Romantic Individual In Selected Tim Burtons Movies English Literature Essay

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Throughout the films directed by Tim Burton, there reiterates the leitmotif of main character presented as an outstanding individual, separated from the society. Such creation of a hero is commonly found in the literature of Romantic Era; in fact, it stems from that period and the different aspects of romantic nature are to be found in Burton's works. The title character of Batman and Batman Returns is an example of a romantic, heroic outsider upholding social order, despite the fact he finds other people inferior. Still, he is regarded as a madman because of his irrational behavior and the solitude he chooses to live in. Those two features also bring him closer to being a romantic hero, while for the character of Edward Scissorhands this function is played by his extreme individuality and sensibility. Edward's moral innocence causes mutual misunderstanding between him and the society, whereas his physical deformity is a symbol of inability to cooperate with them; those two factors condemn him to the romantic suffering and exile. He also suffers because of the unhappy love. The next figure with romantic features is Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas, who through the denial of the conventions, starts searching for specific feeling, which is the most important value in romantic axiology. His emotion-driven ideas and decisions cause his rejection by the "normal people" and it is an example of romantic suffering determined by the hero's own actions. The closest to the romantic madman is the title character of Sweeney Todd, whose plan of terrible revenge spirals out of control, extricating series of macabre and grotesque which finally destroys what Sweeney loves the most. Although there are some differences between them, Tim Burton's characters are the modern versions of romantic heroes.


1. Introduction........................................................................................................4

2. Main Body..........................................................................................................6

A passionate loner tired of the common sense....................................................6

Metamorphosed martyr on the way to vengeance.............................................11

The source of romantic suffering......................................................................15

3. Conclusion.......................................................................................................19

4. Bibliography.....................................................................................................21


The concept of romantic individual has been deeply rooted in literary tradition. It greatly owes to Shakespeare who was the first to focus on the psychological aspects of the characters; what is more, he was a great inspiration for Romantics who were fascinated by the conflicting feelings in his plays. The romantic hero has also been depicted in many literary genres such as: the melancholy lyric, folk ballads, etc. Traditionally, it was a role of tragedy to explore the lifelong perseverance of a romantic individual, who is defined by the following features: dramatic, emotional, alienated, lonely, has a sense of individuality, eternally rebellious against the world and its rules, disappointed by the ideals, unable to realize his dreams, but indeed a patriot indeed; unhappily in love and in most cases, commits suicide or dies. As a rule, his suffering is not so much physical as mental or spiritual. His actions are morally justified yet unjustified and the pain he has to experience is caused by his constant struggle between good and evil.

As a text of culture, a film is subjected to the influence of other arts, such as literature. Therefore it is possible to associate many motifs from movies directed by Tim Burton with the 18th and 19th century literary movement. Romanticism is considered to be a very unique movement and the one whose characters I personally identify most with. Tim Burton is a contemporary American director, born in 1958. His directing career started in 1980s and is nowadays in full bloom Tim Burton's ability to create supernatural, highly climatic works has been found to be intriguing as much as the pattern repeating in them: main character being an unique outsider opposed to the rest of the world. Comparing those two mentioned texts of culture it is obvious how much romanticism and Tim Burton's films have in common; not only the dark atmosphere, but also the creation of characters. The essay poses a question on the main differences and similarities between the movie characters and the characters created by the Romantics. It also discusses how do romantic attitudes in films differ in relation to each other.


"There's no trust, no faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, all forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers."

A passionate loner tired of the common sense

A feature that all romantic characters share is solitude - "representing the rejection of Enlightenment sociability"; romanticism is often defined by its contrast with the classical period, therefore the creation of an anti-social individualist is analogical. Thus, the emotional side of romantic character's nature is often underlined. He does not follow reasoning, like his classic counterparts use to do, but rather his own impetuous feelings, strong passions or desperate desires of going beyond any limits. He attacks the reality, which seems unbearable, throwing himself to ruthless, final, cruel actions. Therefore he is not only an individualist, but also a madman, in a romantic sense it means that he is rejecting the world at the same time being rejected by it. Not fitting into the mainstream society equals being an outcast or an exile.

