“There’s No Place Like Home”: An American Koan

  • Author(s): David L. Smith
  • When: 2014-10
  • Where: Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
  • I use the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as an occasion to reflect on the various ways a desire for ultimate fulfillment is configured in religion. Typically, the film’s climactic motto—“There’s no place like home”—is taken as a straightforward expression of the familiar view that fulfillment is the result of a quest, the yearning that takes Dorothy to Oz and back again. There is another religious paradigm, however, that presents fulfillment as a matter of “non-attainment,” or a quality that is inalienably immanent. My argument is that the film as a whole (and this motto in particular) contains a sophisticated critique of its own surface meaning, in which the desire for “real life elsewhere” is brought into tension with the intuition of a meaning that can never be lost.

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