Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Themes of Tim Burton

Tim Burton
Originally uploaded by Waldie's World.
As I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the other day, I began pondering the themes that occur through many of Tim Burton’s films. Burton is without a doubt one of my favorite directors. I have seen most of his movies numerous times, and two of his films are mainstays on my “All-Time Favorites” list. So below is a brief list of the themes that I have picked out of his works. Some of these will be obvious, some of these may not be so obvious. Some are deeper, and some are trivial, all can be expounded upon much more than I will do here, but I invite any additional comments on this topic form other fans.

A sidenote- Some of these films are based on ideas (or reality in some cases) that were not his own original concepts, but Burton nonetheless chose those projects, I assume, because the stories appealed to his personal interests. Also, I have omitted Mars Attacks and Planet of the Apes, because I don’t much remember or have never seen them, repectively. Also, those being his two Sci-Fi flicks, they don’t seem to fit in with the larger pattern of his work. OK, without further delay, here is a brief list of the Themes of Tim Burton’s movies.

1. Death and Morbid Worldviews
This is obvious. He seems to like surreal, almost Victorian era imagery involving all things dead and spooky. He also has a fondness for the alternate realm inhabitated by the dead. For instance:
a. Frankenwenie- dead dog back to life
b. Beetlejuice- ghosts and a spirit world
c. Nightmare Before Christmas- alternate land of dead/monsters; pretty obvious
d. Corpse Bride- duh. Also has land of the dead
e. Sleepy Hollow- headless horseman. Victorian era. ‘nuff said

Other images of note:
Witches: appear in Sleepy Hollow, Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish
Sweet but nonetheless DEAD dogs: appear in Frankenweenie, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride

2. Men who don “masks” and alternate personas (literal and figurative)
a. Batman
b. Nightmare Before Christmas- Jack becomes Santa
c. Ed Wood- women’s clothing
d. Big Fish- Albert Finney’s tall tales in a way mask the ordinary details of his life

3. Characters who don’t “Fit In” / feel isolated/ social outcasts
a. Pee Wee Herman (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure)
b. Edward Scissorhands
c. Jack in Nightmare… has identity crisis, feels trapped in social role, alone
d. Victor in Corpse Bride- shy, introverted
e. Willy Wonka- genius, recluse, dislikes people
f. Ed Wood- the man was just so damn weird- really
g. Beetlejuice- the title character is kind of a otherworldly outcast no one likes

4. Issues with Parents
4a. Parents in general
a. Victor and Victoria in Corpse Bride
b. Willy Wonka- can’t even say the word “parents” because of his dislike of them
c. Batman- Son haunted by parents death, becomes vigilante
d. Ichabod Crane haunted by dreams of his mother and her death at the hands of his father

4b. Issues With Fathers specifically, or even more to the point: Issues with Fathers as the Creators of their Sons, and in turn, the Son dealing with the legacy left by the Father
a. Bela Lugosi as flawed father figure for Ed Wood
b. Willy Wonka becoming Chocolatier to spite dentist Father and his domineereing control
c. Edward Scissorhands is literally the flawed, incomplete creation of his “father,” the inventor played by Vincent Price
d. Perhaps most obviously here, father as “Creator” in Big Fish, which explores the distant relationship between Billy Crudup’s character and his father, Albert Finney. Father is the fabricator/embellisher of his own life’s story, and by default also creator of part of his son’s life’s story. Son has serious issues with father and his legacy, but ultimately learns that his father is just a flawed man trying to create a life worth remembering from the mundane details of the world.


(jim) Bo Ba Log said...

You know, I never really thought about it much, but I am a huge fan of Tim Burton as well. His movies are memorable, but just watching the trailers in the theatres, whenever a TB movies show up, its always one that I lean over an tell my wife "I want to see that."

Baldman76 said...

I am the same way. If I was asked "Who are your favorite directors?", I would respond Akira Kurosawa, or Jim Jarmusch, or someone like that, but I don't know if Tim Burton would immediately pop into my head. But he will now since I've really been contemplating his films after Charlie...and Corpse Bride. It was kind of a "well, DUH" moment when it occured to me. As I said in my post, with the exception of Planet of the Apes, I have seen all of his stuff, seen most of it several times, and liked it all. I cannot think of one of his movies I really didn't like. If that doesn't count as a favorite director, I don't know what would.

And for those interested, the two "mainstay" favorites on my list are Nightmare Before Christmas and Ed Wood.

Anonymous said...

corpse bride is a wickedly gleeful banquet of morbid invention :)..