Friday, November 19, 2010

Gothic Afterlife

I realized very recently that Tim Burton's concept of the afterlife isn't exactly Christian. As can be seen in Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride, he likes to imagine it being some sort of green and purple Charles Addams art gallery, and the former explicitly disregards any concept of heaven and hell. The concept of eternal justice is only addressed subconsciously at best.

Now, I'm not gonna go on some rant on Tim Burton's secular views here. I still enjoy those movies quite a lot. It's just that it strikes me as strange that he should be so solidly entrenched in the off-white moralities of macabre indulgence and extravagance, unmoving, and paint such an uncertain and dimly-lit portrait of what happens to your soul when you die. He in fact seems to prefer to think that one's cadaver simply gets up and walks away.

It seems to me that this vision is based on views held by religions and spiritualities that have a catch-all afterlife realm where every soul went no matter what, like the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Sure, those religions had justice in the afterlife, but it was one place. There is also the popular secular view that is suggested by ghost stories and haunted house movies, especially those that involve séances, that being dead simply means living on a different existential plane... This view strikes me as vague, using terms like "contact", "the other side", and "the spirit world" that suggest that these dead are someplace else, rather than among us.

Tim Burton seems to want to define what that place is like, but I still don't feel satisfied by it, somehow. His ideals strike me as strange sometimes. What seems to appeal to everyone is the idea that scary can be fun, but what lies deeper in his works is the idea that it is better to be a decaying body than it is to be alive. In Corpse Bride especially, he suggests that it is a wonderful feeling to be uninhibited by things like a heartbeat, breathing, and any mortal diseases. I don't know about anyone else, but I rather like having physical sensations, and wouldn't care much for numbness. Isn't this a physical state that Dracula longed for? Still, I notice the dead in that movie still drink booze.

In particular, the last I watched Corpse Bride, I started feeling a little squeamish during the "Tears to Shed" sequence, because its lyrics put down said physical sensations and further emphasize the movie's preference for the coldness and stillness of death which... quite frankly, is bordering on necrophilia. Making light of that sort of thing isn't my cup of tea anymore. What of the heat and the surging of hormones that is sex?

Ultimately, I fall back on my perhaps nostalgia-colored fondness for The Nightmare Before Christmas. It emphasizes the fun there is to be had from getting scared, puts down doing actual physical harm, and sends a message that praises and encourages love in the end. There's a warmth surrounding the chills, one that reminds me of the happy feelings I get when keeping warm during the winter, that in my opinion is a bit lacking in many of Tim Burton's other films. I still stand by my feeling that Nightmare is Burton's artistic peak.

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