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Phoebe In Wonderland, The Fine Line Between Madness and Genius

Updated on August 3, 2012
Phoebe in Wonderland is the amazing portrayal of one girl's struggle with Tourette's syndrome, and how she finds her voice despite having to battle with her own personal demons.
Phoebe in Wonderland is the amazing portrayal of one girl's struggle with Tourette's syndrome, and how she finds her voice despite having to battle with her own personal demons.

Phoebe (Played by Elle Fanning) is a brilliant girl with a keen and imaginative mind. However, Phoebe has one major problem that prevents her from interacting with others. She has Tourette ’s syndrome, a mental condition that causes the person to have a lack of normal inhibitions. Unlike most people, Phoebe is unable to control herself. If she suddenly feels like jumping of a flight of stairs, there is not guarantee she won’t. In order to cope with the anxiety, her lack of self control causes, Phoebe has a number of rituals she performs. She does things like washing her hands, till they are raw, counting squares on the sidewalk, or she has to jump a certain amount of times on the stairs in her home.

Other children do not understand Phoebe’s outbursts and this causes Phoebe even greater anguish. The other children tease her and taunt her. She isn’t accepted among her piers. In order to cope with the loneliness, Phoebe creates her own fantasy world. She sees the people in her life as Wonderland figures. She loves the world of make belief, far more than the real world. In the real world Phoebe feels she's ugly. Phoebe even says the following when attending a performance of the SwanLake: “No, because maybe if I wore it long enough, one day I'd wake up and I'd be that person.” Phoebe makes this statement when she see the performer taking of her costume.

Despite living a life of quite desperation, Phoebe has a few outlets. She has her friend Jamey,( Played by Ian Colleti) a young boy, who like her is one of the school's social outcasts. His tastes are rather feminine and this causes the other children to label him as a fagot. Phoebe, on the other hand, is a free thinker and lives in home where she is encouraged to be a free of many prejudices. She accepts Jamey, for who he is, and treats him with kindness and respect. Phoebe also has her drama teacher, Miss Doger (Played by Patricia Clarkson), who helps Phoebe find what she is truly good at. Phoebe is given the lead in Alice in Wonderland.

It is on the stage where Phoebe feels most comfortable. On stage Phoebe is in control of her emotions. On stage she is brilliant and is even able to help the other children control themselves when Miss Dodger is called away.

Both Miss Dodger and Phoebe have a special relationship. Miss Dodger makes Phoebe realize how special she really is. She lets Phoebe know that she is not just one of those “awful normals.” Miss Dodger tells Phoebe being different has it’s privileges in the following statement: “ At a certain part in your life. Probably when too much of it has gone by. You will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are. Especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, "But I am this person." And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.” It is through Miss Dodger’s encouragement that Phoebe starts to see herself differently.

Despite being successful in her school play, Phoebe’s home life suffers because of her illness. Her parents often feel discouraged. Even though, her parents try to keep their feelings bottled in, when they voice their feelings or even hint at them. Phoebe, who is overly sensitive, tries to punish herself in some form. She even cuts herself.

Her sister Olivia (Played by Bailee Madison) is tiered of having to deal with being ignored, because her sister seems to have most of her parent’s attention. Her parent’s try to do what they can to find an answer, they send her to a psychiatrist, they try to be open minded and they make every effort to accept Phoebe, as the unique individual that she is. Even the toys they give Phoebe are unique and imaginative.

Her mother (Played by Felicity Huffman), who is writing a doctorate on Wonderland, often wonders if Phoebe bizarre behavior is her daughter just wanting to get closer to her. Her parents find themselves often swimming in quicksand and unable to explain their daughter, to her principal or others. They even forgo having other children because, they fear having another child like Phoebe. This causes guilt and anxiety for Phoebe’s mother , who is often torn between finishing her doctorate and having time to cope with having a special needs child.

Finally through much soul searching and research Phoebe’s mother, Hillary finally finds a book that explains Phoebe’s condition. It describes Phoebe’s behavior. Phoebe is diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. Phoebe is finally given a reason why she is constantly driven by forces in her mind that are beyond her control. She then goes to school and explains her condition to her classmates in the following statement: “Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. It's a beautiful name I think. I was born with it. Starting now. It'll get worse before it gets better. My shoulders, my fingers, and imitating. Spitting. It's a voice in your head that makes you do the opposite of what you're supposed to. It makes you break rules. But sometimes breaking rules is good. So I like to think about it that way.”

