The Mindful Bard – Frankenweenie

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change Your World

Film: Frankenweenie

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Winona Ryder, Catherine O?Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer

The Very Mortal Deadlock Between Love and Power

?MR. RZYKRUSKI: Your country needs more scientists. They should make more. You should be a scientist.
VICTOR: Nobody likes scientists.
MR. RZYKRUSKI: They like what science gives them, but not the questions.?

from Frankenweenie

Escape and Engage

For the creative mind, escape is both a good thing and a bad thing. Yes, artists need those escapes that renew us and spark new ideas; but the escapes should also help us engage better with reality and assume our responsibility as arbiters of positive change.

The first purpose of this column is to recommend books, music, and film that inform and stimulate the artist’s imagination, and the second is to encourage mindfulness?that state of consciousness in which one becomes aware of reality as it is, a state which ideally evolves into a readiness to respond with compassion to the suffering in the world.

Awakening the Inner Child

There’s something about animation that awakens the inner child, that delightful catalyst of creative energy that we hope we still carry with us. As children we watched animation to escape from the imagination-numbing strictures on our lives, all while maintaining our sense that nothing was really on our shoulders. A benevolent clockmaker was looking after the happy endings, and so we could explore the universe with abandon.

What’s Wrong With Raising the Dead?

Tim Burton is a master of this genre and also at making deep thought fun, of presenting the secrets of the psyche and the collective unconscious in a way that makes them salient.

Frankenweenie, for example, raises an ethical question: What’s wrong with raising the dead? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to revive someone you adore? The problem is that as love wanes, power waxes monstrous, and in this vale of tears, love wanes more often than we’d like to admit.

As in Mary Shelley’s original myth, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the 1931 film Frankenstein, to which Frankenweenie pays a kind of bizarre homage, two strong motives conspire to compel us to try to raise the dead. These are 1) a desire to vie with God for power over life and death; and 2) a longing to retrieve from the grave mortal creatures from whom we can’t bear to be parted.

Victor Frankenstein loves Sparky, and not just as a companion; they have a creative partnership in the films they create together. Thus is the viewer, especially the viewer who creates, primed for the horror of Sparky’s demise.

Weird Science

Victor’s science teacher looks like Boris Karloff with a Dali moustache. He voices, in a dramatic East-European accent, the scientist’s worldview (as well as representing the reality that America gets most of its scientific brains from other countries). A chalkboard lecture sets up the interest in lightning, a symbol of conflict and quickening. It seems that this is a classroom full of gifted?and very weird?kids, a true artist’s haven. But being surrounded by geniuses has its dark side.

The Conscious Thwarting of the Grieving Process

When Victor loses Sparky the first time, his parents, as families often do, prevent him from grieving properly. The father’s hands are actually on Victor’s neck as Victor yells and tries to run to his dog. They make the normal clumsy attempts to comfort him, ignoring the reality and depth of the emotions of bereavement in the hopes that things will get back to normal, when in fact the loss has signalled a permanent change. Then they leave him to mourn alone at his dog’s grave, thus jeopardizing the very healing process they want expedited.

Eclipse of the Heart

Later, Victor is more amazed at having been able to bring Sparky to life than pleased about his precious dog having been returned to him; love is eclipsed by the heady rush accompanying the accomplishment of an amazing, fate-defying feat. But the power we wield, no matter how intoxicating, is limited. Our love, however, is tapped from something much bigger.

Frankenweenie manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; and 7) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.

On January 25, way back in issue no. 4, The Voice Magazine published this review of Frankenweenie. It’s been selected for the Best of the Voice as a review that informs about the movie while giving us interesting questions to think about when we’re beyond it. It also encapsulates within it just what “The Mindful Bard” column is all about. The fact that I’m a Tim Burton fan, myself, was really just icing.