Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Rated: R for graphic bloody violence.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: B+FB+A=A-
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $187 million ($53 US, $100 Intl., $34 DVD)

Written by: Stephen Sondheim, who has done a bugillion soundtracks and won a Tony in 1979 for this musical adaptation of this Victorian era story.
Directed by: Tim Burton, best known for Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas, and the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although I say his masterpiece was Big Fish.
Starring: Johnny Depp (didn’t I say this was a Tim Burton film?), Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman (born for the role), Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jamie Campbell Bower.

After returning from a long stint in prison, an unjustly convicted barber seeks revenge against the judge who stole his wife and daughter from him and any others who get in his way by cutting their throats and serving them in meat pies to the locals.

Entertainment Value: B+
This is really excellent stuff, although I’m always reluctant to give an A to a movie that is only an adaptation of such a well-known existing musical. The play itself is outstanding, one of my mother’s all-time favorites, by the way. Tim Burton is the perfect director to take on this task, as his theatrical darkness is ideally suited to this story.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence F, Language B, Illegality F
There is some swilling of ale, and a young boy passes out drinking gin. There is an implied but not really shown public sexual assault. There are occasional profanities in the music. But the real issue here is obviously the extremely violent, bloody content and the fact that the film is full of murder, murder, and more murder. Tim Burton movies get a PG-13 rating just on principle, but this is definitely an R.

Significant Content: B+
This movie is essentially about injustice, revenge, forgiveness, guilt, and even salvation. But it is also a real commentary on the broader society, which is full of its own injustices and barbarisms.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Tim Burton rarely gets anything less. One thing I will recommend is that you watch it with the subtitles on. I found some of the song lyrics to be muddled underneath the music, and having subtitles on really helped this. What makes this movie so interesting is the complexity of it all. Though the plot on the surface is clearly interesting in its own right, there are lots of other elements to stimulate thinking. What is Sweeney Todd a metaphor for? What does real justice look like? There’s a downright Christian element here in the comment that we all deserve to die, uttered quite amazingly by both Todd and by the judge.

Discussion Questions:
~This is a musical with loads of gruesome killing? Why present it as a musical? Is that intended to make it comedic? Absurd? How would it have been different if it had not been a musical?
~Is revenge satisfying? What would Sweeney Todd’s answer be? How would forgiveness have helped him? Did his revenge accomplish only evil, or also some good? Was it enough to justify the bad? How would this movie have been different if Todd had been a Christian?
~How does unjust imprisonment affect people? Compare the Count of Monte Cristo and even consider John McCain’s experience, for example.
~Which of Todd’s victims deserved death, if any? Which did not? What about the idea here that everyone deserves death? What does the Bible say? What happens to the conscience and judgment of a man who once heads down the path of violence and murder?
~If I told you that an Evangelical Christian had written this and you approached it from that perspective, what Biblical themes, concepts, or illustrations can you see here?
~What is the difference between Sweeney Todd and Judge Turpin?
~Again and again, Todd chooses to pursue his bloodlust over his lost wife even though Mrs. Lovett is offering him new love. Why is this?
~When he says he is full of joy in killing, do you believe him?
~In what ways is our culture of violence symbolized by the barber?
~A Greek Tragedy is predicated on the idea that unexpected and great tragedies befall people because of their essential character flaws. How does that describe this film? What are the various characters’ flaws?
~Do you think the townspeople knew what was going on? Did they turn a blind eye to it because they liked the pies so much? Do you think that people generally want to know the truth or want to believe whatever makes it easier to enjoy the things they want? Why didn't anyone pay attention to the old woman?
~The Bible uses the metaphor of a very sharp sword for the Word of God. Is there any connection with the razors? What do the razors symbolize?
~In what ways is this a movie about pride and vanity? Consider the judge, but also consider that Sweeney Todd is a barber.
~Is this movie a metaphor for people who support Capital Punishment?
Overall Grade: B+, although I should probably grade it higher even as I’m writing this. In fact, I think I will. A-. On the spot revision. That would make my mom happy.

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