SATURDAY REVIEW Tim Burton enchants with gifts of beauty and peculiarity

The Florence and The Machine video from “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” illustrates the movie better than the trailer does. It captures the feeling of that world, it plunges deeply into the heart of beauty and darkness of this Gothic treasure Tim Burton gave us in 2016.
The music video presents it in a more artistic way. Still, it doesn’t give too much away about the story as to spoil it for the viewer.

Danger and horror enhance romanticism

As the caption image shows, the movie certainly reminds of the Titanic story. Take the romance between two youngsters separated by the two different worlds they come from. Watch the images of the sunken ship they explore, a mesmerising underwater landscape of beauty and decay, of muffled screams of terror and serenity, of death and life reclaiming its place. In a way, Tim Burton‘s movie takes the archetypal image of the shipwreck and turns it the other way around.

The magic resides in every corner of the world Miss Peregrine and her special children live in, and so does the horror. Which will prevail in the end?
While the question remains at the chore of any Gothic story, Tim Burton takes it and twists it in his own, peculiar way. Avoiding spoilers, I can point to how a positive outcome does not eliminate the struggle. Dangers stay present as part of the world, just as the joy of a pure moment lasts – a jewel sparkling in the tides of memory. The presence of evil makes navigating through time and space, if anything, even more romantic.

I enjoyed the story and its stages, from the connection between grandson and grandfather, the great story teller of his childhood, to how the sanctuary of these WWII X-men type children came to be and how it functioned. Based on the dark fantasy book by Ransom Riggs with the same name, published in 2011, it combines elements of a thriller with some great horror images and facts, and it keeps a fragile balance between impending doom and unexpected bliss,  fuelling the intensity of the narrative. Burton is known to be well versed in all of these and one would expect him to mix them into a unique concoction.

Top ten Gothic features of the movie

What I loved in his 2016 movie though were certain details, taken out of their typical presence and personalised. I will name the 10 best Gothic features of the house of peculiar children:

  • The main character, a shy boy not ready to face the world, grew up with fascinating and horrifying stories which he rejects when he reaches teenage years. His slumped posture and deep eyes, with sparkles like fire on ice dancing inside, reveal his melancholic dreaminess.
  • One of the cutest girls in the house presents one of the most animalistic features. However, this does not spoil her sweetness at all.
  • We encounter living dead, one way or another. Some are monsters lurking in the pockets of reality, some are the most pitiful of characters to meet.
  • Toys come to life in a kind of mad scientist laboratory, and they freak you out while making you feel sorry for them at the same time.
    Photo by Leah Gallo
  • Two characters in the movie posses very dark gifts, which leads you to perceive them as possible threats.
  • The obsessive occurrence of eyes as most terrifying elements made me think of Edgar Allan Poe’s teeth story. Hollow eyes, fluorescent eyes, eyes out of their sockets – each and all of these can haunt the mind.
  • The Victorian house, with the luxuriant gardens, the formal dinners, the evening entertainment provided by an account of dreams and visions – what is not Gothic about this?
  • The characters are trapped in a bubble meant for their safety, to which they show different degrees of resignation or acceptance. There is no way out for them.
  • The monsters you feed will one day consume you.
  • Immortality does not come as a gift. It either bears the burden of never knowing the pleasure of a simple life, or it brings madness on its wings.

Knowledgeable women lead the world of peculiars

I also strongly appreciate the presence of the female characters in the story. First of all, Miss Peregrine proves a very intelligent lady, with a highly scientific mind, able of making mathematic calculations on time and space and physics in a blink. That was quite dazzling. Then she is also highly attractive – another point of appreciation from me to Tim Burton, who avoids the cliche that an intellectual woman (or man) would look rather geeky than exude sexual mystery. And, as you can see, she can fight!

Photo by Jay Maidment – © 2016 – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

And last, but not least – women are the leaders of this world of people with special gifts. Unlike X-men, where the strongest characters were still men, they keep the world together here, make plans, and ensure everything functions like clockwork. While presenting some sort of maternal aura, they rather come across as women of steel, determination and knowledge (the Wonderwoman type). Now that is something I love to see in a movie as an alternative to other fantasy worlds, where female characters play rather secondary, elusive roles even when they appear strong and wise.

Tim Burton also renders that air of Britishness to the setting. While the movie doesn’t follow the context of the book accurately, the author, present on set, commended the interpretation and changes made by the director and the screenwriter. The choice of using Blackpool as the final scene plays perfectly in preserving a British character.

Any thoughts on the movie, if you liked it or not, please do share in comments. I would like to know your opinion too. 

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