The title character of Batman and Batman Returns represents the romantic attitude of the extraordinary man, who "wants to remain in the shadows", yet "the power of that character is in his sadness and loneliness". As such. he is a perfect example of a romantic loner; a millionaire, accompanied only by his faithful butler Alfred, engrossed in fighting against crime under the disguise of night. Objectively, the fact that he wears a bat suit makes him stand out of social norms and what is perceived as "normal". His singularity is even more underlined by two additional features of Burton's film. Firstly, the fact that this Batman kills, which is inconsistent with the traditional creation of this personage. It means that he does not feel bound to Gotham society and free of any affection towards others, but also that in this way he becomes lonelier. Secondly, lack of Robin, Batman's helper, who is in a number of adaptations appearing by the hero's side, make an emphasis on Batman's singularity.

Joker (actually Jack Napier), on whom the script of Batman focuses even more, is said to be a "dramatic antithesis" of Batman, yet they are "of the same cut"- both disfigured. They both isolate themselves from the society, or even more accurately, condescend over it. It can be supported by the Joker's justification of his outrageous behavior: "We mustn't compare ourselves to normal people". Therefore he represents the lampoon of the outstanding romantic individual.

Batman Returns tells a story of the triangle of loneliness, including Batman, Catwoman and Penguin. Batman and Catwoman are "dangerously drawn to each other" as long as they remain Selina Kyle's and Bruce Wayne's alter-egos in masks, but in real life they are unable to communicate well and therefore condemned to the solitude. Both of them can be described as the characters following their desires and going beyond limitations as, for instance, in the final scene when Batman takes off his mask or when Catwoman eats a bird.

The third element of the triangle, Penguin - a total outcast, whose "unique deformities and erratic behavior" were the reason why his parents abandoned him the same day he was born. The chiaroscuro style of the scenes of the renunciation emphasize how „tortured and gothic" his start was. In one of the movie's reviews he was described as "creature of Dickensian rhetoric, proportion and comic depth". It is worth mentioning that Charles Dickens was the representative of romanticism and there I found the comparison drawn interesting in relation to my essay.

In comparison to Batman, the title character of Edward Scissorhands is much less powerful and probably more tragic. Interestingly enough, both men feel extremely awkward among the crowd and they find great relief in the walls of their mansions. Nevertheless, while Batman rather puts himself against the society and chooses to fight the evil, Edward is put in opposition to ordinary and perceived as evil. Tim Burton himself compares Edward Scissorhands to the Hunchback of Notre Dame (a physically distorted loner, rejected by the mainstream society), the main character of novel of Victor Hugo. He is right; as much as Quasimodo is physically and mentally different from the Parisians, Edward is equally disfigured and completely unaware of double morality of inhabitants of suburbs. Those two factors exclude him from the society he sees as unintelligible and which he finally, symbolically attacks by murdering Jim. In this very moment of the story, Edward follows his impetuous feelings. As described by Odell & La Blank, "Edward can be seen as the misunderstood artist outside of conventional life, trying to fit in but doomed by his very nature to fail in the process."

Although The Nightmare Before Christmas at the first glance seems to be not more than a film about search for Christmas atmosphere, still the romantic qualities of the characters are clearly visible. Among all the characters of the story, the most interesting figure in the romantic sense is Jack, master of dread, who has grown tired of his dues and "sound of screams". In contrast to Batman and Edward, he is adored by the crowd but he chooses to reject the macabre glory and follow his heart. Despite his gothic look, he is a man of emotions. In "Jack's Lament" he sings:

"(...) And I Jack, the pumpkin king,

Have grown so tired of the same old thing…

Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones

An emptiness began to grow,

There's something out there far from my home,

A longing that I've never known"

He is an inseparable part of world of emotions and it is fatherly proven by his words: "Just because I cannot see it doesn't mean I can't believe it." Because of his fascination with Christmas, he is looking for the feeling of it. Despite his inept experiments, he does not give up in the search, because he can feel there is something beyond his vision, unexplainable by reason. Nevertheless, his actions are rather foolish; what he intends to be the improvement of the holidays, turns out to be the horror for the people, who finally reject him. This situation seems to be comparable to that of Edward's; nonetheless, whereas Jack may return and once again enjoy the Halloweentown, the former is doomed to forever-lasting isolation in the dark mansion.

