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Marrying a Corpse


I recently just watched the Tim Burton movieĀ The Corpse Bride and it got me thinking about the two worlds of the living and dead that Burton had created in the movie.

If you don’t know plot, a young Victorian man named Victor is supposed to marrying an woman, named Victoria, from an upper-class but unbelievably poor family that is using Victor’s rich merchant family to keep themselves from going bankrupt. Victor afraid of his wedding vows, runs away from the rehearsal in the woods, where, reciting his wedding vows, finally gets them right and put the ring on what looks like the root of a tree. Little does he know he actually put the ring on a corpse of a young bride who was murdered on her wedding night, becoming her husband. And the plot thickens…

What is interesting in this movie is the stark contrast between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The world of the dead is colorful, full of raucous jazz and laughter and is almost poking fun at the way each person died by making jokes about a man cut in half, the head of a waiter, etc. etc. And the way the Corpse Bride was betrayed and killed by her lover is made into a fantastically fun song that a skeleton named Bone Jangles sings. Comparatively, the world of the living is black and white and filled with organ music. The living appear more dead than the dead, with their sunken-in eyes and grey lips.

This is a story where the dead have this life in them that the living lack. The world of the living is restrained and limited, dark and grey, whereas the world of the dead is raucous and fun, jazzy, bright and coloful.

Update: In light of our discussion today on 17th and 18th century views on death, I would like to point out that the love and sensuality of death that is brought out in these centuries, is apparent in this movie. We are not particularly disgusted that Victor will marry the corpse bride, we’re still banking on Victoria, but we feel sorry for the dead bride who was killed by a person she loved and trusted. What we might find problematic in relating to the bride is that she is dead and we are not, but look at the song lyrics of “Tears to Shed”, a song she sings:

The Corpse Bride – Tears to Shed

I know, it’s a spider and maggot telling her how special she is, BUT the message of the song is that she can still feel and do everything a living human can except breath (and she’s rotting, of course). She is still seen as beautiful and mostly marriageable and Victor promises to marry her. Of course this is post 17th and 18th century so Victor can’t be married to a dead person, but has to kill himself in order to be with her (so no real necrophilia here) and eventually Victor and Victoria do end up together so it’s living with living and dead with dead as it should be. Still it has that same sensuality of death that was beginning to be represented in the 17th c. then carried on to extremity in the 18th c.