The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies, but I used to really hate the ending. I couldn’t get with Dorothy’s realization that there was no place like home, especially after she had been in candy-colored Oz and seen so many wonders. It felt like a cop out to me, like the movie just needed to end and it couldn’t end with this girl separated from her family forever.
Like so many other things in my life, I was wrong about the ending of The Wizard of Oz. Sure, Dorothy’s last lines are a little extreme (“And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all!” Like, leave the door open for a nice vacation, or even a road trip), but it’s the insight she gets in her final moments at Oz that has become meaningful to me:
“And it’s that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, l won’t look any further than my own backyard… because if it isn’t there, l never really lost it to begin with.”
Dorothy already had everything she ever needed, she just couldn’t see it. In the movie Dorothy pulls what we in recovery call a geographic – an attempt to solve our problems by going somewhere else, as if our problems are tied to our precise location, like a ghost trapped inside a haunted house. The reality is that we take our problems with us, because we create our problems ourselves. Like a Japanese ghost that we summoned by watching a cursed video tape.
The same goes for our happiness. When you’re poor and miserable it can be hard to believe this, but people who are rich and comfortable aren’t necessarily any happier than you are. People who are in the places you want to be aren’t any more content. The weird and true fact is that happiness is only internal, and it cannot be brought about in any meaningful way by external circumstance or by a change in location. Those things can bring a momentary happiness (or more correctly a momentary forgetting of unhappiness), but they cannot bring anything like a lasting happiness. Eventually these things become commonplace and you lose your gratitude for them, or you become discontent and wish you had more – there’s always someone with more, and your mind is always willing to compare your situation with theirs.
This all sounds like a big cop out, and believe me I know that. I spent about 30 years of my life believing this sort of thought process was bullshit, and that it was taught to us by people who wanted to keep us down and trick us into accepting our crummy lot in life. I had the same feeling about the old classic “Money doesn’t buy happiness,” which always sounded like someone complaining about their privilege. When I came to Hollywood I began to see the real truth of this statement – I met a guy who was the son of a billionaire who is the crankiest, most resentment-driven person I know, and this guy has REAL money. Famous paintings and penthouses money. But he’s fundamentally not happy.
For me to understand how Dorothy was right I had to get to the Emerald City myself. Before my life fell apart I had come to a very good peak in my career and my life. I got to present Ryan Coogler with an award at the LA Film Critics dinner. I was quoted in the New York Times. I had a job that I really liked that paid pretty okay, all things considered. I was flying all over the world on other people’s dimes. Things were great!
But I was utterly miserable. In the month before my life blew up I went to Australia, and I got to pet kangaroos and koala bears. It wasn’t even a dream come true because I had never really dreamed I would get to fly to the other side of the Earth. I had never pictured myself cozying up with a real kangaroo. I was hanging out on the set of Thor: Ragnarok, watching superheroes do superhero stuff. This should have been the pinnacle.
Yet I would go back to my hotel every night and be absolutely, terribly depressed. I would look out at the Pacific Ocean from a direction I had never before seen it and I would drink myself into a stupor that mitigated some of the loneliness and separation from humanity that I felt. I had made it to the Emerald City and I learned that being there did nothing at all to fix the problems that were deep inside of me. The year before I had been to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and while that night was great I still woke up the next morning as the same discontent, irritable, unhappy jerk I had been before the invite came (and also that night I stewed with resentment that I had been seated inside the overflow theater, not in the main room. Imagine being so petty).
So Dorothy finally gets over the rainbow and has this adventure that she was longing to have, but the whole time she is filled with this nagging sense that none of the external changes have truly improved anything for her. It’s not like she hates being in Oz, but rather she comes to understand that the problems she was having in Kansas weren’t Kansas problems. They were Dorothy problems. And those Dorothy problems were that she couldn’t see the good things right in front of her face. She couldn’t see the love she had, and the friends who cared for her.
What’s nice about The Wizard of Oz is that it doesn’t present Dorothy’s trip to Oz as foolish or bad or worthless. Rather, she gets to Oz and sees her friends reflected back at her, and she has good experiences and forms real relationships. But those real relationships help her understand the value of what she had run away from. Dorothy’s geographic was helpful in that it put things in perspective for her – once she was away from home and family she realized what those things meant to her.
That’s what I couldn’t see when I was initially hating on the end of the movie – the movie believes you should go to Oz, at least once in your life. The movie isn’t saying “Stay on the farm,” the movie is saying “You’ll appreciate the farm when you’ve left it, so try to figure out how to appreciate it while you’re there.” That’s the key spiritual concept at work here – find the gratitude in where you are, and it won’t matter where you are. You can be happy there.
And that’s the big ugly truth that we don’t want to look at: if you’re not happy here, where you are right now, even if it’s a sepia-toned farm, you won’t really be happy when you get to the colorful fantasyland either. Going to Down Under Oz or Over the Rainbow Oz won’t fundamentally cure what ails you; at best it’ll distract you for a while. But when you find the happiness that comes from within – ie, the only happiness that actually works and that isn’t tethered to location or circumstance – then you may find that being on the farm is actually pretty great after all.