"And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Metamorphosed martyr on the way to vengeance

The metamorphosis the romantic character is often undergoing stems from the romantic idea of duality of the reality and its fluent harmony. One of good examples of such a process may be Adam Mickiewicz's "Konrad Wallenrod", where the title character changes his name and hides his true personality under the disguise. It appears to be a symbol for his internal changes as he leads the romantic "life in a mask". In his childhood, Konrad is captured by Teutonic Knights. As a mature man, he reaches the position of their Grand Master under disguise and takes revenge on them. This "avenger of the mask" is presented in such a way that cruel, ironic and drear Wallenrod in no way resembles the former, sensitive and loving man he used to be. As long as he lives, he must stick to his split personality to complete the revenge. Paradoxically, his "life in a mask", characteristic for many romantic characters, is the only way of regaining freedom. On the other hand, Konrad is convinced that he is special and the only one who can rule justly. As an outstanding individual, he has been chosen to carry out the mission of "nation salvation" through his own suffering and death. He sacrifices his life for a general idea. In the end of the novel, Konrad poisons himself in order to avoid death from the hands of Teutonic Knights.

It is also worth mentioning the influence of Gothicism, a trend in romantic culture referring to the Middle Ages and medieval aesthetics, both being a source of interest of Romantics, on a romantic idea of revenge. Accordingly to the dark gothic atmosphere, the main character is usually a grim, violent tyrant, a criminal gifted with ambiguous perception of beauty of evil.

The most obvious romantic feature of all Batman stories is that the character sacrifices his life in the mission of justice: as an unique individual, Batman commits himself to fighting crime in Gotham City. Tim Burton's Batman adds further romantic depth to the character; his motivation is to work against that kind of criminals who perpetrated "savage execution" of his parents when he was a child. Therefore he is the avenger of the mask, literally "god of vengeance". In many ways he can be compared to Konrad Wallenrod - changed by the loss of his family, convinced of his superiority and having the mission of saving the world. The final scene from Batman in which the main character finally manages to defeat Joker, the source of his trauma, confirms Batman's vengeful nature. Nevertheless, Batman is neither inspired by God nor has an aim of salvation; he fights against crime with purely personal motives.

During the film Jack Napier he is undergoing a transformation - after an accident in a factory, he "emerges from chemicals as a white-faced, green-haired, eternally grinning freak - the Joker." After such rebirth, Joker takes advantage of his former associates and enemies; in the orgy of destruction, he seeks to take power over Gotham City. However, it is rather a physical than spiritual metamorphosis; he has always been dishonest and what happens during a change is only an intensification.

Another figure from Batman/Batman Returns that thrusts for revenge is Selina, who, after her boss tries to murder her, becomes Catwoman. In this incarnation, she is against the "men specific and men generic that mistreated, belittled and ultimately killed her", whereas Batman seeks to wreak his parents' death, as I pointed out before. On the contrast to them, Joker's revenge stems from his desire for power. Although Batman and Catwoman are not entirely "white", because their motives are far from "doing good", Joker is undoubtedly the black character of the story; he mutilates his girlfriend in a cruel way, poisons the inhabitants of Gotham City. It can be said that he is the most "gothic" of them because he commits the vilest deeds, but on the other hand his revenge is the least valuable, the least personal. The supernatural transformations of the characters are in romantic tone, but they lack the divine element, characteristic for Romanticism.

