The Weird Wisdom of Beetlejuice, 30 Years Later


“It’s showtime.” It’s been 30 years since Beetlejuice came
out, and in that time, Tim Burton’s strange and unusual brainchild has left an indelible mark on pop culture. “What’s the blond’s name? Bitter, butter, Beetlejuice?” Before we go on, if you’re new here be sure to subscribe and click the bell to get notified about all of our new videos. As was only Burton’s second feature, and it established the director’s talent for mixing childlike innocence and the bizarre. “Live people ignore the strange and unusual. I myself am strange and unusual.” It mainstreamed the goth subculture, and shaped the persona of it-girl Winona Ryder
— who followed up Lydia with a series of other depressed or dark but charming characters. The movie’s DIY special effects showed filmmakers that you could be visually inventive without making having to make everything glossy, slick and computerized. And the film popularized a genre that we still don’t really have a word for — a family movie about ghosts, that’s dark in a feel-good way. “There’s something very sort of pure about
it in a weird way.” “I think that’s the case, yeah.” Burton has said that the film “has elements of horror but it’s not really
scary and it’s funny but not really a comedy. Beetlejuice is one of those movies that just does not fit any place.” So let’s take a look at how Beetlejuice
endures as a beloved classic that teaches us to allow weirdness into our lives while staying pure at heart. “Beetle…juice?” “Yes, that’s it!” “Your name’s Beetlejuice?” “AH! You said it twice. Just say it once more, come on!” Beetlejuice showed that a ghost story could
be a wholesome family film. It paved the way for Coco to talk to kids about death in a positive way, and use family as a lens to make death less scary. “Where are all the other dead people in
the world? Why is it just you and me?” “Maybe this is Heaven.” Beetlejuice takes the fear factor out of dying and out of the idea of ghosts. “What’s the good of being a ghost if you can’t frighten people away?” Adam and Barbara try hard to be intimidating. But they’re the sweetest, most innocent
ghosts you could imagine. “You tell them that we are horrible ghoulish
creatures who will stop at nothing to get our house
back.” Their attempts to scare only provoke delight. “They want you to come downstairs. Delia says you can wear any sheets you want.” “I didn’t even know I could do the calypso.” Originally Beetlejuice was meant to be much
darker — Adam and Barbara’s deaths were more graphic, and Betelgeuse was trying to murder the Deetzes and rape Lydia, whereas in the final film he’s just trying
to scare the family and make Lydia his child
bride — which is obviously still very creepy. But the final movie deals with death in a silly, charming way that ends up making us less afraid of it. “You know what they say about people who commit suicide? In the afterlife they become civil servants.” “They were trying to scare you away, and you didn’t get scared.” “Please, they’re dead. It’s a little late to be neurotic.” Beetlejuice also took the fearsomeness out of the goth subculture — it revealed that being drawn to the gothic isn’t about being a cynical misanthrope. “So you were miserable in New York City, and now you’re going to be miserable out here in the sticks. At least someone’s life hasn’t been upheaved.” It stems from a sensitive, open, human worldview. Lydia embodies the type of the angsty goth
rebel. “As soon as we get settled, we’ll build
you a darkroom in the basement.” “My whole life is a dark room.” But just as Adam and Barbara make us rethink our idea of ghosts, Lydia undoes our idea of who a goth is. She’s only drawn to death because she feels isolated. “I am utterly alone.” Thus her attraction to death is really a longing for meaningful relationships. “God! You guys really are dead! This is amazing!” We never find out what happened to Lydia’s biological mother, “Why were you guys creeping around in Delia’s bedroom?” “We were trying to scare your mother.” “Stepmother.” but it seems likely that she passed away. And Lydia’s only friends are dead as well. So she wants to join them. “I want to be dead, too.” “No! Lydia, being dead really doesn’t make things any easier.” Once Lydia starts getting that care and attention she’s craving from a parent figure, “I got an A!” she has a new appreciation for life. So Beetlejuice shows the sweet, heartwarming
side of the goth point of view, within this sweet heartwarming version of a ghost story. Beetlejuice’s visuals turn a “horror aesthetic” into something inviting and playful. The film’s look takes after German Expressionism
— the German cinema style that inspired the look of the horror genre. The scene where the characters defeat Betelgeuse looks straight out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Production designer Bo Welch has confirmed that the netherworld waiting room scene was channeling Caligari. “It’s Caligari, but also it’s Frank
Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax building meets the DMV.” Welch said that Burton was influenced by old horror movies, but he viewed them with a sense of humor. “I’ve seen The Exorcist about 167 times, and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it!” So like he does with ghosts and goths, Burton makes us see what’s warm and lovely about horror visuals — and since then he’s gone on to do this in film after film. Burton wanted Beetlejuice’s visual effects to look fake and not super sophisticated. His background in animation informed the film’s use of stop motion. And the film has a kind of sweetly DIY feel that’s oddly comforting in today’s age of CGI and expensive effects. “All that in-camera stuff, all the stop motion, all the real masks. There’s no digital cleanup or digital stuff in this movie at all. Zero. And really it comes across as charming and warming and fuzzy and cheesy.” At the start of the movie we see a house that looks like a model, and then it’s revealed that it is a model. Adam’s model town is a mirror of Burton
