When it comes to movies, the standout heroes are typically outgoing, adventurous types with a grand journey ahead of them. Luke Skywalker is the simple farm boy who became an intergalactic savior. Tony Stark is the hot-shot party boy with a brightly a colored suit that he uses to fight supervillains. James Bond is a smooth-talking, womanizing super-spy.
But the unsung stars of cinema are the quiet ones. They're the shut-in types with big dreams and dark secrets. They're the social outcasts that are both feared and ridiculed by the common folk. No other director has captured that sort of persona like Tim Burton.
Though his films are often pegged as "dark," "creepy," or "weird," Burton taps into a style of storytelling that really appeals to film fans in a unique way. Instead of giving us dashing knights riding in on a white horse, he's given us characters that would rather be a wallflower. These characters are some of the most memorable in modern films, and it's all thanks to Burton's distinct style.
Introvert: A Person Who Tends To Turn Inward Mentally
As a true introvert, Burton is able to present us all with accurate depictions of the introvert lifestyle. He himself has lived the life of an outcast, and he reflects those pieces of himself onto his many iconic characters. In 2010, he told Independent:
"If you've ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you. You can be happy or successful or whatever, but that thing still stays within you."
His feelings of being an outsider have been represented in many iconic characters in his movies. Take Alice from Alice in Wonderland, take Sweeney Todd, take Edward Scissorhands. All of these characters are forced to live in environments where they are labeled as outsiders. Though they come off as "dark" and "weird," they are just representations of one person who just doesn't fit in.
Edward Scissorhands is perhaps the most accurate example out of his many wonderful films. Edward is forced into a seemingly perfect suburban community, where he is seen as an outcast because of his peculiar mannerisms and, well, scissors for hands. That doesn't stop him from contributing to the community, and even falling in love with a girl.
Through his many trials and tribulations, we as an audience want him to succeed because everyone can relate to him in a different way. Whether you are a party animal or a socially awkward bookworm, we've all been in situations that made us feel like the odd one out. There have been times where we just want to be perceived as normal in an abnormal environment or situation.
The Many Faces Of Introverts
Even though Burton's movies often have a common theme, the characters themselves are quite different. They are all introverts in the typical sense of the word, but they center around different aspects of introversion.
As I said with Edward Scissorhands, Edward was forced into an uncomfortable environment from brutal origins and forced to adapt. He felt out of place in a normal society, so he tried to change himself to be normal.
Lydia from Beetlejuice was quite the opposite. She had no traumatic upbringing. She lived a relatively normal life, but she was unhappy with it all the same. Like Edward, she didn't fit in with the "normal" crowd, but unlike Edward, she doesn't care about conformity. She identifies more with the dead characters, though she remains in the world of the living.
Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne is a bit of a mixture of the two. He had a tragic childhood like Edward did, but as he grew older he fit into society more. Yet his billionaire status still kept him an outcast from everyone else. If that wasn't enough, he prowled the nights as Batman, a vigilante who is both feared and revered by society.
Even when interacting with the public, Bruce is an outcast to himself, because he sees Batman as his true self. When he puts on the cape and cowl, he is even more of an outcast because of his seclusion from society. Despite his penchant for roaming rooftops and beating up thugs, you could say that Batman is really the ultimate introvert.
The Voice Of A Younger Generation
Those three early era Burton films — Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands — are what gave the director his dark reputation early on. But now with some of his more recent offerings like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and the upcoming Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Burton has steadily become more family-friendly while exploring the same themes.
When you look at some of Burton's quotes, you can see that many of his stories and characters are influenced by his own childhood, and his observations of the younger generation in general. He told Express:
"Anybody with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child."
This makes a great deal of sense, especially when you see the theme of isolated protagonists throughout his films. He reiterated to the New York Times:
"I think a lot of kids feel alone and slightly isolated and in their own world."
That last quote paints a perfect picture of yet another character in one of his movies: Willy Wonka. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the character of Wonka is quite literally isolated, trapped in his own world of his chocolate factory.
Though Johnny Depp's iteration of the character seems a bit more odd and detached than Gene Wilder's portrayal in the original Willy Wonka movie, Burton explains the difference through a couple of key segments in the movie. What you might notice in Burton's film is that Willy Wonka has a few flashback sequences, showing his difficult childhood and the way that Wonka felt left out as a kid. As the character grew up, he alienated himself even more to the point where he came off as just plain crazy.
Well, as Burton said himself:
"One person's craziness is another person's reality."
From Dreams To Reality
To most people, dreams are just interesting or terrifying tidbits that play through your head when you sleep. But to introverts, the more creative and imaginative of folk, dreams can be a major source of inspiration. Whether you're an artist, a poet, a writer or a filmmaker, dreams can be the key to unlock creativity.
This is especially the case for Burton, who sees dreams as much more than they appear.
"Well, fantasy isn't fantasy — it's reality if it connects to you. It's like a dream. You have a nightmare, and it's got all this crazy imagery, but it's real. You wake up in a cold sweat, freaking out. That's completely real."
He really drove that point home in Alice in Wonderland. In the beginning of the film, a young Alice explains Wonderland to her father, who comforts her by telling her it was only a dream.
She provides evidence to the contrary later in life, when she returns to Wonderland once again. It is then that we realize that it was not a dream at all, but reality to her. Not all dreams have to be imaginative nonsense in our resting mind. There is always reality to our dreams, and you don't have to be mad as a hatter to act on those dreams.
Just Be Yourself
"Just be yourself." Perhaps three of the most oft-spoken words of advice in history, yet three of the most honest and important words that we should all take to heart. Being yourself can be difficult for an introverted person, because when one feels isolated and detached from the rest of their surroundings, it's only natural for one to assimilate themselves to fit in better.
Burton understands this perfectly:
"Everybody in the whole world has been misperceived. In school, you wanted something to come across this way and it didn’t come across… It’s why you struggle as a child and you draw and you want to create. There is an impulse to be seen. For yourself: What you are."
If you watch any of Burton's movies, they are almost always about the oddball protagonist being themselves, not caring whether someone is calling you a freak or not.
While yes, Burton's movies can be a bit "dark," that doesn't necessarily mean anything negative. The oddity of his films speaks to the introvert in all of us, to the oddball in each party animal. Being weird doesn't mean bad, it just means interesting.