A holy fool with chocolate

Understanding Wonka in light of the gospel’s message of radical, unconfined love

“Reality had little weight in his transcendence,” wrote poet A. R. Ammons, “so he / had trouble keeping / his feet on the ground.” I couldn’t help but think of these lines from “He Held Radical Light” as I watched Wonka, a musical origin story of the self-described “magician, inventor, and chocolate maker” Willy Wonka.

Portrayed with levity by Timothée Chalamet, this fresh-faced incarnation of Roald Dahl’s eccentric character arrives in an unnamed European city (a storybook blend of London, Paris, and Prague) after seven years of globe-spanning research. With only a suitcase-sized chocolate apothecary to his name, he’s eager to make his fortune. “It’s time to show the world my recipes,” he sings in “A Hatful of Dreams.”

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. His hurdles include being swindled into Dickensian indentured servitude by Mrs. Scrubitt. But his buoyancy remains unballasted as he twirls around lampposts, floats above rooftops on a bundle of balloons, and peddles “hoverchocs” that bestow temporary levitation.