What would you do if the years of hard work and developing your own style were, in the end, credited to somebody else? Based on a real-life story, new Tim Burton’s film brilliantly tells the story of a woman with a gem of the talent that gets “stolen” by the man of her life as a lie becomes the destruction of her self-confidence and many opportunities to get the well-deserved recognition.

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane. Source: promotional materials of the distributor
Amy Adams as Margaret Keane. Source: promotional materials of the distributor

Leaving her husband and trying to begin a whole new life in San Francisco, Margaret tries to earn her living with a dull job and selling her art for a song. Her private life seems to get better when she meets the self-proclaimed artist Walter there – and before too long she falls for him. In defence of her daughter, she decides to marry him. They try to settle themselves in the world of art, and they kick-start their exhibition by a scandal described in a local column. Nevertheless, it’s Margaret’s style which becomes noticed – with her signature big, sad eyes of people she meets. She’s not allowed to succeed, though; her partner starts taking the credit for her works. Soon “big-eyed children” become a commercial hit, and Walter becomes a celebrity – giving his wife a duty of keeping the manipulation alive by painting and the infernal pleasures of sharing the same surname. He gets her tangled in the net of lies which seem to unravel in every single situation the Keanes find themselves into – and the way out equals many choices which, for Margaret, seem to be impossible to bear.

The tension grows as the sense of justice keeps on being tested all over throughout every single second of a hundred minutes. The plot is based on the real-life events, but the foundation of the true story is backed up by outstanding acting. Watching Amy Adams as Margaret, who tries to sort out her life and ends up caged again, is just confirming her acting excellence. She is powerful both in her helplessness of keeping the secret hidden behind the scenes of the well-marketed art business and in the strength she finds to fight with her “other half” who harms her every single day. Tackling the subject of being caught in a destructive relationship, she examines and brings the understanding of something that can’t be easily unsnarled and left to the fore. As she changes and becomes ready to fight, Margaret shouts out the positive message with her every single act – there is a way out; no pressure can be eternal if it’s being fought and one can protect themselves from mental abuse.

Christoph Waltz charms the audience in exactly the same way Walter enchants everybody around him. The utter manipulator, sure of his skills, conquers the world by indulging into the social side of the art scene and making use of it constantly. He becomes the creator of the imperium, dragging art to commercial side and making sure that he can get every penny out of his wife’s works. It also poses a question of connection of art to its creator. His character treats art as something that brings loads of money and can be easily reproduced if there’s a need and the possibility of selling it. For the purposes of promoting “his” business, he decides to sell prints, pictures and gadgets, which makes the arts much less unique. It’s Margaret who describes the eyes as “windows of the soul” and is able to introduce the concepts behind her signature details further. As they are not formally “hers”, she still looks for the ways of expression that would create something on her own without “hurting” her husband and shyly defends her rights to the fame she deserves. This way, the art bohemia which is tightly laced with media is shown both as a brutal, almost celebrity-like, fad-lead environment, but also as something that had let people shout out their feelings in a non-verbal way for centuries. It definitely wakes up the thought – when the borders between the artist’s perception of the world and his works overlap and when the high concepts become the applied arts?

What is worth noticing, the issue of the superiority of men over women is being examined in the drama, too. From the very beginning and the question, “Does your husband allow you to work?” that the leading lady hears in her job interview, the brutal reality of her times before the further emancipation brought by the Sixties, which lets Walter get „people don’t buy woman art” as an alibi, is highlighted. Walter forces Margaret into thinking that she needs him because of his abilities to put spells on people by telling soothing, weepy stories and interacting with the art world. That is how the unhealthy vibe grows, along with tiredness that she feels. Again, the film gets a slightly feminist nod as it acts in favour of women – showing as the vulnerable and fragile character develops, turning into a truly strong heroine.

What gives the movie a tang of the visual creativity is playing with the theme of the eyes. One of the moments that became remarkably haunting is the surrealistically ending scene which features Margaret shopping in the local supermarket. Suddenly, everybody becomes “big-eyed children”, staring at their creator with disillusionment and pity. Creepy as can be, it seems to slap the audience with the main character’s disgust with what her husband did as he turned the art into the craft. Later on, her urge to respond with narrow eyes and edgy models justifies her feelings once again. In this film, images speak louder than words and actions sometimes – and that’s what completes every other manifestation of feelings and opinions.

A dark modern tale of the Cinderella enslaved by her own Prince Charming carries several statements – being equally an engaging film and an intellectually demanding watch. Tim Burton gives us what we might expect from him. The outcome is a compelling drama with a strong plot and superb acting – and several issues to keep the audience thinking and leave the cinema truly stirred.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate whenever the opportunity arises. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being. Liked my work? Buy me a coffee!

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