Big Eyes: Out of the shadows

Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams in "Big Eyes."   | Photo Credit: Leah Gallo

The life and lies of Walter Keane and his wife Margaret suit Tim Burton. Known for his fascination for off-the-wall stuff, with Big Eyes, Burton returns to form after not so remarkable forays into Wonderland and Dark Shadows. Based on a true story, Walter Keane (Christophe Waltz) first stole the fame and then gradually robbed the self-esteem of his spouse Margaret by taking credit of the paintings made by her. The subject is not as outlandish as Burton’s reputation demands but has enough quirks to keep the director buoyed. In his hands, art acquires a touch of whimsy.

Half a century back, Margaret’s paintings of saucer-eyed women and children suddenly became a rage. The sadness in their oversized eyes created a strange imagery, as if they were pleading for space in our world. After being rejected by gallery owners as tasteless, one night a lady responds to the sadness while looking at one of the paintings hanging next to a washroom in a night club. When somebody asks who the painter is, Walter steps forward and as Burton shows in his trademark style, the painting looks more perplexed than Margaret.

The word spreads and Keane’s creations find space in millions of households. Walter’s fame grows far and wide. More than the art, he knows how to sell it. He takes the kitschy works out of the galleries into departmental stores, making the art works massy and addictive by weaving fictitious stories around the works.

Big Eyes
Director: Tim Burton
Cast:Amy Adams, Christophe Waltz, Terence Stamp, Danny Huston

With screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Burton paints a believable picture of the complex motivations of his protagonists and the prevailing male chauvinism of the times. Like Gone Girl, this is yet another study of man-woman relationship where deceit and distrust form a potent cocktail with ambition. How, at times, we compromise in challenging situations and then love to play the victim card. Before Walter, Margaret was a single parent who used to make caricatures in art festivals with the sameness of printed posters. When Walter comes into her life, she realises the commercial value of her talent.

Despite knowing the underlying deceit, initially, she doesn’t mind him using her talent for his benefit because, like a conventional housewife who was promised a good life, she is satisfied enjoying the perks of marriage. The charm of Walter makes it easier for her to swallow her artistic ego. He is self-seeking and reduces Margaret to a glorified labour.

Gradually, as her self-confidence blossoms, the artist in her overcomes the meekness of the housewife. She revolts and walks out of the relationship. When the two meet in court, the narrative acquires a lunatic dimension as facts once again prove stranger than fiction.

Along the way, Burton comments on the art world through Terence Stamp as a haughty art critic.

Margaret is tailor made for Amy Adams. She brings alive the complicated character who takes a long time to see through the manipulative nature of her husband. It is a kind of performance that juries of film awards love to reward. Christophe Waltz is known to be the domineering force and here again he excels as the conniving Walter. However, towards the end, he increasingly turns towards the broad, caricaturist side. Perhaps, this is Burton’s way to make him crumble and Waltz knows how to handle it but it dilutes the overall impact.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 10:09:39 PM |

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