It is imperative that you watch the link below in order to participate in the contents of this blog post (and also, because it is awesome).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQXVHITd1N4

Inspired by the recent blog post on Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, I would like to shed light upon another classic, and my personal favorite, Beetlejuice.

A trailer is provided below for those unfamiliar with the movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hovKm9oFiM

The character, Beetlejuice, possesses the ability to assume any state he desires, perpetuating metamorphosis. In doing so, he, “rejects conformity to [himself]” (Bakhtin 39). Beetlejuice alone is a key element in the carnival grotesque. However, there is a scene within the movie that strikes me most when taking into account Bakhtin and the way he elicits the carnival grotesque. The part I am referring to is the dinner party scene that spontaneously breaks out into a playful rendition of “The Banana Boat Song”. The gathering, intended for the showing of artistic contrivances, is subsequently made into a mockery. The degradation of “high art” here (being the Deetzes and their friends of upper class association, as well the artistic form) undergoes a transfer to the material level that is emphasized in the carnival festival. If you are unfamiliar with this scene (which, again, I have provided above for reference) the deceased Maitlands, who are responsible for the dining room possession, devise this spectacle out of an attempt to scare the Deetzes out of what they believe is their home. The humor in this seems quite obvious. The unconventional representation of the spiritual realm and its association with “fright” is akin to Bakhtin’s idea of the carnival grotesque as “a world inside out” (Bakhtin 11). When reverted back to their ordinary state, the guests are excited by the possession, expressed by their breaking out into laughter, much like the communal enjoyment described in the carnival laughter. By the end of the scene all pretention is lost and a distinguishable sense of class is left behind. The tone of the dinner party is changed, and in a sense the guests are re-birthed. The participants of the possession temporarily exist in a utopic, second life. Here, a mockery is being made of spiritual possessions and haunting. This theme permeates the bulk of the movie, and is further exemplified in the scene where the Maitlands put sheets over their heads out of attempt to conjure fear.

As a whole, the movie carries a satirical tone in its portrayal of the after life and paranormal phenomena. For instance, the Maitlands’ temper is constantly conveyed in an exaggerated niceness. Therefore, the very idea that they become ghosts trapped in the after life appears as a mockery of idealized religious beliefs that praises goodness in the fallen world and in turn ensures the prosperity of one’s soul in the after life. Beetlejuice takes part in the lowering of all idealizations that is productive in the carnival grotesque.

 


Bakhtin, M. M. Rabelais And His World. n.p.: Cambridge, Mass. : M.I.T. Press, [1968], 1968. Thompson Rivers University Catalog. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.