How the reality informs the dream, with the Oz characters doing and saying things reflected from their real life counterparts (in a very Mulholland Drive sort of way)

-Iconic image after iconic image. Nothing was done lazily

-The fact that the movie allows us to inject our own imagination. Where is oz supposed to be? How does the witch afford a castle? What kind of shit goes down in the lollipop guild?

-The direct yet open symbolism. Things like the most powerful person in the land being literally smoke and levers.


I’m curious to what it would be like to see The Wizard of Oz for the first time as an adult. It’s such a huge piece of many people’s childhood, that still connects with us today, and it’s so hard to tell how much is nostalgia and how much is an overall appreciation of the film.

The idea of home is one of those abstract ideas we understand so early on. Whatever home meant for us at that time in our lives it was probably both something that brought us comfort and something that we sometimes wanted to escape from.

Dorothy is an easy person to relate to as a child. And the message is clear enough to understand. Then as adult, watching it again, we’re able to tap back into that young part of us that remembers how special the idea of home was and still can be.

We don’t even have to click our heels.

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