Friday, 18 December 2015

The Burton Conspiracy (Part Two): Deeper Into the Delusion


As part of our season of jolliness, Danny Southward (of dubious fame) continues his dark descent into the opus of Tim Burton in the second part of this special three-part blog series. This time, Corpse Bride!

The Burton Conspiracy:
Part Two- Deeper Into the Delusion

Welcome back to The Burton Conspiracy! My personal adaptation of the Burton Theory in which I attempt to link Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride &, finally, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Last time, we saw a boy, struck with the guilt of killing his only companion, slip deep into a delusion to soothe himself, to assuage the guilt and make peace with the death of his dog. Lets continue along this merry Christmas jaunt, shall we? Settle in, try not to let your chestnuts get over-roasted and ignore those hoof beats on the roof. For the love of God, ignore them.

Still a better love story than Twilight. 
So, we move to our second film, in which Victor seems to have slipped deeper into his deluded state. Corpse Bride revolves around Victor Van Dort and his impending arranged marriage to Victoria Everglot. After a disastrous first wedding rehearsal, Victor flees to the woods to practice his vows, only to accidentally propose to the eponymous corpse bride, Emily, who whisks him off to the land of the dead. Here he re-unites with his dead dog and learns that love is, indeed, about sacrifice. Or is it? Its hard to determine exactly what Victor learns in this tale, what his journey provides in terms of character progression, but something certainly does change within this character. Something that slithers nicely into place with our burgeoning theory. Because I believe this story is not about sacrifice, but about abandonment. It is about a desire to move outside of loneliness and a thought experiment that draws the thinker deeper into the own delusion they seem so eager to escape. So, let's get started on part two!

First, we should establish the Victor of Corpse Bride, Victor van Dort, and the Victor of Frankenweenie, Victor Frankenstein, as the same character, and thus Corpse Bride as a continuation of the story started in Frankenweenie. Despite the name changing to Van Dort, the lead of Corpse Bride seems to heavily resemble a grown Victor Frankenstein (interestingly here, though Victors name has developed Dutch nomenclature, linking somewhat tenuously to the New Holland setting of Frankenweenie). Both Victors share physical similarities in both face and general body type, as well as keeping a keen interest in science: Victor is seen preparing a scientific drawing of a caged butterfly in the opening sequence, highlighting different aspects of particular interest (head detail, leg detail etc) mirroring young Victor's keen interest in the same. 

Both had similar reactions to turning Google's Safesearch feature off.
Left- Corpse Bride's Victor. Right- Frankenweenie's Victor
As Victor matures, our theory suggests that he seems increasingly entrapped within the mundane, as illustrated by the drab, grey-scale town he now inhabits, filled with its automaton citizens moving in time to the mechanical clicks of the clockmaker’s wares.  Increasingly isolated from the automatons of the town as he grows older, and now without the dog that he so desperately loved, Victor grows into the awkward youth we see in this film. As a consequence of this isolation, Victor, I believe, imagines the ensuing scenario in order to question whether or not he would be suitable for social interaction. The film, in this light, becomes a tragic tale as Victor fights to imagine a world in which he can fit into and, in the process, shows his desire to break free of the delusions that plague him. Sitting alone with his scientific drawings, the film opens as Victor imagines a scenario in which he would be able to enter society, to end his loneliness, and so comes to the conclusion of an arranged marriage (thus removing his own agency in finding a suitable partner). The delusions he once sank into, during Frankenweenie, once more begin to take over as he imagines himself living in a Victorian-Gothic setting, in which such a marriage might emerge. His own anxieties over this potential joining of society, however, begin to distort this illusion.

Victor invents an idealised scenario in which the woman with whom he is to marry is both instantly attracted to him, and attractive to him. His own anxious mind, however, begins to contort the illusion, much as we saw in his previous delusion and, in a twist that demands far more Freudian scrutiny, his idealised woman becomes a facsimile of his mother's original form (she has since warped in his delusive mind to the form we see in Mrs. Van Dort.)

