As Paul and Phillip Collins have noted in their article on panopticism, the All-seeing Eye’s pervasive presence in modernity chiefly relates to the actual historic Illuminati’s notion of a completely surveilled, hierarchical scientific society (which would replace the old hierarchy of Church and state). This theory was exemplified in figures like Henri de Saint-Simon, empiricist Jeremy Bentham, sociologist August Comte, and analyzed by later post-modern luminary, Michel Foucault, and included the idea of a society knowing that every move they made was being tracked, as an added element of psychological control and disciplinary power over its subjects. Thus, the real “controllers” become the scientific elite, spy networks and intelligence agencies. This is precisely the view that Lemony Snicket’s presents.
Analyst Lauren Turner notes in her master’s dissertation:
“These literary examples linking the eye and surveillance are important to mention in light of the fact that they precede Michel Foucault’s hypothesis of surveillance and its effects on society in his 1975 study examining the Enlightenment and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a plan for a modern prison, Foucault understands the effectiveness of surveillance to lie in an uncertainty in its operation. The Panopticon was a prison that was to be constructed with its cells facing a central tower. The central tower’s windows were to be set at angles so that the prisoners would be unable to determine if they themselves were under scrutiny at any point in time. This plan would eliminate the need for the chains and dark dungeons of the past which attempted to translate power into physically repressive measures.always a possibility that one is the subject of a gaze, then one will modify his behavior accordingly. Foucault writes: He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play simultaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact,the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporeal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound, and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided upon in advance.” (Turner, HELQUIST’S AND SNICKET’S ALL-SEEING EYES: PANOPTICISM AND THE ARCHIVE IN A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS)
The Count himself, in fact, resides in a tower atop his mansion where he “spies.” However, while on the surface the film represents a kind of critique of panopticon control culture, there is actually a deeper, more hidden meaning in my estimation. The children are subject to a kind of imprisonment, given their fleeing from Count Olaf, as well as the kind of life they are destined to live given what we will find out concerning their family’s history. The oldest of the three children is “Violet,” the color associated with passion, youth and rebellion, and as a special gift, Violet is able to create or improvise. Violet is a kind of sophia, who gives form to latent potentiality. Violet is a kind of female MacGuyver, representing the formation of order out of chaos. Klaus, the brother, has a photographic memory for whatever he reads. Klaus, then, represents brute, factual, masculine knowledge, which, when offering help to Violet, gives her the material upon which to impose form. The youngest of the three is Sunny, the baby, who bites things, and cannot speak actual words yet. Sunny represents baser nature, focused on feelings and appetite. Together, these three operate as a team, and find “freedom” from the oppressive Count Olaf. But what does Count Olaf represent? At first viewing, the Count appears as a kind of devil figure who tyrannically seeks to imprison the children and take their fortune.
However, is the Count really the devil in the traditional sense? In fact, when we are introduced to the count, he is the “Beloved” and is pictured next to an all-seeing eye. In fact, the count’s mansion is full of eyes, and they are visible in virtually every scene. What we will see, however, is that the count is not, in my estimation, an image of the devil in the traditional sense, but rather is God Himself, in the traditional biblical sense, and as viewed by the gnostic or occultist. The God of the Bible, in that view, is in fact viewed as the patriarchal and vain tyrant, who imposes laws and legalities as a kind of torture on His followers. Thus, in gnostic fashion, He is associated with the all-seeing eye as a kind of tyrant control freak. In the film, the Count is an exceedingly vain actor who constantly appears under different guises to entrap the children and take their “inheritance.”
Harkening back to the introduction, the count here controls the “stage” upon which the children are constantly under his harassing surveillance. The picture we are given, then, is that the one God of the Bible is actually a demiurge, a lesser deity, who seeks to entrap and enslave through legalities, while the Baudelaire children, through gnostic enlightenment, eventually overthrow the count using his own power. Another element that backs up this interpretation is that the children are the “Baudelaire” children – the son and daughters of Baudelaire. Charles Baudelaire, of course, is the famous French poet and rumored Satanist. Although it is debated whether this was serious, it’s really immaterial to the actual story, since Baudelaire is then the figure of the rebel who rejects God. Baudelaire is associated with this, inasmuch as he wrote the famous “Litanies of Satan,” which appears as a kind of reverse Christian litany prayer.
Thus, the Baudelaire children are rebels against the Count Olaf, the vain God who wants all power and praise for Himself. In fact, “Olaf” means ancestor, and so count Olaf is representative of patriarchy and the ancien regime – the old, traditional notions of authority and God. The Baudelaires represent the new aeon of the ruling children. The ruling children of an intelligence panopticon.
After escaping the initial imprisonment of the Count, the children go to live with their naturalist uncle, Uncle Monty (played by Billy Connelly) and befriend a python which helps them foil the count once more, although the count succeeds in killing Uncle Monty by a fire, just as the children’s parents supposedly died, but not before Uncle Monty informs them they are “special children,” hinting that their parent’s ‘spyglass’ is the same as his, as Klaus notices. Klaus begins to suspect that his parents were part of some secret society that had ‘spyglasses’ and had some connection to the eye. It is also significant that their parents are never visible in the film – they are part of the invisible government, you see.
Foiled once again, the Count resorts to a faked marriage, wherein he enlists an actual judge to play the part of a judge conducting a wedding ceremony in a terrible play he has written. The entire town attends, and the count as the ‘architect’ of the entire scenario thus utilizes the law as a tool for tyranny. In fact, in the prior scene at Lachrymose Lake, when the children ran into the Count in captain’s guise, the captain hints at his identity, when he remarks, “Jumping Jehovah!” Jehovah, of course, is the God of the Bible. The Count’s goal is marriage to Violet, that he might enslave her and take the inheritance, just as God is seen as the Beloved of Israel or the Church. But the wedding scene becomes key in my gnostic reading, since it is there we see Rosicrucian and alchemical symbolism. The alchemical hermaphrodite appears with Violet as she is escorted to the Count in the play/wedding. This immediately brings to mind the so-called Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencranz, which is the key document for early Rosicrucianism and the rise of Masonic gnosticism in Europe. For gnostic par excellance, Carl Jung, the meaning of the chemical wedding and the union symbolized by the hermaphrodite is the birth of the new golden age. In other words, the rise of man, science, gnosis and “freedom,” and the end of the old patriarchy, law, tradition and authority.
The series of unfortunate events the children have undergone, then, exemplify the process of alchemical/mystical transmutation, but rather than accepting the Count’s tyrannical approach, they outsmart him, and use His own power of “converging light” to burn up His legal marriage decree. In so doing, they also expose the Count as the murderer who burned up their house with fire using His optical eye that focuses sunlight. In fact, Klaus is a kind of Prometheus, who steals the count’s firepower and turns it on him, burning up his “law” and exposing him as a fraud. The children underwent this series of unfortunate events, then, as a process of initiation, and the film ends with them joining the secret spy society their parents were members of. This is pure gnosticism, even to the degree that the secret society the children’s parents and friends belonged to is the same society the count controlled. In other words, man and God are on equal playing fields, and the tyrant demiurge Jehovah can be overthrown using His own powers, when they learn to control the latent natural powers they possess (sophia, knowledge and appetite). This absurd construal can only make sense in the gnostic system, and that is what we have with Lemony Snicket’s – something far more esoteric and occultic than anything we find in Harry Potter, yet operating under the guise of an apparently justified opposition to a panopticon society.