Knowing where you stand is often the beginning of the healing process. Even if what you have doesn’t really have a cure, at lease you know, you fit in somewhere. This helps Phoebe have a better grasp of things. She has a new confidence and is even able to lead the other children in the play, in her teacher’s absence. Phoebe has new appreciation of her person, and is now able to live her life in a more positive way.

Phoebe often sees people who are close to her as characters from Alice in Wonderland.
Phoebe often sees people who are close to her as characters from Alice in Wonderland.

Yes, there is a fine line between genius and madness. We often have seen that those people in society, who have contributed, to our world, the greatest works of art and music, did not live conventional lives. It’s like they saw the world in Technicolor, while the rest of humanity still saw things in black and white. We have often read about the lives of geniuses that have played music so well that even angels stopped and listened, yet they faced many personal demons.

Van Gogh had given the world some of its most beautiful masterpieces, yet he was a tormented man, who even cut of his own ear of. It seems that these people often pay a very high price for their contribution to our world. Their souls are often in tune with things, which we are often too dull to perceive, and such sensitivities lead to great anguish. The tormented genius is almost a cliché, because so many gifted individuals lived tormented lives.

Like many things that are not easily explained, the tormented genius is often a paradox. One would expect those who are gifted to have some sort of advantage, yet the opposite seems to be the case. If a parent has a very talented child, they should make ever effort to nurture them and make sure that their energy can be channeled into something positive, instead of it becoming uncontrolled anxiety, which can even turn into madness.

The best way to help a child is to spend time with your him or her, and try to get to know him or her as a person. Every child has something special to offer and desperately wants to be loved and accepted. Therefore, if you want to have healthy children that prosper emotionally, and are able to project their talents in a positive way, then love them unconditionally.

Teach them to trust themselves and create for them a positive home environment. If you have a child that is behaving strangely, despite your best efforts, get help. Sometimes you cannot do it alone. There may even be times when your child needs medication, although it may be wise to seek a natural alternative, rather than relying on pharmaceuticals. Consulting various health professionals can help in the process of discovering what may be tormenting your child. Try to be a positive role model. If you say one thing and do another, this will cause not only confusion, but anxiety as well. Talk to your child and reaffirm to him or her that you accept him or her for who they are. Love and acceptance is the key when trying to deal with the mysteries of a confused mind.

Make an effort to follow the advice of your child's psychologist or counselor. They can often give you insight on what your child needs. They may also be able to discover things about your child that you can't discover on your own, because you are too close to the problem. An objective opinion can help in finding ways to resolve these matters. Most of all, make sure that every member of your family is accountable for their actions and words. This helps create stability in your child's life. Remember what it says in the old sixties folk song "Teach Your Children Well"


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    • tiniewinne profile image


      17 months ago from world

      this is really great thought and love the way you analyze.

    • Fanette profile image

      Fannette Davis 

      18 months ago from Birmingham, AL

      I enjoyed your Hub, and was inspired. So I will watch the movie, now, because of your positive recommendation. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hello Jackiemac, thanks for stopping by, and I thank you for recommending "Sounds from the Bell Jar" to me. I do agree the Fanning sister are both very talented actresses and even though the movie didn't meet up to your expectations, it did treat the subject of Tourette syndrome in a way that does explain the illness, and how it can impact a family as well as the life of a child.

    • jackiemac profile image


      6 years ago from orange county, ca

      Although I loved Elle Fanning in this movie (those Fanning sisters are so talented, my god!)...I was kind of let down by this movie. The trailer was amazing & I think I let my expectations get too high- I am also fascinated by the fine line between madness & genius & I can recommend to anyone the book, "sounds from the bell jar" based around that whole subject :)

    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thanks for commenting. I know the movie is no blockbuster, but I found it to be very thought provoking. I often like to see movies that have unconventional themes. I also like movies that are controversial, they actually say something, their not just a lot of Hollywood fluff.

    • MyWebs profile image

      Anthony Goodley 

      8 years ago from Sheridan, WY

      A great movie review and sensible advice for any parent of a child having such problems in life.


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