One of the coolest parts of being a geek parent is seeing your kids connect with some of the same material you enjoyed at their age. Although I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, almost any child of the 70s or 80s can remember singing along with the Oompa Loompas or dreaming of chocolate rivers. Now that both of my boys (aged five and nine) watch the movie as well, it’s fun to revisit one of the classics that still, I think, holds up.
In rewatching the film (and, because of the five year old, rewatching and rewatching and rewatching), something struck me: Slugworth. He’s the bad guy that was actually a test, instantly creepy, the devil’s temptation, and yet at the end he was just another obstacle for our favorite chocolate maker to put in the children’s path to identify his successor. Slugworth offers Charlie all the money Charlie needs to provide for his family, something that desperately matters to a household where four grandparents shared a single bed (and yet they still had a television capable of receiving reports of found golden tickets). We all know this as the final test and we’ve been conditioned to see just how difficult it would be for Charlie to turn this down. All this just in exchange for some information, or even a sample, of an Everlasting Gobstopper. It’s a straight forward test for Charlie. But what of the other children?
Even children can understand how tempting Slugworth’s offer would be to Charlie. We know how poor he is and how good he is, so we also know Charlie won’t take that offer all things considered. But when Willy Wonka goes a little batty at the end over the fizzy lifting drink debacle, Grandpa Joe’s declaration that they’ll give the Gobstopper to Slugworth is a confusing predicament. We’re angry at Wonka but we know Charlie is good. And so when Charlie gives the Gobstopper back and wins the grand prize, we’re all relieved. Our moral dilemma has been resolved.
As a child we identify the temptation and are happy at the outcome. Watching as an adult, though, I was suddenly curious: what did Slugworth offer the other children? We know he speaks to them all–we actually see it. But surely the temptation cannot be equal. Offering money to provide for Veruca’s family would be singularly unpersuasive, for example. And so, after spending a geeky amount of time thinking on the matter, I believe I have put together what Slugworth offered the four other children who won golden tickets. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
What motivates Augustus: Augustus would appear to be the simplest motivation: he’s a glutton and loves to eat. Eating is his hobby and his parents encourage it, as Mrs. Gloop tells the interviewers at dinner. Mr. Gloop might have said the same had he not eaten the microphone that came too close to his mouth.
Motivating Augustus would be a bit tricky because he’s already been promised a lifetime supply of free chocolate. Augustus is well aware of this promise. He even expresses a modicum of concern for Willy Wonka being driven out of business by the cost of this prize. Working with his primary motivation doesn’t seem too tenable as a temptation. Unless…
What Slugworth offers: There’s only one thing that appears to drive Augustus and that’s his stomach. But there is something besides chocolate that Augustus enjoys: eating. Sure, chocolate is probably his first love but he’s got a lifetime supply of that coming his way. What he doesn’t have is a lifetime supply of every other candy ever made. Slugworth could easily promise all sorts of candy and other delicacies that would be quite tempting to Augustus. Even though chocolate was his downfall, we know he enjoys other candy both from his comments about the prize (saying he plans on eating a lot of fudge, which is different from regular chocolate in a way that Augustus would know) as well as from the screen grab above where he’s eating a cream candy.
It seems a minor addition to what Augustus has already been offered, but given that his parents were already indulging his chocolate addiction before finding the ticket the lifetime supply wasn’t even a huge win for Augustus. A lifetime supply of every candy and other delicacies on the market? Augustus is in. Slugworth probably has food in mind when making his offer since we see him making his offer to Augustus by forking over some fried…something or other at the table. It isn’t too difficult to imagine that a promise of more candy and food would be a tempting offer for Augustus.
What motivates Violet: Violet is an incredibly competitive little girl with a slick-selling car salesman father. We know very little about her except for her competitive drive. She describes herself as a gum chewer until the Wonka contest was announced, at which point she promptly switched to chocolate so she could win the rare prize. As soon as she got her ticket, though, she switched back to gum so she could not only get the world record but also rub her friend’s face in it. As soon as she plays one of her Mean Girl games by sneering into the camera at her friend, calling her “Sweetie,” Slugworth swoops in to make his offer.