You know what this blog needs? More side-by-side photo evidence
Left- Mrs.Frankenstein (Frankenweenie). Right- Victoria Everglot (Corpse Bride)
With a part of his mind actively warping the illusion to undermine his attempts to break free from the loneliness that he has become accustomed to, Victor's illusion begins to collapse, with the perfect marriage becoming instantly unstable. The actual act of marriage becomes fraught with worry and Victor, struggling to imagine a world in which he could attain this perfect woman, perfect marriage and an end to his loneliness, falls deeper into his delusion, inventing an entire scenario in which his previous obsessions with reanimation, once again, resurfaces in the form of his accidental marriage (again, lack of agency) to the corpse bride, Emily. The delusion here seems to be attempting to pull him further in, to claim him by offering him the very eternal companionship he so desires, if only he will give into his Gothic fantasies, marry the undead and remain with this fantasy forever. As part of this fantasy's attempt to draw him in, Victor is soon presented with the remains of his beloved dog, Sparky, whose body Victor imagines has been reduced to the 'Scraps' for which he now names his dog. The living bone remnant of the dead dog, the delusion suggests, can be his if only he chooses to abandon his quest for societal integration. 

Via this narrative Victor wrestles with the idea of self-sacrifice and with the idea of compromise. He comes to the conclusion that he must sacrifice his ties with the real world and move further into his delusion in order to achieve happiness, choosing to sacrifice his life and live forever with his undead wife. Victor chooses death, chooses to achieve happiness by sinking further into his imagined world, his fantastical undeath. However, of course, as soon as this seems a viable option, the delusion once more self-destructs, denying Victor the happiness he has sought by returning to the Gothic setting- the usurper Baron Barkis (a la Otranto) returns only to reveal his plan and be dispatched as social order is restored. Once he has chosen happiness, it is once more snatched away by a mind unable to accept that such a thing can be achieved.

Sad Victor is sad.
We leave the film as Victor’s fantasy corpse bride dissolves (tellingly) into hundreds of the copies of the caged butterfly which he released at the beginning. He wishes for freedom from his mind and from the delusions that bind him, questioning whether he can enter society, can have companionship after so long alone and with a mind so warped. He releases the butterfly, a symbol of his freedom from himself, at both the beginning and the end as happiness and his chance for freedom from the warped trap of his delusion fly away, leaving him still left within. Victor is left with the pseudo-incestuous relationship with his wife-mother unresolved, trapped in the Gothic setting which he has already once attempted to escape via his own death. And so, confronted with this delusion, with a world he has already rejected, a love interest seemingly conjured by his own mind and still as isolated as ever, the film ends and Victor watches the colourful butterfly, that symbol of freedom and a world beyond his own, leave him to his fate. He is pushed and pulled in and out of the delusion, which repulses him as much as it seeks to contain him, which offers him happiness, only to deny it to him. Our poor Victor, it seems, has fallen into the grips of a malevolent, almost sentient, delusion, which seeks to trap him as much as reject him, and it is here where we leave him for now. 

Before we move to the final film, it is interesting to note the movement of colour throughout these films. At first entirely black and white (Frankenweenie), we are increasingly introduced to colour as we progress deeper into Victor’s delusional world, with Corpse Bride introducing a more colourful palette in the world of the undead as an enticement for Victor away from the real world until we reach the full colour of our final film. Again, though, colour is used in the final film to denote a world Victor wishes for, a deeper fantasy, though one that will ultimately reject our tortured hero.
 

And so we approach the end of Victors journey as we reach the festive final film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The adventures of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, as, bored with his life, he attempts to culturally adopt Christmas as his own, resulting in a collision of Halloween and Christmas. Well, more dark than hilarious for our poor protagonist, as I hope youll agree.


Gothic + Snowflake = Tragic Theory
Stay tuned for part 3! Where we finally reach the bit that is christmassy, & Jack, the Pumpkin King, who sings his merry way further into misery


Keep watching for the the final part coming to the blog soon! Or re-read Part One, for the horrific origin story. Danny Southward is a postgraduate researcher in Contemporary Gothic and Metamodernism at the University of Sheffield. He says he has never married a re-animated corpse, but we don't trust his shifty eyes...

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