The Corpse Bride: The Beauty of The Dead

Love isn't always smiles and laughter. It can be sadness, or jealousy. Love can make you feel things you cannot explain, and that is why it's beautiful.
Love isn’t always smiles and laughter. It can be sadness, or jealousy. Love can make you feel things you cannot explain, and that is why it’s beautiful.

In Tim Burton’s film The Corpse Bride, viewers are transported into a town where everything has a gray undertone, and I would argue that the people are the cause of this situation. The first characters we meet are dull and mundane; not much room for individuality. The characters are like clocks cursed to repeat the same tired rhythm until they die. Death brings me to the main point of this article, in the world of the dead things couldn’t be more alive and vibrant. Tim Burton is known for challenging the more conventional ways of thinking, and has always tried to allow his audience the opportunity for their imagination to run wild. This is shown in his other films like Edward ScissorhandsBeetlejuice, and Nightmare Before Christmas.

Death in many forms of literature is at times looked at as bleak and torturous, but Burton creates a dimension of energy and vitality in the land of the dead. The jazzy infused musical number, Remains of the Day performed by Danny Elfman, coupled with a wide spectrum of colors helped change the viewers perception of the underworld. Burton was not the only creative genius to make life after death seem more desirable than life on earth, but he is arguably one of the geniuses who best captured the beauty and tragedy of it.

When the audience sees such a strong contrast in being a part of the world of the living, and the land of the dead, it challenges the onlooker to believe that death can be much better than your life on earth. That is not to say that life on earth is full of sadness and disappointment, we can see the love between Victor and Victoria is definitely something that makes the world a better place. Burton is also exceptional when it comes to finding beauty in tragedy. Emily, the corpse bride, came from heartbreak and tragedy, but she is by far the most beautiful and dynamic character in this film, and one can argue that the true beauty of this character comes from the tragedy she lived. Her beauty came from within, and was able to shine through corpsy exterior showing Victor and the audience how beautiful she truly was. The moments when she was fueled by anger and jealousy only helped create a more “living” person which Victor began to see she is more alive than anyone he really every came in contact with. It was at that point he realized that he could truly see himself with her eternally.

It is clear that a heart that is broken is tragic, but to know that you loved as hard as you did is something beautiful.
It is clear that a heart that is broken is tragic, but to know that you loved as hard as you did is something beautiful.

Another beautiful thing that Burton showed his audience in this film was that it is not impossible find love in strange situations. Victor, in the beginning of the film, believed that Victoria was his one and only, but as the film progressed he started to see the beauty in Emily and fall for her. Maybe it’s because of proximity, or maybe it’s because Victoria was now married to the dreaded Lord Barkis. Regardless of the reasoning behind it Victor was willing to take his own life to be eternally bonded to Emily.

It is also very amazing how the taking of your own life can be considered one of the ultimate signs of love for another person. This is not an uncommon thing in stories, the most notable one being the Shakespearean play Romeo & Juliet. To think that something as painful as suicide could be considered the greatest act of love makes people wonder what you are truly willing to do for the person you love. You can find beauty in uncertainty and that is something to be admired.

Juliet takes her own life once she realizes that, Romeo, the man she truly loved is dead. One can hope that true love transcends the journey between life and death.
Juliet takes her own life once she realizes that, Romeo, the man she truly loved is dead. One can hope that true love transcends the journey between life and death.

Another beautiful parallel between Burton’s’ Corpse Bride, and Shakespeare’s’ Romeo & Juliet is that the main female protagonist is always faced with the ultimatum of sacrificing her chance at happiness for the man she loved. Juliet took her own life after realizing that Romeo had taken his life. Emily gave up her “happily ever after” so that Victor could go on living with his first love Victoria. Would these two stories be considered so tragically beautiful if the women got their happy ending? Probably not, because their is beauty in sacrifice and beauty in hurting.

Critical thinkers should know that it is true that beauty can be found in some of the most unexpected places. Like in the breaking heart of a bride, or the madness created when you realize your husband is married to a corpse. Burton successfully captured the beauty of love lost, love taken, and love given in this film.

For those who enjoy films I challenge you to find beauty in places people would tend to write off as dark, or unpleasant you might just find something beautiful that you can call your own.

It is only right that with this article a new way of thinking is sparked. Do we truly understand what beauty is? Can we make a list of all things that embody beauty? Will your list be like her list or his list? No, of course it won’t, but that does not make it any less beautiful. Continue to seek out the things you find beautiful, and hold them dear to your heart. Never let them go.

“If I touch a burning candle, I can feel no pain. If you cut me with a knife, it’s still the same. And I know her heart is beating, and I know that I am dead; yet the pain here that I feel, try and tell me it’s not real, and it seems that I still have a tear to shed.” -Emily, The Corpse Bride

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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37 Comments

  1. Yourself
    2

    I think I watched it like 40 times, this movie is a pure delight.