What Slugworth offers: There’s only one thing that could tempt a competitive girl like Violet while being offered in a secretive fashion–the opportunity to win something. It can’t be a simple contest by Slugworth for the Wonka secrets, that wouldn’t help anyone and even Violet would see that’s not a contest she could lord over her rivals.
Instead, I think Slugworth told Violet that if she got him an Everlasting Gobstopper then he would make sure that she would win every contest that he ever held. No matter the stakes, no matter the odds–he announces a contest and everyone in the world could try to win but Violet will beat them. That kind of temptation would surely be enough to make Violet turn against Wonka.
What motives Mike: Mike has an obvious love of television, this is the one thing that everyone remembers about him. Heck, his name is Teavee. He eats all his meals in front of the television and they’re all TV dinners–his mom proudly announces that Mike has never even seen the dinner table. And even though the world wants to ask Mike questions about his golden ticket he still insists on waiting for the commercials before he’ll look away from his show.
But there’s something else that motivates Mike. He loves watching Westerns and he desperately wants his own gun. His father, we’re told, won’t get him the Colt 45 he really wants. “Not until you’re 12,” his dad sagely tells the world press. Mike doesn’t seem pleased by this and that’s when Slugworth, posing as a reporter with questionable microphone skills (go back and watch Slugworth in this scene, it’s pretty funny) makes his offer.
What Slugworth offers: I think Slugworth offered Mike his own television show where he gets to play an actual sheriff or cowboy. As part of that show, Mike will of course get to fire real guns but within a controlled environment so even his dad can’t object. Not only will Mike’s love of TV be part of the package, but he’ll get to dress as a full cowboy and he’ll get to shoot people.
Mike is so thrilled by this offer that he’s already in role when the doors to the factory open. The first thing he does when he meets the secretive Willy Wonka? He pretends to shoot him. “BANG! You’re dead!” Mike screams. Wonka plays along–he wants Mike to live more in this fantasy to see if he can overcome the additional tests to come. Mrs. Teavee is also in on the temptation–she tells Mike to keep his eyes open for other secrets that Slugworth might pay for, so there may have been some money in it as well. Or else they planned on sweetening the deal after presenting the Gobstopper. But either way I think more than just money would be needed to make Mike, who only cared about TV, flip on Wonka.
What motivates Veruca: Veruca provides one of the trickier temptations. She’s a spoiled brat who gets whatever she wants and has a wealthy father wrapped around her fingers. Offering her money, jewels, luxuries–it seems all redundant with what she demands of her father and receives anyway.
But the one thing that we know motivates Veruca, more than any other child’s motivation besides Charlie, is her desire for instant gratification. Veruca is the only child who gets to sing a song about what she wants before she is eliminated from the tour. Her song “I Want It Now” is one for the ages and shows the degree to which she is spoiled is only surpassed by her lack of patience for the things she wants.
What Slugworth offers: Given that Veruca comes from a great deal of money but doesn’t believe she is being given what she deserves fast enough, I believe the only thing Slugworth could have offered her as a temptation is emancipation. Slugworth tells Veruca he will put the entirely of his legal department and his numerous government contacts at her disposal in order to be legally emancipated and declared an adult.
For Veruca, this is heaven. She signs some papers and now she is no longer being denied the things she wants by her father. Sure, there may be the question of paying for it all, but Veruca probably already demanded a trust fund be set up in her name years ago when her private school friends were all comparing trust fund sizes over lunch. She’ll have full access to it and she’ll get to do whatever she wants as soon as she wants to do it.
This may also explain why Veruca is the first to jump on the stage to sign Wonka’s contract for the tour when everyone else is hesitant. Papers to sign are on Veruca’s mind–that’s what she’ll get once she turns in the Everlasting Gobstopper. So when her father hesitates on signing the paper letting her get her wish it’s a double injury–her father yet again getting in the way and signing a paper sets her free. This seems the most likely temptation that Slugworth could have made for someone like Veruca.