Probably the darkest figure of all analyzed in this essay is the title character of the Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, at the same time the killer and the victim; sentenced for the crime he did not commit, he returns to make his revenge on the unjust judge Turpin, whose true motif was to possess Sweeney's beautiful wife and daughter. Moreover, as we can see in the retrospection, he used to be a "different kind of man - happier and upbeat". The "grave injustice" he experiences transforms him into the mentioned grim, violent tyrant, characteristic for Gothicism. His new name serves as a mask, behind which he plots the intrigue against judge Turpin. The desire for revenge becomes "all-consuming fixation." Unable to reach Turpin, Todd expresses his anger on the clients: "funneled from a trick barber's chair into a giant meat grinder, processed and then baked into tasty little meat pies by his cooperative landlady [Mrs. Lovett]." Therefore Todd is undoubtedly a cruel, literally insane figure. Even from his appearance, one can tell how "wretched and mad" he is, "with patch of white streaking his hair, ghostly skin and distraught eyes." In a way, this character is a reversed reflection of Batman; they both lost their family, but while Batman's parents were murdered by criminals, Sweeney's relatives were taken away by a representation of justice (judge Turpin). Perhaps that fact determined that Batman endeavors to fight against crime and that is why he is perceived as a rather positive figure, while Sweeney sets against traditional judicature, clearing his way through bloodshed of innocent people, thus his actions are seen as morally wrong.

"There is no evil angel but Love."

The source of romantic suffering

Although the solitude is an inseparable element of the romantic existence, the most appreciated value - one for a lifetime, crazy and almost always unhappy - is love. Being a painful evidence of human's isolation, love makes the romantic character condemned to become a suffering individual, as in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther is the prototype of infatuated romantic. Falling in love with Lotta, who is engaged with another man, he goes through the revolution of heart; loving, Werther stays in tune with his feeling, but in opposition to reasoning. His emotional passion isolates his ideal love from social norms; he is condemned to object, unable to compromise with reality. Because of unbearable mental pain, Werther commits suicide.

Not only is the character in the conflict with the world, but he also faces inner moral contradictions; such an attitude is deeply rooted in Byron's work, who claimed that for a man, the world is hostile and unfamiliar, so no harmony is possible. The contradictions of reality make the man murder and destroy what he loves and therefore he is doomed to suffer forever because of his own actions. Thus isolation and loneliness, as I mentioned before, are the core of the sense of romantic existence.

In Dziady, a romantic play by Adam Mickiewicz, love makes the main character, Gustaw, eternally unsatisfied; the fall of his love means a metaphysical catastrophe. The sign of his emotional crisis is his unclear existence - he lives on the verge of life and death, a sphere favoured by romantics. For him, the death of body doesn't mean the death of soul, so dying for the "world", he is still alive in spiritual reality. It was also possible for a romantic character to live for "world", remaining dead inside, spiritually.

In Batman Returns an interesting triangle is to be found again; apart from the loneliness, the characters are linked with mutual strong emotions. The attraction between Batman and Selina Kyle turn out to be not enough for them to make it possible to be together; it is a clearly visible motif of romantic unhappy love with characters unable to reconcile their relationship with reality, as in the final scene, when Catwoman says: "I would love to live with you forever in your castle, just like in fairy tale. I just couldn't live with myself." They are both put in the dramatic crossroads because of inability to resolve their light and dark sides. That lack of inside balance makes both characters not only extremely miserable, but also neither able to integrate with the society nor with each other. Apart from that, Penguin's affection for Catwoman is an impossible one; she finds no real interest in him but only uses for her own purposes. It is another evidence of Penguin being a truly tragic figure, not deserving true love.

Created from mechanical parts and heart-shaped cookie, Edward Scissorhands can neither be described as alive nor dead, therefore his supernatural existence lies on the verge of life and death. The scissors instead of his hands are "visual representation of what's inside"; a metaphor of not being able to touch or communicate. Clearly, the character is a progressive representation of romantic individual - Edward Scissorhands can be even compared to Sorrows of Young Werther, with Lotta replaced by Kim, and the main figure completely unable to compromise with reality because of his deformity - in this case, a clearly physical one, while Werther's deformity is mental. However, Edward does not choose to "stay in tune with his feelings", but is doomed to oppose the society because of his appearance. What is more, he does not act against the reasoning but is rather tormented by the world and that is what makes him an outsider. As far as the feeling is concerned, comparing Edward's and Kim's love to that of Batman and Catwoman, the former is definitely far more innocent and devoid of sexual allusions.

