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Rafini's Movie Review: Big Eyes

Updated on December 22, 2016
Rafini profile image

Pop culture enthusiast and poet; Writer of non-fiction, personal essays and memoir.

"Artist at Work"

Amy Adams portraying Margaret Keane
Amy Adams portraying Margaret Keane

An Uncommon Occurrence

Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton and starring Amy Adams, is a film about the awakening of self-confidence in a mild-mannered painter who previously had no apparent sense of her own self-worth. While the eventual climax to the film is well supported throughout the story depicted, the initial 1955 impetus for this awakening is intentionally omitted, therefore completely unknown to the viewing audience. The film opens in classic Burton style with a voice over telling the viewers that the scene they were watching, where Margaret Ulbrich is collecting her paintings before leaving her then current husband, was an uncommon occurrence in 1950’s America. The story then fast-forwards through several jump cuts to the moment when the protagonist meets her antagonist, and future husband.

An Important Story to Tell

The story of Margaret Keane is not an unusual one, nor is it well known. However, in terms of gender equality, it is an important one. Throughout history women have consistently succumbed to the apparent strength and power of men, through abuse; manipulation; domination. The story of Margaret Keane, as seen in Big Eyes, is a story of triumph over an oppressively lying husband who claims his wife’s work as his own.

Classic Burton

Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka
Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka

In Classic Burton Style

The biggest impression I had while watching this film was the fact that I could tell Big Eyes was a Burton production despite the lack of Gothicism and the absence of his two most often hired actors: Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. In addition to the impossible to miss Burton classic of an opening voice over, the film opens with the camera, and Adams, going through the house. Correspondingly, the plot focuses on Keane, a young and artistic mother, who seems to accept being a misunderstood outcast. Danny Elfman, another favorite of Burton’s, provided the music for this film, and the main character was friendly and optimistic throughout the turbulent situation created by her husband. There was also a quirkiness about the main character that matched the quirkiness of some of Burton’s other beloved characters, such as Edward Scissorhands or Willie Wonka, that was equally impossible to miss. If I hadn’t known I was watching a Burton film, I certainly could have guessed it.

Gothic Elements Would Have Been Out of Place

As surprised as I was that Burton chose to avoid Gothic elements in this film, I can’t help but agree with his choice. Had Burton chosen to incorporate castles, churches or ancient buildings then the setting would have been inappropriate for the subject. Additionally, had Burton somehow managed to feature horror, death, or even a scarecrow or some other kind of fantastical element, the film would have had a completely different outcome in that Keane’s character would have been seen as out of place. Remarkably, the voice over was not a distraction, as is often the case with a Burton film, and I somehow ended up with the impression that Keane’s “Big Eyes” paintings had influenced Burton’s cinematographic choices.

Official 2014 Trailer

Already Seen Big Eyes?

Did the film, Big Eyes, meet your expectations of a Tim Burton film?

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An Extension of "The Awakening"?

All in all, I thought Big Eyes was a good film, and is definitely worth seeing if you’re a Burton fan. Even if you’re not a Burton fan, I would still recommend this film due to the impressive triumph Keane exacted from her husband. The film reminded me of the Kate Chopin novel, “The Awakening,” a story centered around gender roles and social constraints, which is and has been considered a must read by college professors for decades. Although the underlying themes of Big Eyes take a different approach than the novel, the main storyline seems to pick up where Chopin left off.

Big Eyes Everywhere!

Films by Tim Burton

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
Edward Scissorhands
Batman Returns
Ed Wood
Mars Attacks!
Sleepy Hollow
Planet of the Apes
Big Fish
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Corpse Bride
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Alice in Wonderland
Dark Shadows
Big Eyes
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Won the Lacanian Psychoanalysis Prize at the 64th Venice International Film Festival

Golden Globe Winner for Best Motion Picture - Musical

A True Inspiration

Margaret Keane at age 90, in her studio & still painting
Margaret Keane at age 90, in her studio & still painting

Did You Know?

  • Margaret divorced Walter Keane in 1965
  • Andy Warhol said (about Margaret Keane's work) "I think what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn't like it."
  • When her work was most popular, Margaret was painting non-stop up to 16 hours a day
  • Margaret was commissioned to paint the portraits of Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood, Jerry Lewis, and the children of President John F. Kennedy
  • Woody Allen's 1973 film, Sleeper, features futuristic people who consider Margaret Keane to be one of the greatest artists of all time
  • Margaret sued her ex-husband, Walter Keane, and USA Today for an article claiming Walter was the real artist behind the Big Eyes paintings
  • Margaret won her lawsuit and was awarded $4,000,000.
  • In 1990 a federal appeals court upheld the defamation lawsuit, but overturned the monetary award
  • Just before the release of Big Eyes, Margaret's paintings were selling for $8,500 and up
  • Tim Burton is a collector of Margaret Keane's Big Eyes paintings

By Margaret Keane

How do you rate Big Eyes?

4 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Big Eyes

© 2016 Rafini


Submit a Comment

  • Rafini profile imageAUTHOR


    22 months ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

    Thanks for the info Mills P, and thanks for visiting!

  • profile image

    Pat Mills 

    23 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

    Another person who collects Keane is musician Matthew Sweet, who, along with his wife, got credit in the Burton film for their advice to the director.


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