The movie Inside Out got me thinking about other wonderful stories and movies that can be seen at many levels as, for example, a political commentary, an exciting journey or even a model of the mind. The Wizard of Oz is a perfect example. I am excited for my grandchildren to see this classic film, that is, when they won’t be too terrified by the wicked witch and the flying monkeys.
We all know the story. Dorothy gets conked on the head by a window sash and has this perfectly amazing dream with characters from her real life as key figures. She and her little dog Toto are caught up in a tornado and arrive in the marvelous Land of Oz. She only wants to find her way back home so she is advised to travel the yellow brick road to find the Wizard who lives in the Emerald City. He is a wonder and it is very likely that he can help her. Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for the aspirations that we want to achieve as we travel the road of life?
I think that is one of the reasons that this movie is a timeless treasure. Here is Dorothy, an unassuming Kansas farm girl. Remember, when the Wizard says “I am Oz, the Great and Terrible, “she answers, “I am Dorothy, the small and meek.” She is anything but meek, at least as we usually think of that term. Yet we only see the strength of her character as the journey unfolds.
But how does it work as a model of the mind? Let’s consider how the dream originates. Dorothy is sad because she feels Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are too busy to pay attention to her. What child hasn’t felt that?? She thinks about running away. Sound familiar? Even adults think about it, right? She starts on a journey—the journey of life—and hopes she will make it to someplace beautiful and exciting. But she faces a lot more than she bargained for. After whirling around in a tornado she arrives in the Land of Oz in Technicolor, only to find that she smashed that wicked witch with her house. You know the one who tried to kidnap Toto. There’s some anger, right there. Agreed?
With a little encouragement she starts off on her journey and meets a whole headful of characters who hangout in her mind: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion. From a dream perspective they are really just aspects of her character: intellect, heart and courage. Like our main character Dorothy they all are feeling a little meek—not really up to the task before them. They are lacking in some way and need some external validation. Don’t we all?
The Wicked Witch—there is always a Wicked Witch—tries to thwart them with a field of poppies which puts them to sleep. But Glinda, the Good Witch is looking out for them and wakes them up with a snowstorm. Again let’s think of the Witches as bad and good parts of the self. That wicked witch wants us to take a nap instead of doing our work or pursuing goals. But Glinda is powerful too and, if we listen, she can give us a little pep talk.
Dorothy and her different personae finally meet the Wizard and He tells them how great he is and how insignificant they are. (I think he was a politician in a former life.) Then he presents an impossible task for them to accomplish before he will grant their wishes. They must bring back the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. Now the Wizard is a very interesting character. He tries to scare us. He is like one of those anxiety dreams. You know—the ones where you have an exam in an hour but you forgot to study. Or another of my favorites: I am in an outdoor camp (I always hated camping) and I can’t find a bathroom. It’s the part of your mind that makes you think you can’t do anything right.
But guess what! The little dog Toto discovers that the great Wizard is just a little old man with a big voice and a lot of pyrotechnics. He is another person in Dorothy’s mental congregation and he is also a big faker—making us think we can’t do things when we sure enough can! It’s a powerful and beautiful lesson. If Dorothy (who is small and meek) can find strength within herself we can do it too! From a dream perspective no one really gave her that strength. It was there inside her all the time!
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.