A beautiful weirdness permeates through the world of 1971's “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month. We encounter candy waterfalls, edible bushes, trained squirrels, a fizzy drink that makes imbibers fly and all sorts of questionable treatment of children. But for all of the wonderful peculiarities that make up the iconic film, the one that strikes us as the most odd doesn't take place in the factory or child getting dangerously shellacked in chocolate. Rather, it's something that occurs in Charlie Bucket’s house: the fact that Charlie’s four elderly grandparents all sleep in the same king-sized bed.
For the uninitiated (and we hope that's very few of you), "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" follows the story of penniless child, Charlie Bucket, who is one of five children that chance upon a golden ticket that grants an all-access pass to the incredible chocolate factory of the elusive Willy Wonka (played by the genius Gene Wilder).
The tour sees the colorful, magical world Wonka created, but in secret he’s searching for a successor to his chocolate empire. Wonka weeds out the whiney children and their equally whiney parents until only Charlie is left to be named heir of his whimsical kingdom.
But before we see Wonka in his purple suit or hear any mention of a magical world of confectionary wonder, we’re introduced to the members of the struggling Bucket family. Charlie works as a paper delivery boy to help bring money into his home; his mother works as a laundress and makes cabbage water for dinner; his father, who is never seen, works a menial job at a factory.
Then we have Charlie’s four grandparents, all of whom live and sleep in the same bed. In six different scenes we see Grandpa George, Grandma Georgina, Grandma Josephine and Grandpa Joe in the same king sized cot at the same time; never once do we see any of them, save for secretly-spry Grandpa Joe, leave. They knit there; they enjoy their dinner from a tray placed in the center.
Charlie’s mother, Mrs. Bucket, explains the situation, “With the four of you bedridden for the last 20 years, it takes a lot to keep this family going.”
Fair enough. But putting pure imagination aside, how can four adults sleep in a bed made for two for 20 years? There’s enough room to sleep and remain in one position forever. Were parameters ever set between the grandparents? Something along the lines of “No tossing, no turning, no farting and no moving.” If they’re all bedridden, we really don’t want to see how bathroom relief plays out. How are they dealing with all the bedsores they presumably have? We know it’s comically meant to illustrate how the financial situation of the Bucket family — and the grandparents are all in good spirits — but, man, those poor old timers. (The Buckets and Charlie have their own bed.)
As it turns out, the real answer to why they all share a bed is much simpler: in the early 1900s in Britain, when author Roald Dahl was born, it was fairly common for ailing elderly to remain in bed all day at home, where they could be warm and cared for by their children or grandchildren. Hospitals weren't, well, very hospitable for long term stays so it was safer to set up a bed at home. Dahl, of course, heightened this to comic proportions for the book, which the film rather faithfully follows.
Thankfully, Charlie and Grandpa Joe’s special bond outshines the don’t-ask-don’t-tell-sleep-head-to-toe bed situation. They are best buds, true companions. And when Charlie comes home with the ticket, Grandpa Joe performs a miracle: he gets out of bed! He stands! The act then evolves into something even more extraordinary, as Grandpa Joe performs an entire song and dance and defies years of atrophy in F major. That, or he was full of shit the entire time and simply didn’t want to help out around the house.
At the end, things are looking up: With Wonka handing the reigns to Charlie, the Bucket clan will be able to afford their own beds. If not, then run Charlie! Run straight home and don’t stop until you get there!