Big Eyes is a great film thanks to its performances and impeccable visuals, sneaks up on you with the weight and emotional-strength of its themes about artistic integrity and being coerced into the compromise of one’s vision in the worst possible way.”

by Steve Pulaski

Not a week ago did I write a review for Chris Rock’sTop Five, a film about self-reliance and the belief in oneself in order to remain relevant and exercise one’s creative and artistic drive in a brazen manner. It hasn’t even been two months since I wrote a review for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” another film about self-worth, self-reliance, and the desire to remain relevant and important, not compromising your artistic integrity so others, including yourself, can profit, but so you can maintain the kind of value that could potentially last you a lifetime. Now, on Christmas Day, I’m faced with Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, cementing my comments that 2014 has really been a year for artists in every sense, showing their struggles, their ability to be corrupted and used, and showing their rhino-skinned interiors make for incredible films about determination and drive in a way that doesn’t have to be a pit of cliches.

Big Eyes
Directed by
Tim Burton
Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter
Release Date
25 December 2015
Steve’s Grade: A-

Big Eyes,by far, is the saddest film of the three, concerning a young mother who chose to separate from her husband in the “all is well,” cheery times of the 1950’s to only become entangled in a second marriage that would further exploit her for all she was worth in a way that could’ve been worse than her first. The story is of Margaret (Amy Adams), who left her husband almost dead broke and with little employment options being inexperienced and a woman. All Margaret knew was she loved to paint and was good at it, often drumming up solid business at local art fairs where she would paint pictures of patrons, emphasizing the features brought forth on their eyes and their pupils. She believed the eyes were the windows to the soul and defined emotion and momentary contentment through those particular windows.

Margaret’s art drew the attention of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a self-proclaimed artist who spoke of studying extensively in France, who also worked as a salesman of his personal portraits of the streets of France. Walter saw opportunity in Margaret’s work, and immediately went after her, basically seeing her figures’ large eyes as large, gleaming dollar signs ready to be taken to the bank and cashed for every cent they were worth. After only knowing each other for a short time, Margaret fell into Walter’s trap of marriage and profit, as he took credit for painting the art while soliciting it to different venues, exhibits, and clients while she sat back in her study, slaving away at a worn paintbrush.

Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” focuses on the artistic corruption of Margaret’s work through the act of reproducing original paintings by use of mass-printing, and how one person’s original vision and deep-rooted symbolism within his or her works can be corrupted by another person’s ability to smooth-talk and coerce. Walter promised riches, and, for the record, he made both him and Margaret a great deal of money on her works, but at what cost? The cost of artistic integrity and the compromise of one’s original vision, which are priceless in the grand scheme to amounts jotted down in a checkbook or a ledger.

Burton conducts “Big Eyes” with his trademark sense of manipulation and exaggeration of conventions, situations, and environments. Consider how dreamlike and antiseptic Margaret’s suburban home with her first husband looks, echoing the plasticity of the environment in Burton’s classic “Edward Scissorhands.” Consider how frequently lush and saturated Margaret’s environment becomes when she starts painting, as colors and fine details push themselves into the foreground and show you how beautiful of a film this becomes from a visual standpoint. The way Burton blends surrealism into the film makes the madness unfold in an even greater manner, with the scene where Margaret is shopping in a supermarket and sees her paintings and artistic works cheapened to ubiquitous reproductions being one of my favorite scenes this year.

Some will comment on how Waltz seems to be overacting at times here, but frankly, I feel it kind of works, as he is supposed to be a hyperactive, impulsive, and idealistic salesman, so his personality should be something along the lines of exaggerated. He pulls it off tremendously here, being menacing at times but always fiercely watchable thanks to his character’s ability to do such horrible things while remaining smiley and acting as if he is not doing anything wrong. Adams, here, is a marvel as well, quiet, thoughtful, unlike her husband, and carries robot-like sentiment in the best way during the film, moving like a programmed automaton when we can see so much is going on inside her that she’s on the brink of a mental burnout.

Big Eyes is a great film thanks to its performances and impeccable visuals, sneaks up on you with the weight and emotional-strength of its themes about artistic integrity and being coerced into the compromise of one’s vision in the worst possible way. It wasn’t until I walked out of this film, alone and in a contemplative mood, that I realized this was one of the saddest films I have seen all year while simultaneously the most beautiful.