Tim Burton’s re-imagining of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most quintessential modern parables. In general, movies are, in a sense, stories that tell a deeper truth, but Charlie is so much so that it sounds very similar to another parable:
A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came to eat it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold! (Matt. 13:1-8)
Likewise, this film (which, before the 2005 movie, was originally a 1964 book by Roald Dahl, and then a 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder) is the story of a couple of “bad seeds” and one “good seed,” namely the title character of Charlie Bucket, and their quest for a grand tour of the chocolate factory by the eccentric and excessively private Willy Wonka.
In a sense, the factory can be likened to the kingdom of heaven, the one that Jesus speaks about so often in the Gospels; the golden tickets are the invitation of God to that kingdom just as the seeds were an invitation to the ground in this parable.
There were four seeds that landed on four types of soil in Christ’s story. Similarly, there are five golden tickets that were discovered by five different kids in Willy Wonka’s story:
The rich girl who bought her way into the factory fit perfectly in our world today, when we are led to believe that we are able to buy everything (even happiness). Ironically, we are never truly satisfied with anything either, and want even more. Let us pray to recognize that God and God alone can give us all our heart desires.
The boy who over-indulged himself on chocolate to get into the factory is an example of the one who spiritually over-indulge themselves to get into heaven, who hole themselves up in churches instead of living in the world God gave us. Let us pray not to become so self-absorbed so we can see the wonders of creation.
The champion girl who competed her way to the factory sees the world, as many young adults in the working world do, as a “rat race.” If we see one another as competitors in the world, will we ever see one another as equals as God sees us? Let us pray that we might live life for each other instead of against all others.
The smartest of the kids was the one who engineered his way into the factory. He is emblematic of those who want to interpret or engineer the word of God to fit their wants, or who worry more about ‘knowing’ God than ‘experiencing’ God. Let us pray that we might surrender our need to control to the will of God’s Spirit.
Then there’s Charlie Bucket, the boy who wanted so much to get into the chocolate kingdom, but not enough to get in by deceptive, greedy, or over-indulgent means. He allowed the Spirit to blow where it may, and in so doing, God was able to grace him with the keys (in this case, the last golden ticket) to the kingdom.
Charlie is the cinematic embodiment of the beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of heaven is yours, and blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” (Luke 6:20-21) The kingdom was given him without him even asking.
At the same time, we must also be willing to accept the gifts that God gives us. When he found his invitation, his golden ticket, Charlie wanted to give it away so that his family could have money to survive. While this is a noble and selfless act, his grandfather reminded him that sometimes we have to accept what we are given, and to use it wisely. Money is everywhere and the world is full of possessions, he says, but not everyone has an invitation to the kingdom. This dialogue is more profound than I think Tim Burton realized, for it gives us a better understanding of this difficult story from Scripture:
When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:3-7)
Sometimes God wants us to experience his gifts and, in so doing, his presence. We must be open to accept them and to use them for others, even if we find ourselves unworthy. When Charlie did this in the film, a new world unfolded before him. Just imagine where we can go when we allow God to grace us with his plans for us.