  2. Loved Nightmare Before Christmas but didn’t like this one. Even though all of the characters in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” are dead, they just seem more alive and motivated than the characters in this film.

    • Allthesame
      1

      Actually liked the ‘Corpse Bride’ a bit more than Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. Not enormo-more… but a nice, pie slice-sized bit. In fact, I would consider this film a culmination of the efforts of Mr. Burton & staff which was begun in TNBC.

      • I wouldn’t really compare ‘Corpse Bride’ to ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ as they’re two such distinctly different sorts of film with such differing styles.

        I like to compare it instead actually with another Burton masterpiece ‘Edward Scissorhands’. I like to think of them as companion pieces with one another, with Depp’s characters in each one moving out and in from a mystical world and finding himself a fish out of water, growng to love it before tragically being ousted out.

  3. Tatijana

    I haven’t seen the movie. And without knowing anything else about it, it definitely seems creepy and unconventional. So I’m curious to see how he pulls it off. Kind of like Frankenweenie… which without seeing it seems… really … weird.

    • I think that’s part of what makes it beautiful to us as viewers, is exactly that creepy aspect which Burton has managed to turn into a scene of, even more than aesthetic exploration, emotional exploration. It’s almost an adventure to challenge the brain, and giving us the distance from it via his fantastic-al animations makes it such a breathtaking ride we see beauty in it.

  4. YsabelGo

    I remember feeling sad for Emily when she releases Victor from his vows. I didn’t want Victor to go back to his first love, but then the movie wouldn’t be tragic if he stayed in the underworld. It’s too bad she had to make a sacrifice to find herself at peace 🙁

  5. Christina Legler

    Tim Burton is really good at creating characters, worlds, and narratives that go beyond a simple children’s movie. I only recently really began to appreciate NmBC, and also only recently saw the Corpse Bride, but his mixture of the macabre, the fantastical, and an always-present moral message makes for an entertaining film experience.

    • lasureamir
      0

      Agreed, and the style of animation just adds a necessary layer to each of the films.

  6. I have to agree with you! Tim Burton’s work with this film was rather unique…juxtaposing life and death in a way that made a (young) audience see beauty in an unconventional situation. That way you attribute beauty with death in order to emphasize what Burton’s work invokes emotionally reminds me of the day of the dead celebrations. The latin culture sees death of a loved one as something beautiful and a reason to celebrate lives every year rather than continuously mourn and see the crossing over of a spirit as sad. I appreciate your piece on The corpse bride as it emphasizes how Tim Burton wanted to portray something dark and dreary with a lively, eccentric twist for the imagination to run wild. I really want to re-watch his claymation films again!

    • lasureamir
      0

      It is like he can create a world so different from our world, but we can still find parallels between the two! Thanks for the reply!

  7. I like the open ended questions at the end of the article, it’s a great devise for the reader to be able to continue the conversation. Burton has always been good at finding peace and bittersweet moments in the midst of tragedy. The argument drama connects with humans better because it helps us to find empathy in a stressed circumstance is an old one, but Burton knows how to work with the sadness to create immense empathy and happiness in all his work.

  8. This is one of my favorite Burton films. It’s just so beautiful and a clever satire on Victorian culture. <3

  9. I bought this movie from a local Family Video when I was 8 and ended up watching it 7 times in that one day. I love how you compared Shakespeare and Tim Burton, for even though their styles are much different visually, the tones of each piece ring almost rhythmically. Well done!

  10. The whole film is quite witty, with plenty of parodies on life.

  11. HesterHarwood
    0

    I would love to see an ending that takes a different twist. It’s very typical and predictable for a handsome prince to end up with a beautiful princess.

  12. Laurene Cady
    0

    A sweet and visually lovely tale of love lost.

  13. I kept singing that quoted line the first time i saw the film. UGH! feels!! so beautiful and the ending was very good.. forgiveness and acceptance gave emily peace

  14. Agreed, the ending was rather predictable, and it would be neat to see a different take on it. I only first watched this movie a few months ago and was surprised by how much I liked it!

  15. Hester Harwood
    0

    I was really taken with this film.

  16. Tim Burton set the bar too high with his previous animated film.

  17. Aurianna

    The Corpse Bride is a movie I’ll never forget. The music and characters were enjoyable. It is layered with feelings, many in the sense of manipulation, but also looking beyond the surface to find love. And probably one of the best comments I’ve seen on a Youtube video for the Remains of the Day was about whether or not Emily’s parents knew she was dead. If they believed she was living life with Lord Barkis, never to see their daughter again, only for her to have died that same night. I thought the ending was beautiful when family was reunited with deceased loved ones and Emily was freed. It’s a very good take on the contrasts in life and death, fulfillment and sacrifice.

