This blog post is spoilerific concerning Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride. Just so you know. If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning on watching it in the future, turn away. Read this instead.
This last weekend for Halloween, a bunch of us watched Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, which I will admit, is a decent movie. In the end, my friend Kim (great and honorable supplier of movies galore) mentioned, “The one big flaw about this movie is that they never give a reason to care about Victoria.”
At the moment I strongly disagreed with the idea that Victoria is a flat character, but I couldn’t put into words why. After thinking about it for a couple of days, here is my reason why Victoria was actually one of my most favorite characters in the movie.
The accusation made was that Victoria is flat, and there is never given a good reason why Victor should marry Victoria instead of Emily, the Corpse Bride, aside from the cliche Love At First Sight and the fact that their names match, which tends to negate the major internal conflict in the story.
However, I highly disagree. In the beginning, we are introduced to a quiet, demure girl, raised by what we can only infer as awful, oppressive parents. She’s curious of love, but her parents tell her that love does not matter in marriage. She is curious of music and the piano, but her mother tells her that a lady indulges in no such things for they are too passionate. When she meets Victor for the first time, she meets him as he plays the piano. Victoria, unquestioning Victoria, experiences passion and ecstasy through music for the first time, and is forever, indeliably changed.
Despite the fact that Victor cannot memorize his vows and clumsily sets her mother on fire (and is just awkward all around), Victoria falls in love with Victor. he loves him because he is everything that her world up until that point is not – he is clumsy, he is imperfect, he is passionate, he is idealistic, he is accepting of who Victoria is and not what he wishes she would or should be. Victor is her key to a much bigger world than the monotone, grey landscape she currently inhabits.
Her character, I would argue, undergoes the most change. Her speaking lines are few, but they only lend more emphasis to when she does speak her mind. When she discovers that Victor has accidently, comically married the Corpse Bride, the change in her character manifests. She uses her quilt (which could be used a symbol of her Victorian opporessive society) to climb out of her house. In the process, this quilt rips on the way down, demonstrating how this single act represents herself tearing the fabric that ties her to her past. She uses the remnant as a shield and goes looking for him during a rainstorm. She resists her re-capture and confinement with all the strength she can muster, but is swept away by the powerful societal forces that lock her in her room and subsequently force her to marry someone else for economic reasons.
The entire marriage to Barkis marks a massive change in Victoria’s character. She is no longer demure or quiet as per her Victorian upbringing. She is quite literally dead on the inside. All of her actions reveal that some part of her has died. Separated from the inspiration of the passion within her, Victor, she has given up on life. She refuses to return back to her old life; she retreats and walls herself up rather than give into the societal pressures around her. She speaks no words; she refuses to interact with the world which so cruelly rejected her humanity.
In the end when Barkis reveals his master plan in marrying Victoria and discovers his horrible mistake, Victoria regains her life and slings a barb at him, a theme repeated throughout the movie: “Did things not go according to your plan, Lord Barkis? Well, perhaps in disappointment, we are perfectly matched.” And with that, she elegantly walks out on her sham of a husband. How refreshing that this time around, the heroine simply walked out on her own free will and strength, rather than wait around for Victor to rescue her.
In the end, Victor chooses Victoria, and appropriately so. Though the Corpse Bride hails from an ironically more animated world and appears to show more passion for life than Victoria (through the scene where Victor and her play the piano and Emily’s enthusiasm causes her to temporarily fall apart on him, literally), the Corpse Bride remains wholly unchanged by Victor. When Victor rejects her, it’s not the pain of Victor’s unrequited love that pains her, but what he represents – a rejection from those who live, which led to her untimely, tragic death. She does not need Victor, nor does he need her; her infatuatiation with him is not in Victor the person, but Victor the ideal, namely, the ideal of a happy marriage.
In the end, Emily chooses to guide Victor to Victoria rather than herself because Emily understands that the source of her heartache is not because Victor initially rejected her, but the fact that fate cruelly snatched away what she felt would be a happily for ever ending. It is Victoria whom Victor truly loves, and vice versa. Both reawakened the original passion for uniting through marriage and love; Emily played second fiddle to Victor’s emotions, and she knew it. She stood as a replacement for Victor’s original lost love, and no marriage should ever be based upon an attempt to regain that which was lost through meaningless substitutes, which both Victor and Emily attempted to do with their planned – but timely averted – wedding. Victoria is the real deal, the girl who turned a reluctant, passionate, creative, bumbling bachelor into a man willing to commit his heart to a woman who loves him for who he is, not for what he represents.
Of course, this is all in a super short film made probably to recapture the glory, magic, and success of the Nightmare Before Christmas, which negates the lesson that Emily and Victor learn in the Corpse Bride. Irony!