The Greatest: Margaret Keane and “Big Eyes”

Margaret Keane is one of the most original modern US artists. She paints women, children, and animals with enormous, big eyes. This is significant. This was the thing that made Margaret famous. In 2014, Tim Burton released his docudrama – “Big eyes” – about Margaret Keane, the artist who was forced to lie and then leave her husband, but finally found the strength to fight for her name and her paintings!

The “Big Eyes” plot shows us the central cultural and social mores that once determined the patterns of living in the U.S. First of all, it has to be noted, is what it meant to be a woman in the ‘50s. A woman, in the 1950s, did not have the right to be, independently, the woman she wanted to be. People, particularly the male part of the population, didn’t relate to women as independent personalities, if they were not married.



Margaret felt pressure to show her paintings in public. And her husband, Walter Keane (played by Christoph Waltz) became accustomed to manipulating her career, tricking his wife and representing her works as his own.  Another thing we might notice is the acceptance that Margaret`s style of painting achieved as something calling out to the creative element in society. Innovative and original, her pictures were unusual aesthetically, and were praised by critics.


“Big Eyes”

The plot covers the most important, successful period in Margaret’s career, a time when she (played by Amy Adams), became known under her own name. She left her first husband and moved to San Francisco together with her daughter. In San Francisco, she occupies a furniture manufacturing building and gets a small side job as a street artist in the area frequented by tourists. There she meets Walter, her future husband, and the main antagonist in the movie. Walter is also a “painter”, although he is more into architecture, having lived in Paris, where he drew urban landscapes. Walter assures Margaret that they will cooperate as a couple, as he is better at managing the business end of painting, and Margaret – will create.

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane
Amy Adams as Margaret Keane

As they have a family name in common, Walter appropriates credit for Margaret’s works in public and becomes known all around the U.S. as the artist. Walter begins to play the devil’s advocate, and Margaret betrays her talent. Genuine children with enormous, big eyes blow up the world, and Margaret’s pictures become some of the most sought-after art works on the market.  The Keanes open a gallery. The career goes well; however, Margaret conceals the truth even from her daughter. Nobody is allowed to enter the workshop. Walter builds nice family visuals for the media and everyone who is in the vicinity.

Lana Del Rey wrote an original track “Big Eyes”



Walter cheapens Margaret’s art to expand into cups, plates, posters, and calendars. He tells her that it might be much better to sell thousands of items for five dollars rather than one painting for five hundred. Walter is never in close contact with Margaret’s idea, what she means to show with her Big Eyes. According to Margaret, she explains her willingness to show children with such big eyes to show inquisitiveness: Why are we here? What is the sense of life?

Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter

However, this idea matures a bit later, when the artist begins to express her thoughts. Initially, she used her talent to capture Jane’s childhood. It would have been expensive to buy a camera, so Margaret created a nice way to save memories. But, of course, it was an option that she had. She was always fond of drawing.

Back to the plot: She breaks with Walter and moves to Honolulu. Once there, she plans to continue with her painting, without Walter. But one day changes her life completely. She meets a religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who help her to fight for justice and take on the stress of going to court.

From my point of view, I have found this movie to uncover many things we used to accept as widespread now, but as of the 1950s were only beginning. The same with religious groups. Even though the Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded in the 19th century, Walter describes them as new. Just like the expressionism in Margaret’s art. Who do you think was one of the most significant, contemporary artists of that time? Yeah, Andy Warhol – one of the brightest abstract expressionists. People were just getting used to pop-art, so fresh art from Margaret was groundbreaking.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses give her courage. Maybe there is a powerful impulse within Margaret that explains why she has to pursue justice – as the Book of Faith claims: Do not lie! Finally, she goes to court and wins the legal right to her paintings.


Tim Burton and His Esthetic Reality

Tim Burton
Tim Burton

A genius of motion pictures and fantastic reality, the aesthete, NNHe is so accurate with actors and characters, on-screen, and with each component of the plot. So we see bright colors, motley landscapes, reflecting Margaret’s style. Margaret Keane knows Tim Burton as a talented artist and creator. She is excited about getting him as the director of the biopic. General impressions of the movie leave a film of elegance, although we are told how brave and strong women must be in society, as in relationships.


Who Else Famous Appears in the Story?

Andy Warhol – the painter and modern creator, one of the representatives of pop-art culture. He painted a multicolored work, segmented into many parts, legendary and symbolic, of Marilyn Monroe.

John Canaday – a leading American art critic, author, and art historian. Performed in the movie by Terence Stamp. He has dedicated his life to art and has spent an impressive amount of time with the New York Times, as an art critic.

Dick Nolan – columnist for The San-Francisco Examiner. Played by Danny Huston.

Margaret Keane, playing herself in one episode.

Nowadays Margaret Keane goes back to San-Francisco and supports her Personal Gallery. She follows the faith of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and still paints her beautiful world, watching through the Big Eyes!

Read more reviews from the author.

Photos: MovieStillsDB


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