In Sweeney Todd loss of the family (a substitute of love) makes barber's world collapse, just as it happened with the Gustaw, mentioned above. Hovewer, this loss means more than a "metaphysical catastrophe" - it is also a literal one. Probably, that is why Sweeney decides to take revenge on judge Turpin. Nevertheless, after returning from exile, Sweeney seems to be dead inside, though still living for the outside world. The frenzy of butchery appears to be the expression of his inner himself; through murder, he assimilates his victims into the way he feels. Though the situation Sweeney Todd founds himself in is completely different from those I described above, yet it is another stage of lost love, because it rather shows its effects, whereas Batman Returns and Edward Scissorhands focus on the development of the feeling. Another tragic victim of deceitful emotion is Mrs. Lovett, unhappily in love with Sweeney Todd. Although he would rather spend time with his razors, she never loses faith for their romance, not until her tragic end. Her emotional state becomes clear in the song "My Friends", when Todd sings to his razors (main text) while Mrs. Lovett answers from behind his back and (in parentheses):

You there, my friend,

(I'm your friend too, Mr. Todd.)

Come, let me hold you.

(If you only knew, Mr. Todd.)


My friend,

(You've come home)

My clever friend...

(Always had a fondness for you, I did...)

In the end, Mrs. Lovett turns out to be even more deceitful than Sweeney - "equally capable of comforting someone one minute and plotting to kill them in the next."1 She tricks the barber to believe in his wife's death, yet she is eager to "risk it all in her unrequited love for Todd." In a way, her situation is analogical to Sweeney's: her selfish actions destroy her only chance for relationship with him. Nevertheless, her hopes and dreams are not lost until the very moment of her death, therefore she never really suffers from the fall of her love. She cannot be entirely fitted into the scheme of a romantic character though she has some of its features.


The creation of individualist in Tim Burton's movies was best summarized by Helena Bassil-Morozow in "Tim Burton: The Monster And The Crowd":

"The 'outcast' image can appear in various forms in Burton's movies: the persecuted monster, the mad genius, the maniac, the unfinished young man living in his own Gothic dreamworld, and the disturbed superhero who fights his evil alter ego. (...) [It is] a strange little boy who grows up to be weird, but talented, misfit. The misfit has a dark imagination, is never accepted by the common people, and is sometimes even hunted down by them."

It can be said that there are more similarities than differences between romantic and Burton's characters: they are lonely rebels, guided by their emotions, outstanding but doomed to failure. On the other hand, the motivation figures such as Batman or Sweeney Todd is far from divine inspiration or patriotism. The mere feelings determine their actions. To comprehend them, we must face an important problem; not to reduce or misjudge the value of romantic character due to their unreasonable deeds. Indeed, a romantic character undergoes traumatic experience he often hides under the mask of appearances which makes him do wrong. His tragedy often lies not in the traumatic experience but in the wasted opportunity of growing out of one's pain and grief. Therefore they often replace real human feelings by the world of masks, macabre and grotesque.

It must be admitted that it it is not easy to choose the most appropriate movies to analyze their character's romantic features since Tim Burton's fruitful creativity has produced a significant number of films and almost every one of them depicts some romantic aspects. Yet, above analyzed films are ones with the most meaningful psychological portraits - those which give deeper insight into the origins of loneliness and frustration. These universal feelings being such inseparable parts of romantic character, although so distant in the history, play a significant role in understanding even our own modern society. The conclusion I drew is an evidence for the influence of past periods on the contemporary culture; it seems obvious, yet it is so subtle, as I have shown above. Thus great success of the movies directed by Tim Burton proves that the romantic side of human nature, willing to experience at least a touch of irrational emotions, has remained unchanged despite the technological progress. The comfort and safety that is offered by the modern world didn't manage to remove the spiritual anxiety of a man; a man who feels eternally unsatisfied in the fast-changing reality. What is more, a man who can never be happy surrounded only by the material goods, but needs nothing more than an understanding from another human being.