Friday, August 26, 2011

The Ghost with the Most

Yesterday was one of my son’s birthdays. As it turns out, he shares that day with one of the more interesting directors of the past quarter century: Tim Burton. Burton is not an artist that delivers guaranteed great films every time out, but he does always bring a unique, creative, dark yet appealing vision to all of the stories he tells. Several of his stories are inspiring and worth revisiting; while others have been pretty awful. Even the bad stories tend to be popular: last year’s Alice in Wonderland is among the top ten most financially successful films of all time in spite of the disservice it did to its source material.

Then there are the middle of the road films; the ones that are not “classics” but still amazing in their originality and creativity. Take Burton’s second feature: Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice is a bit of a mess, but it is incredibly original. The story is of a recently deceased couple who need help getting the terrible new owners out of their house.

At the heart of the story is the theme of seeing the world as it really is. The main couple are completely caught up in their own idyllic world and, once they realize that they are dead, they remain unobservant, uninformed and as a result, helpless. The couple that buy and move into their house, the Deetz, are even worse. The wife in particular considers herself an artist, but is so self-absorbed and obsessed with popularity that she is unaware of her own inability to create anything that anyone could appreciate.

The only character who is able to see the strange reality in this strange world is the Deetz daughter, as she herself is strange. She is able to see the dead couple; she is able to read their guidebook to the afterlife. As is so often the case, as the only person able to perceive reality she is unable to truly fit in. The thing that knocks everyone out of their self-imposed ignorance is a dangerous threat in the form of the titular character, a nasty and dangerous “bio-exorcist.”

This film is not for everyone. It is a little rough around the edges—both in its production as well as in its content. That being said, it is not nearly the worst thing Burton has done and it is one of the clearer windows into the common theme the reoccurs throughout his body of work: the outsider that fails to fit into the norms of society that do not make sense. For those of us who butt heads with institutional blindness, there is beauty to be found in his strange, insane worlds.

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