  18. Probably would have liked this movie more if I had not already seen – many times – “The Nightmare Before Christmas” which was a brilliant and original piece of work.

  19. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is another great contribution to stop-motion animation. However, Corpse Bride seems to fall a little short of providing the creative experience of the characters as showcased in The Nightmare Before Christmas. That could be related to the fact that The Nightmare Before Christmas was a new approach to stop-motion animation that had never been explored in a Disney film. Both films have their dark side, but every year, new merchandise is still promoting The Nightmare Before Christmas, not as much for Corpse Bride. As for entertainment, Corpse Bride has a strong story and I watch it every year for the art of stop-motion.

  20. sydneyschulte
    0

    For me, the most impactful scene in “The Corpse Bride” was when the dead visited the world of the living for the wedding. The living were terrified of these skeletons and decomposing corpses. People were running around, terrified out of their wits. Eventually a little boy recognizes one of the dead as his grandfather… and their reunion (and the ones following this one) are very sweet and heartfelt.

    It made death seem like something people shouldn’t fear, and instead, something that should be celebrated.

  21. Yes! Death should not be a taboo subject to be feared. It is glorious and beautiful. It is also maddening. However, it is easily misunderstood or abused. When you apply this to real people, some will perceive it for the wrong reasons or to attempt to keep something (or someone) for themselves. Some stories are romantic while others lead to madness, unraveling terror and possibly homocide.

  22. Berrios
    0

    It’s good that it ends quite suddenly without anything like “FEW WEEKS LATER” because that would kind of ruin the moment.

  23. emilyinmannyc

    Wonderful article! I especially love the connections you make between The Corpse Bride and Romeo and Juliet. I look forward to reading more from you!

  24. I loved this film. Everything Tim Burton does is magic I swear.

    I also think that this movie explores the idea of death as freedom. The dead as you noticed are more alive and able to express individuality than those alive. Death as freedom is a common theme in feminist literature, where once dead one can finally be free from societal constraints. I think that the same theme could potentially be translated here too.

    I liked your comparison to Romeo and Juliet and the tragedy in both.

  25. The most beautiful and amazing movie. Shows desirability of death but also shows the importance of life.

  26. Emily Deibler

    Great look at the juxtaposition and the clever inversion on Burton’s part concerning the aesthetics of life and death. I like how you brought up Romeo and Juliet, where death represents liberation and, in a morbid way, their union is fully realized in death where it couldn’t be recognized in life because death creates equals of everyone. It becomes freeing, especially when a character is suffering from societal restraints. Also, good point about how a female character’s pain is oftentimes idealized as beautiful. It’s not quite a good pattern, but it’s important to notice the trend.

  27. Tying in Romeo and Juliet to show how women’s sacrifice means more than if they sacrificed nothing. I’m not sure if it would work, but a feminist reading and comparison of these media might provide some interesting parallels.

  28. MichelleAjodah

    I adore this movie. I think this article puts a nice spin on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to say that beauty can be found in everything. I would have loved to go even deeper into this article. It’s interesting to compare Emily’s sacrifice to Juliet’s, because giving up your life for someone is considered the ultimate sacrifice, but Emily is already dead. The sacrifice she makes is letting him live when he was about to give up his life for her.

  29. Jaye Freeland

    I really love that you brought this subject up. Beauty doesn’t have to always be the same thing all the time, as Michelle writes above, it really is in the eye of the beholder. The colors, the characters, the situation, they really are so romantic and gothic and beautiful.

  30. This was such a cute article. I’m really glad it focused on the bride and her endeavors rather than on Victor and Victoria’s love.

  31. The Corpse Bride is such a poignantly beautiful film. Emily was one of my favorite characters in that film, namely because her life was such a brief and tragic one. The fact that she didn’t let her own growing feelings for Victor stand in the way of his happiness with Victoria was a testament to her strength of character. That and, as you mention, Victor’s willingness to sacrifice his life to marry Emily instead prove how much they did care for each another. I also like the connections you draw between this film and Romeo & Juliet, death and love being concepts intertwined and almost indivisible from each another.

  32. Autumn Edwards

    The Corpse Bride is by far my favorite Tim Burton animated film. The beauty of death and the possibility to find the light in the doom and bleak was told magnificently. I could never get over the way Burton told the story, mainly through the pain and sacrifice of Emily. I have to say that stop-motion intrigues me, the process of creating the characters and having the come to life is no easy task by far. As an animation minor we had to do in-depth study of this in class; the process, the development, even the technology involved.

    I had never considered the film to portray Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Now reading your article I can clearly see the similarities (I’ve seen this movie so many times, how could I miss it! But you learn something new everyday).

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