The character, not Tim Burton’s musical… it would be an extremely long article if I wrote on that topic. No, there’s too much to say on the film. Go watch it if you haven’t, you won’t regret it. Anyway, what made me write about this? A few days ago we spoke in class about the musical and I prepared a presentation on Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. At the end of it, I was asked why I chose that film and why I like the protagonist. I don’t usually think about why I like a character (at least, not on the spot), but here are some of the reasons.
The cast. I absolutely adore Tim Burton, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. So this makes it easy for me to follow their characters, to try and see things from their perspective. I haven’t seen the musical from 1979 and I doubt I ever will. I don’t think I could feel any kind of sympathy or empathy for Sweeney Todd if he were played by anyone but Johnny Depp. I spoke about this aspect before, there are actors or actresses who simply must play a character; Tim Burton knew what he was doing when the cast was chosen. I have yet to see a character played by Depp and not love (or at least like) him. He is a brilliant actor. I just love it when someone can fully step into the skin of the character, understand it and make the viewer like the one who’s supposed to be the villain of the story.
We see the world through Sweeney’s eyes, so we have access to his motivations. I’m willing to bet that, if the story was told from a different perspective, we wouldn’t feel the same empathy towards him. Seen from the outside, his deeds aren’t exactly excusable. Knowing his reasons… well, things change. You can’t write off his crimes as unimportant, but you can’t really point fingers either. Again, you have to ask yourself: how far would you be willing to go if you were unable to find help anywhere else? My guess… very far. We’re talking about a man who had been robbed of everything he once held dear; coming back – perhaps with a shred of hope – he finds nothing that might pull him out of darkness. Nothing but his thirst for revenge. Not just for him – and this is important – but also for his wife and daughter. Blood and pain can only be washed away by the blood of the true villain, judge Turpin (and I cannot go all fangirl over Alan Rickman… at least, not here and not yet).
Sweeney’s dead from the moment we first see him , but there’s more than meets the eye in him. We tend to say that he barely shows emotion… and we’re not that far from the truth, especially when the oozing blood tends to be the only way his feelings can be released from the shackles of his soul. When you watch the film, study his gestures and the expressions that cross his face, you see that there’s something else there. You will notice that he does not kill the man who has a family. Even more, there are times when his eyes betray a deep sense of sadness and longing. He doesn’t want a new wife and/or children, he wants his old life back, but knows that his wish will never come true. No wonder he considers the straight razors his only friends… they are the only link to his past life, the ones who never betrayed him and the ones who not only helped him kill judge Turpin, but also set him free from the strongest jail: his own body and mind.
His goal is quite honorable (granted, not exactly orthodox), even if the way he achieves it isn’t. He is only human, one who has lost faith in every person and institution who was supposed to protect and help him. What is he to do? Again, what would anyone do to protect the ones they love? And I am not talking about what one should do, but about what one does when (s)he is desperate. Hurt, destroy, make the offender pay. Sweeney Todd is on the verge of insanity, you couldn’t really reason with him even if you tried. He keeps on going for revenge and for the memory of his wife. When he no longer has these forces to push him forth, he embraces death.
To wrap this up… as much as I hate to admit this, Sweeney Todd is a villain, but a complex one, just the way I (we) like them. He defies our expectations, he shows us that we cannot label a person good or evil, that appearances are not always everything. To me, Turpin is more of a villain than Todd is, but the society in which they live sees things differently. I love the fact that we are offered characters that actually represent different types of people, flaws and insanity and all. Brilliant film, brilliant protagonist! Even if some did not like it… I don’t care, I enjoy it every time I watch it and always discover something new about the characters.
Sweeney Todd Full Soundtrack
by Elena Atudosiei