Painting a big Picture: Burton’s Big Eyes
There’s no doubt to the fact that we all are fascinated by something or the other- almost always the other. A friend I knew was fascinated by crooked noses and thin lips- don’t ask me why, I never asked that to him either. But come to think of it, humans have always had a curiosity, and more often than not, that curiosity includes within itself the parts of human body. The research, for the lack of better term, in human body is not limited to the doctors- everybody is fascinated by it and its functioning. The magical proportions that the human body, parts of it anyway, provide to various different fields of knowledge is something that is yet to be investigated. It has inspired the medical profession, of course, and the cinematic and artistic visions, as well. The latter, it might be said, cannot be further proved by Tim Burton’s fascinating movie, Big Eyes.
The movie is a displacement from the typical Burton ventures. It has some aura of fantasy in it, not in the least through the surroundings that invoke a peculiar atmosphere into which the premise of the movie unfolds, but it is not a fantastical saga of a girl in, say, a world of chocolate, or a world where flying creatures with horns over their heads and little piggy tails utter absolutely undecipherable philosophical treatises. Yes, you can expect all that and more in a Burton movie, but not Big Eyes.
Big Eyes┬á is different in that it unfolds over its viewers in a real world- this, of course, is not to say that the movie is not enjoyable. Far from it, in fact. The basic premise of the movie is this: a female painter, Margaret, divorced and looking for recognition marries another painter, Walter Keane, a landscape painter lesser talented at art than at entrepreneurship in post-war Europe. Margaret paints paintings which are curious and yet not so much serious that an art critic would pay any heed to it (even though one dismissive critic does feature in the movie). She paints, and signs them as ‘Keane.’ The husband-wife duo exhibit these mildly horrific paintings- horrific because the paintings depict little children having extraordinarily big eyes- inside a club. The paintings catch hold of the viewers imagination, and soon they are a rage. Critics dismiss them as commercialized art, but are consequently attracted towards them. The husband, Walter, claims to be the painter, and soon enough he is a constant fixture on talk shows and exhibitions while his wife- the real painter- works away her time painting each new canvas featuring a newer child with large, round eyes. Eventually it all comes down to one, final, typical showdown, but until then, its a film that rolls away into a dark experience of treachery and melancholic whirlwind.
Burton, by his own admission, was a fan of the children with big eyes staring through the canvas. He bought some of them, too. And when the fraud was revealed, like so many others, he was disappointed to find that the person he considered to be one of the greatest artists of 20th century (again, by his own admission) was, in fact, nothing but a person who cheated his way to the top, and managed to make a spectacle out of it.
ÔÇ£The eyes,ÔÇØ says Walter Keane at one point in the movie, ÔÇ£Are the windows of the soul. That’s why I paint them big.ÔÇØ Keane, the movie seems to be saying, had a thing for big statements and bigger pursuits, but his overall talent lacked what he found eventual fame for- painting. The film does not attempt to justify anything, as one might have expected, or take sides even. What it attempts to do, however, is to look into the souls of troubled people struggling to accept a different life, a life that they have been introduced to recently, a life that the are trying to like, and a life they are eventually trying to live. It does not succeed exceedingly well in doing so, however, but the characters remain fully formed, as do the other people peppered throughout the film- and more than half of the credit goes to the actors, it might be said, while the other half to the excellent scripting.
The vision, as they say, of the director should also be the vision of the audience so as the latter to fully understand and experience the cinematic endeavour. Not so with Burton’s movies. His are dramas that unfurl for others- they did that to me- different outlooks and different visions to take away. Big Eyes is one of those films where the moral is never easily known- in fact, at the outset, it seems like a pretty straightforward venture. But it isn’t. What it sets out to do, and manages to execute, is a film that is both a comment on the society of the era the movie represents and also the psychological turmoil that the individuals within the film experience. Its difficult to balance both, but Burton does it, and his characters gleam throughout.
Big Eyes might not be for everyone, but for me, it brought back the 50’s onto the screen once again, and in no smaller scale than Tim Burton’s- if for nothing, Big Eyes deserves a watch for that.
┬áOverall Rating: 4/5.