Friday, June 1, 2012

Tim Burton Wants You to Know That Women Suck (I Saw Dark Shadows)

My face, after this movie.
So, I went to see Dark Shadows yesterday with my mum. I didn't have high expectations of it, neither of us did, we were just bored, and it was gross out, and we were in the area, so we thought we'd pop in and see a matinee. It was the only thing on even remotely interesting that we haven't already seen an obscene number of times (Avengers, Hunger Games, Pirates! for crying out loud). So we saw it.

It sucked.

And, I mean, I was kind of expecting that. I've never been a huge Tim Burton junkie, since I think he's been in a Johnny Depp-shaped rut for a very long time, but I try to go into his movies with an open mind. Dark Shadows had some real potential. It's a funny story, with some interesting elements, that could have been played straight, or silly.

Instead, it was played neither.

There are lots of silly moments, like Johnny Depp waking up from his vampire nap and thinking that the McDonald's sign is a sign of the devil, or Johnny Depp sleeping in silly places, or Chloe Grace Moretz being hilariously teenaged. And there were dramatic moments, with witches and curses, and lots of intensely earnest emotion and people falling off of cliffs.

Also my face.
The problem was that it didn't pick one and stick with it, so all you ended up with was a puddle of drippy sentiment and a story that so refused to use cliches that you couldn't actually relate to or care about a single character. And believe me, I tried.

But this was not my main problem with the movie. I've seen bad movies before. It's kind of my thing.

Nope, what I hated about the film was that, despite the surprising abundance of female characters, it was one of the least feminist things I have ever seen in my entire life.

Like, seriously.

One of the worst.

My mother agrees.


To start with, we have the villain, Angelique Bouchard (played the best she could under the circumstances by Eva Green). Angie is a servant in Barnabus Collins' household, with whom he has an affair. She falls in love with him, and when he doesn't love her back, and pretty much admits to just using her for sex, she gets understandably pissed at him. Then she goes crazy and kills his parents and makes his girlfriend jump off a cliff. Which is a little extreme. Finally, when Barnabus jumps after his girlfriend, she curses him to be a vampire so he can't even die, then stirs up the town into a mob that binds him into a coffin in the earth for eternity. Harsh.

The thing here, because all of this, overwrought as it is, is still pretty regular movie crazy stuff, is because Barnabus doesn't love her. And because her entire motivation as a villain is, "if I can't have you, no one can."

Think about that.

Now, in the present day, Angie has devoted the last two-hundred years to smashing the Collins family into the dust. She stole their business, their good name, killed off strategic family members, turned some of them into werewolves, whatever. She's pissed. But when Barnabus wakes up, all she wants is for him to love her. So she keeps on destroying what he loves in the hopes that he'll love her. She's just a succubus trying to drink Barnabus dry. In the very end, she presents Barnabus with her still-beating heart to show that she just wants him, and he watches, dispassionate, as it crumbles into dust.

That's the villain. The driving force of this movie. A spurned woman who will do anything to be loved, Barnabus tells Angie time and again that not only does he not love her, he doesn't think anyone can, and he doesn't think she can love anyone. Not really. Women are evil, after all, and if Barnabus keeps succumbing to her temptation and sleeping with her, it's just because she's evil, not because he has issues.

Projecting much, Mr. Burton?

Now we have the rest of the women in the movie. There's the current Collins' matriarch, played by Michelle Pfieffer, who looks like a feminist figure, until you realize that her character is one, conniving and willing to do whatever it takes to get them out of debt, and two, incapable of keeping the family together like Barnabus is. When it was just her, they were falling apart, but now that there's a strong man about the house, things shape up.

Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a moody teenager who's actually a werewolf, because if a girl is angry, or athletic, or perhaps just doesn't like people, it must be because there's something deeply wrong with her.

Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is a career woman in the 1970s, very educated, and pretty fun to watch for the first half of the movie. And then she finds out that Barnabus is a vampire. First she freaks out, like a normal person, but then he tells her she's pretty, so she goes down on him (Whaaaaaaat?), and decides to steal his blood so that she can be a vampire too. Because clearly what this movie needed was another woman obsessed with Barnabus and immortality. Awesome.

She's even wearing white, ffs.
The last woman (of consequence) in the film is Vicky Winters (Bella Heathcote), the family governess, who is the spitting image of Barnabus' dead girlfriend. Weird, that. Turns out she's seen the ghost of his dead girlfriend all of her life, and even though she was in an insane asylum, felt called to be here so that she could meet Barnabus. I was inclined to like Vicky. She was a splash of normal in the movie, and it made the rest of it funnier. Until. 

Until I realized that Vicky was being held up as the perfect woman. She's chaste, demure, and out of her time. In these godless days, she's still virginal, and Barnabus can't bring himself to touch her. So he has sex with other women instead.


Sorry, rage yell.

But yes, because he can't bear the idea of defiling Vicky, and without talking about it to her, because that would be silly, Barnabus just takes those silly sexual urges and uses them elsewhere. Best part? Vicky doesn't seem to care. Nope, she's the perfect girl. Utterly and completely willing to have whatever Barnabus will give her.

At the end, when Angie has been defeated, the family saved, and Vicky is walking towards a cliff...for some reason (shouldn't Angie's spells have died with her?), Barnabus saves Vicky from falling off and tells her he loves her. Then she jumps off the cliff anyway, so that he has to bite her and turn her into a vampire too. Because it's the only way to be together.

I dislike this movie.

What I dislike most, aside from the aforementioned horrible characterizations of women, is the way that Vicky, with her passivity, chastity, and suicidal tendencies, is held up as the "good" woman, while the other women, who, screwed up as they are, still at least do things, are "bad". It's a very Victorian view of women, and I don't like it.

But that's Tim Burton's thing, isn't it? Victorian pastiche. It finally occurred to me, watching this movie, that maybe he's trying to tell us something. Because I can't for the life of me think of a Burton heroine since Beetlejuice who was headstrong, confident, competent, and good. If she's got willpower, she's evil, he seems to be telling us.

And I'm really not cool with that.

Eva Green is fabulous, though.


  1. Wow, this sounds more dated than the show upon which it's based. FWIW, I loved the show as a kid--this looked like an abomination of it. Glad I didn't miss anything!

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