Warning: This review contains spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t seen Sweeney Todd and don’t want to know major plot points in advance.
I went to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, director Tim Burton‘s new film, Saturday morning. It was definitely the first horror musical I’ve ever seen, and unfortunately one of the few musicals of any sort made since 1960 or so. (Note, though, that I have not seen the original stage musical the film is based on, so I can’t comment on it).
Pretty much all musicals are stylish – that’s what makes them so great – and Sweeney was no exception. The settings, songs, costumes, and performances all contributed to the film’s dark atmosphere. The only exception was the subplot with Antony and Joanna.
Now, Joanna’s story does a lot to characterize Judge Turpin as the film’s villain, though Antony is the only major character who might be considered a hero. However, Joanna’s subplot with Antony also supplies the only part of the film that could leave the viewer with a feeling of satisfaction.
I say “could” because the outcome of the rest of the story is basically “everyone dies, the kid’s an orphan again, life sucks.” Joanna and Antony are still alive, though, and would seeem to have a decent chance for a happier ending, but Burton doesn’t show us what happens to them. Instead, the film ends with Toby killing Sweeney. Cutting from there to Antony taking his love interest in his arms and running away to a (possibly) happier life would have given the film a much more uplifting feeling at the end, and I’m guessing that’s why Burton left it out.
Whether this is the best ending is up for debate. Some people I’ve talked to about the film would have preferred more of a conclusion for Antony and Joanna. It certainly would have given the audience a greater sense of satisfaction, especially since the film does give a little hope for a happy ending for the main characters – not much, but a little. Such an ending, however, would have clashed with the atmosphere of the rest of the film. Antony’s sole purpose, I believe, is as a plot device. He’s the one who inadvertently chases Turpin out of Sweeney’s barber shop, allowing Sweeney to provide the meat for Mrs. Lovett’s delicious meat-pies from his other customers. His youthful optimism also provides a foil for Sweeney, and heightens the tragedy of the film’s main characters.
Showing Antony and Joanna rolling away to live happily ever after would have both to focus on an ultimately irrelevant sub-plot, and to demolish the film’s atmosphere just when it was at its strongest.
On a side note, one more thing the film made me realize is that I’ve never had a meat-pie. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a meat-pie. More of an English thing, I guess.