Friday, December 28, 2007

The Power of Revenge: Sweeney Todd

I was only vaguely aware that there was a musical about a murderous barber. I am not very familiar with the musical, and I don't know how popular it was. After seeing this movie last night, I am convinced that the only reason that most people will go and see this is because of Johnny Depp & Tim Burton. That's why I went. I have always been a fan of Tim Burton's work, with a few exceptions like Planet of the Apes and his two Batman movies. Depp has always been one of his favorites to work with and I always have enjoyed it when they team up. Burton is an excellent storyteller who knows how to use visuals to enhance the story. This film is no exception. London and most of its inhabitants are pale and grey. The few splashes of color either represent those whom Todd will have his revenge on, the "innocent," or the blood that flows during the taking of that revenge. The music is outstanding. Everyone can sing. I was not all that surprised that Depp could sing. Alan Rickman's vocal performance is what impressed me. The acting was wonderful. Depp has never looked more haunted or sinister. Helena Bohnam Carter was excellent as Todd's partner in crime.

But I am still torn as to what kind of review to give this film. There is so much to like about Sweeney Todd. I'm still trying to sort out the point of the whole thing. Why go to such great and wonderful lengths to tell such a dark story? The tag line on the poster for the film is "Never Forget, Never Forgive." It's all about revenge. Todd will have his revenge on those who wronged him. He was done a great injustice, but does that warrant all the bloodshed? At first Todd only wants those who had a hand in the wrong that was done to him, but soon after he goes for the throats of any poor soul who sits in his chair. His revenge is consuming him. As Aunt May told Peter in Spider-Man 3, "Revenge is like a poison." It poisons everything that Todd does, even to the point of his own destruction. I don't think that Burton intended to make Todd a sympathetic character. Can we understand his pain at the injustice he was given? Yes. But at the revenge he took? No. At least while I was watching, every time someone was in his chair, I wanted him to stop. By the time he took his revenge on the one man he was after the entire film, Todd had become the villain of the film. His thirst for revenge killed him long before he meets his end.

Revenge and injustice is a popular theme in films. It is something that I enjoy thinking about because I think that everyone can understand injustice and wanting to take matters into our own hands. Especially when those who are supposed to give us justice give us a big helping of injustice instead. Scripture tells us that it is God alone who will bring vengeance. The hard part is waiting, because so much injustice needs to be made right, and much of it right now. But bringing justice and revenge are never the same. Revenge always poisons and kills more we intend. Because that is not our place. As believers, we need to work with the tools that God has given us, like civil authorities (Romans 13) to work against injustice. When those fail, we must wait on God for justice. Some of that will happen now, but much of it will have to wait until our Lord's return.

So what about the Demon Barber of Fleet Street? Todd is no hero. Revenge poisons and kills. Revenge also blinds us to good things that are right in front of us. Todd was so blind that he SPOILER ALERT killed the wife he thought he lost. This was a great movie because of the view it took on revenge, as well as its design and performances. But I won't see it again. The movie leaves you with no hope. I need a little hope in my films now and then. Hope is redemptive, and there is no redemption for Sweeney Todd.

I'll give it 9/10


Anonymous said...


Sue said...

I thought ST was an outstanding movie, in spite of the overwhelming flow of blood.
The music made it for me, and the lesson that ST let his vengence consume his life.

A. Walter said...

Jason, you crazy son of a gun... Joined the blogging world, eh? Good for you. (Mr. Dunn alerted me.)

I'm hoping to see Sweeney this week. I think the first time I saw the musical was on video in Pete Lindstrom's room in Marston! As I remember it, the story is half cautionary tale and half Grand Guignol. BTW, there's a pretty good review of Burton's film at Hollywood Jesus, here.

I'll say it again... Very glad to discover your blog. And if you feel your Spidey sense tingling every now and again, that's probably just me poking around your blog.

~Adam (PS, my blog's here.)

SPAM said...


My hair stylist is recently pregnant. With her hormones bubbling under the surface I hope she doesn't pull a "Sweeney Todd" on me next time I'm in for a thinnin'....

Grease Dawn