If you've been down the rabbit hole with me before, you know I love Alice. Quite often I will go back to the Lewis Carroll stories, because that is, of course, the origin of all things Alice. But it's the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland (2010) that is my true Alice inspiration. I know Carroll fans probably hate that, but I think it's a really spectacular film and an equally wonderful story. Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton did a masterful job of combining the two Carroll works, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and finding the best parts to bring forward in an updated journey.
One of my favorite relationships in this version is between Alice and the Hatter, played by Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp. Alice is a burgeoning woman, and Hatter has been waiting for her to return to Underland for years. He recognizes her as the right Alice upon first sight, almost instinctively, when no one else seems to believe it, including Alice herself.
Adventure begins immediately for Alice and Hatter at the tea party. Stayne the Knave of Hearts shows up looking for the Alice rumored to have returned to Underland. Hatter does his best to protect her--hiding her shrunkenness in a teapot, making her a new dress, and transporting her in his beloved hat. Early in their travels together, Hatter reveals to Alice the reason he hates the Red Queen so much, how she destroyed his village and murdered his entire family. When he's captured and taken to the Red Queen's fortress, Alice is determined to rescue her friend.
Alice infiltrates the castle, posing as the overgrown, large girl Um from Umbridge, and comes face-to-face with a maddened Hatter, bruised and beaten and shackled and without his own hat. He begins to spiral into a bit of madness while talking to the Queen and is risking his own head. Alice sees the difficulty and is able to snap him back to reality with the drop of a word. (Okay, so it's a fake sneeze of "HATTER!")
Hatter is taken away to a work room, to begin creating hats for the Red Queen's enormous head, and Alice returns to the castle garden to find his beloved lost hat. Whatever it took to save the Hatter, she'd have his hat waiting for him at the end. She finds Hatter and returns the bedraggled top hat to its rightful head. Again, he has a moment of madness and Alice snaps him back to reality before leaving to execute her plan of rescue:
"We'll go to the White Queen together," she said, taking his other hand. They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment, and Alice found herself wishing she weren't quite so absurdly large.
The Hatter grinned ruefully, evidently having the same thought. "Why is it you're always too small or too tall?" he asked.
Eventually Hatter escapes captivity and meets up with Alice again at the castle of the White Queen:
Alice's eyes went straight to the Hatter. His clothes were bright and happy, reflecting the delight on his face. She ran up and threw her arms around him. "I'm so happy to see you!" she cried. "I thought they were going to--"
"So did I!" he interrupted her enthusiastically. "But they didn't." His voice started to speed up again, and he clutched her hands as if he might never let go. "And no, here I am...still in one piece...and I'm rather glad about that now that I'm seeing you again...I would have regretted not seeing you again...especially now that you're you and the proper size...and it's a good size...it's a great size...it's a right-proper Alice size..."
"Hatter," Alice said kindly. He snapped back into the moment.
"Size, Fez...I'm fine," he said, blinking strange eyes at her. And it was true, he was fine, even though Alice had been afraid she'd never seen him again. She felt too full of happiness to say what she really wanted to.
"Where's your hat?" she asked. She curiously touched his curly red hair.
[The Cheshire Cat returns the hat.]
As the Hatter replaced it in its rightful place on his head, he glanced at Alice again, and they shared a smile that said more than any words could have.
Of course Alice goes on to slay the Jabberwocky--you know, the metaphor for her own insecurities and self-achievement. The Red Queen is defeated and banished to the desert with Stayne. Hatter is ecstatic and breaks into song and dance. By this time, Alice remembers her original journeys to Underland/Wonderland, and recognizes that she has really been in this amazing place, not dreaming at all. She is given a vial of Jabberwocky blood, what she would need to return home.
Alice lifted the vial, but stopped as the Hatter put his hand on hers.
"You could stay," he said, his gaze warm and full of promise.
"What an idea," Alice said softly. "A crazy, mad, wonderful idea." She looked around at all the strange and wonderful beings she'd met in this wonderfully strange place. She imagined what it would be like to stay--to talk to animals every day, to ride the Bandersnatch and explore Underland, to dance the Futterwacken with the Hatter whenever she chose.
She explains that she has to return to her home, that she has things to do. She promises to never forget Hatter and to return. She drinks from the vial and is back in the meadow outside the garden party she originally fled.
That's all sweet and wonderful. But then she approaches the garden party to decline everyone's offers of how her life should be. Her adventures in Underland were gone from her memory, but the self-confidence remained.
The thing about this Alice and Hatter story is that they could love each other. Personally, I think Hatter does love Alice, just a little bit, and that Alice knows she could probably love him, too, if her circumstances were different. It's something that happens quickly because they interact in these intensely intimate situations. It's something that happens because they just click and find an unexpected connection with each other.
I get why Alice would choose to go back to her real life. Living in Underland would make just about anyone a little nuts from time to time. And, okay, she has her family and her aspirations to attend to. It's the promise of returning, of remembering, that makes it okay that she leaves Hatter.
And then the bitch forgets anyway? Come on!
I know, at the end, she's sailing and Absolem appears to her. She recognizes him, and she's this amazing, confident thing who's off to conquer the world with the full support of her family and business associates. But what about Hatter?
We don't know if Alice goes back to Underland. I'm sure there will likely be a sequel at some point, so maybe we'll know how this plays out. Alice will be a little more wizened, and maybe Hatter will be a little less mad, now that he's had time to get his head on straight.
But what if Alice did go back and forth, regularly, between her world and Underland? What would that do to Hatter?
It would have to be incredibly difficult to try to go about your dailiness and constantly have the tease of that potential love weaving its way in and out of the fabric of your life. Maybe Hatter goes back to making beautiful, exquisite, ornamental hats--expressing himself through his art--and then suddenly Alice appears, in all of her muchness. I imagine it would be a bit upending to have her constantly coming and going, a distraction no matter how enjoyable at the time. Would he stop everything to give her his full attention? Probably. But then what, when she goes back to her real life?
You know what? He'd probably go a little mad. And she probably doesn't even realize it, because apparently she's forgetting everything about her time in Underland, except that it makes her feel strong and confident.
I don't know that I like this, the more I think about it. I want Alice to remember, to fully recognize the bittersweetness of the choice she made. It's okay that she goes on to explore her world and herself, really, but I'd like to know that she's cognizant of the fact that her decision had this impact on Hatter. That way, if she goes back to Underland and sees him again, she does so fully aware of how that will affect him and act accordingly. She doesn't need to turn his word upside down before she leaves again. They should be perfectly capable of sharing a cup of tea and a walk through the hedge maze without her having to snap him back to reality. They should be able to Futterwacken wildly together and smile and be done when the music ends.
So I hope that, with a little time apart, Alice will drop back into Underland and seek out her friend. And I hope Hatter will have had some rest and spent some time finishing his hats. I bet he'll have made a few just for Alice, and I hope she takes the time to try them on and enjoy them. Because, after all, they were made out of love.