the filmmaker playing with his characters and story. And inventiveness with puppets and miniatures leads to memorable imagery like the Dalí-esque desert scenes. “Adam!” “Barbara!” “Help, I’m getting all yellow!” So with all this, Beetlejuice shows how there’s
soul in the homemade and the old-fashioned. Cinematographer Tom Ackerman said that in the film they were trying to “create this Norman Rockwell-esque New England world.” But then when the Deetzes move in, they transform the Maitlands’ cozy house into something urban and postmodern. The Deetzes’ taste is inspired by Memphis
design, the 80s furniture trend that was associated with the abstract, asymmetrical shapes, and bright colors. Gizmodo has actually argued that the true villain of Beetlejuice is contemporary design itself. That’s a really interesting statement because it implies Burton’s love of the
gothic aesthetic is even a moral stance. It’s as if he’s saying that if you only
go for fashionable aesthetics, you miss out on the beauty that’s already in front of your eyes. The Deetzes are taking a great house and basically destroying it through their
renovations — because they’re so fixated on trendiness that they’re blind to the value of what’s already there. “We wreak havoc on their lives. Actually it’s the humans haunting the ghosts.” So one of the things the movie teaches is that you should open your eyes to what’s really in front of you, however strange and unusual it may be. It’s symbolic that Lydia can see ghosts while her parents can’t. “Just today she tried to convince me this house is haunted.” Since Lydia is “strange and unusual” herself, she’s open to observing her surroundings without assumption or judgement. That gives her accurate insight. “Wait, what am I worried about? You can’t even change a tire.” She immediately recognizes the Maitlands as friendly, worthwhile people, “Listen, you guys, these ghosts are really nice people. I think we scared them away. Let’s just leave them alone, alright?” and she can tell fairly quickly that she should have her guard up with Betelgeuse. “Say it!” “No. I’ll wait to talk to Barbara.” But her parents are so preoccupied with social status and material success they can’t see anything else. “No one dining here this evening has not
been in Vanity Fair. Except you.” “I told them you’re too mean to be afraid.” Once the Deetzes realize their house is indeed
haunted, their first instinct is to capitalize on it. “People will pay big money for this, right
Grace?” “The Enquirer is offering $50,000 for proof of life after death.” “$50,000!” The séance they perform is the most upsetting
scene in the movie — “To the living let now the dead come alive.” the Deetzes and their friends conjure Adam and Barbara and make the couple rapidly decay before their eyes. Up until now, Adam and Barbara have looked
exactly the same dead as they did alive. “This is what happens when you die.” “This is what happens when you die. That is what happens when he dies. And that is what happens when they die. It’s all very personal.” And the fact that they haven’t physically
changed might represent that their core identities and humanity haven’t altered, either. But the images of them deteriorating during
the séance suggest that their essences are at risk of
disappearing. “They’re dying!” “No, they’re already dead, they can’t
feel a thing.” “That’s not true, look at them!” “That’s enough now.” So Beetlejuice shows that forced, artificial
contact with the dead or supernatural is wrong. The connection has to come from a heartfelt, unselfish place. In some ways Betelguese the character is an afterlife version of the Deetzes’ shallow New York scene. He has the same self-serving instincts, and his appearance reflects his rotted insides. “Whoa, hey, what are you doing? Stop it! Hey! You’re messing up my hair! Come on! Whoa! Whoa! Stop it! Whoa!” One of the big lessons of the movie is to accept things that aren’t exactly what we planned or hoped for. Finding out you’re dead isn’t what any
of us would want. “We’re very unhappy.” “What did you expect? You’re dead!” But there can be a silver lining to even the darkest of clouds. At the beginning of the film, Adam and Barbara’s real estate agent alludes to their trouble having kids. “This house is too big for you — it really ought to be for a couple with a family, you know?” “Oh, pumpkin, I didn’t mean anything. It’s just that really this house is too big.” And they seem to be preparing this big house in hopes of filling it with a family. “Jane says we should sell the house to someone with a family.” “I don’t think it’s any of Jane’s business. Besides, we could try again on this vacation.” When they die we assume that their dream of becoming parents has died with them. But then Lydia comes into their lives, and she turns out to be the daughter they
always wanted. In the end scene, it’s obvious that the Maitlands are Lydia’s real parents
now. And the movie concludes in a tableau of domestic bliss. In many stories, ghosts are said to remain
on earth because they have unfinished business. In Beetlejuice, there’s no such statement. “We’re dead. I don’t think we have much to worry about anymore.” But Adam and Barbara do get to fulfill their
dreams after they die. They just have to stop being so set on getting the Deetzes out of their house so they can realize that this is how it’s
meant to be. So the message is we shouldn’t fight what’s
calling us because we think we already know what’s
best for us. If we open up to what could really be out
there, we might be pleasantly surprised by all that life and the beyond have to offer. “That’s right, Lydia.” Hey guys, it’s Susannah and Debra here. Thank you so much for watching. If you’re new here, please subscribe, tell all your friends, and please consider clicking the bells so you get notifications for all of our new
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