Big Eyes – Movie Discussion
Big Eyes is the fascinating true tale of two people. Two intersecting lives who were completely opposite in their giftings and their journeys—one is a tale of tragedy, the other of growth.
Margaret’s was a tale of growth. When they met, Walter summed her up perfectly. “You undervalue yourself.” It was hard not to, however. She had been in an abusive marriage (abuse always attacks a person’s sense of worth). Then, she left her husband at a time when women simply didn’t leave their husbands. They didn’t go out on their own, and if they did, they couldn’t survive. The world’s message to her was that she needed a man to survive. The world told her she was less because she was divorced, single, and female. The movie is about Margaret’s struggle (and growth) to find strength and value in herself.
She made her living by her art, but it sold for pennies. In fact, she was told it would never sell for anything more as long as the world knew that she, a woman, was the artist. So, at a time of great vulnerability, she met this charming man who was her opposite. He was full of confidence, not only in himself, but in her as well. He praised her art and told her she should think more of herself and her work. He was right, of course. And before long, they married. Walter started out confident and helping Margaret become so as well, but his is a tragic tale.
He didn’t set out to take credit for her art, but it happened. He was out marketing their art, his and hers, and when someone assumed he painted both, he didn’t correct them. He said it was because no one would buy her paintings if they knew she had painted them. So, he let them think he was the artist and it sold. This may have been true to a point—maybe he was right about people’s response, and maybe he was just trying to help her at first, but there was more to the story. Turns out, he had done this before. The painting he sold weren’t his at all. He had always wanted to be an artist. He bought a bunch of paintings from a painter in France, put his name on them and sold them as his own.
The moment he lied about her paintings, things began to change for the worse. Margaret who had before felt encouraged and supported by Walter, was immediately belittled again. Her sense of worth and value which had been on the rise because of his praise and support was squashed. She lived as a recluse, hiding their lie from the world, locked in the attic producing paintings for him for hours upon hours daily. Meanwhile, his ego and confidence only grew. It was a false sense of confidence, but it was confidence nonetheless. He became more and more domineering and controlling until eventually, she and her daughter had to flee for their lives.
The interesting thing is that, while her husband’s lies and control diminished Margaret’s sense of worth, the wild success of her paintings bolstered it. Similarly, while his ego and confidence grew because of his worldly success, the truth was eating away at him and making him increasingly fearful. In the end, the truth won out for both of them—a positive thing for Margaret, and a negative for Walter. Margaret finally sued him, and won, gaining her self-respect and confidence. Walter was disgraced, never admitted defeat, and never painted another thing (whether he’d ever painted anything in the first place is questionable, at best).
It was a long road, and it seemed that Margaret was on the losing end of it for the majority of the story, but in the end, truth won out. In the end, no one would want to be Walter, despite how successful he was along the way.
Here is what is so tragic—Walter was never able to recognize his true talent. He could see that Margaret undervalued herself. He felt she was selling herself short. He saw her amazing talent for what it was…but he couldn’t see that he was largely doing the same thing. He was trying to be something he wasn’t. He was trying to be a painter. Actually, that would have been better. He wasn’t trying to be a painter—at least that would have been an honest (if misplaced) pursuit; he was posing as a painter; lying about being a painter. Walter’s real talent wasn’t painting, it was sales and marketing (and charm). He was a genius at marketing and driving sales. If he had seen the value in that, he and Margaret could have made an amazing team. They were an amazing team when she was painting and he was selling her paintings, it’s just that it didn’t last because he forced them both into a lie and that hurt them both.
This is why the Bible emphasizes so much the image of the body of Christ. We can’t all be a hand. We can’t all be a painter. We need different parts of the body if the body is to function. If he had supported her giftedness (vs. being jealous of it) and if he had been confident in his own giftedness, their partnership would have flourished. They complimented each other well. She was a brilliant painter but a lousy saleswoman. He was a lousy painter but a brilliant salesman. She created her art, he brought it to the world. What a beautiful thing. The problem was that he was jealous of her talents and tried to claim them as his own.
We cannot operate in our giftedness if we are jealous of someone else’s. This is why (at least one of the reasons why) God comes down so hard on jealousy.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. James 3: 14-16
Walter’s jealousy and selfish ambition led him to steal from his wife and lie to the world. That set him on a downward spiral…even to the point that he acted in a way that seemed demonic, overtaken by fear and a need for control, oppressing and threatening his wife and step-daughter…he seemed crazy and he lived in a constant state of denial for the rest of his life. Tragic. Pride, selfish ambition, jealousy, an unwillingness or inability to recognize the gifts God had given him, wanting the gifts God had given someone else… it all led to his demise. It’s a cautionary tale. You can see how differently things could have gone if only he’d been willing to work in his giftedness and let his wife work in hers (openly, publically).
The question begs to be asked…are there areas in which we, you and me, are acting a little Walter-ish? How has God gifted you? (I’m asking myself the same.) Am you trying to be who God made you to be, or are you trying to be who God made someone else to be? Are you jealous of someone else’s position in the body? If so, beware your jealousy. It leads us to be false to the truth and to an earthly, unspiritual, demonic “wisdom” that isn’t wise at all. Jealousy and selfish ambition are a quick road to a dark, very bad place. Instead, let us put on love—it is not jealous (I Corinthians 13) and it leads to freedom. When we love each other, we free each other up, (ourselves included) to become who God intended us to be and the body of Christ functions unhindered in beautiful partnership.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did Walter’s jealousy and selfish ambition lead him to be “false to the truth”?
- What do you think Walter’s real gifts were? How different would things have been if he’d been content with his gifts verses wanting to be gifted in areas he wasn’t?
- How might things have played out differently in their marriage and careers if Walter had realized his real gifts?
- Who do you relate to more, Margaret or Walter?
- Have you ever been jealous of someone else’s talents? How did it affect your life? How did it keep you from/hinder you in your own gifts and talents?
- Has anyone ever been jealous of you and your gifts? What happened? How did their jealousy hurt you? How did it hurt them? Do you think it may have hurt the world around them as well? Why or why not?
- When you think about the Bible’s analogy about the body of Christ, where do you think you fit in? How do you think God created you to function within the body of Christ?