There are many ways that women, especially women in relationships with men, can be abused: verbally, psychologically, financially, physically, and sexually. In this biographical drama, we get a glimpse at yet another means of abuse: creative abuse and artistic theft.
Margaret (Amy Adams) is like so many abused women: She is a mother, she is financially dependent on her husband, she is scared, and she is desperate. But one thing she is not is defeated, so in 1958, a time when many unhappy wives would rather suffer in silence than bear the stigma of divorce, Margaret packed up her car, took her daughter, and left her husband to start a new life in San Francisco. Margaret is a talented artist with an eye for detail and soon lands a job painting furniture at a factory, making enough money to support herself and her daughter, Jane (Delaney Raye). Margaret and Jane are happy for the first time in a long time, and when Margaret meets Walter (Christoph Waltz), a fellow artist, she accepts his very rapid proposal, which helps her secure custody of Jane.
The only problem is that Margaret doesn’t really know Walter at all, until it’s too late. Walter made a living selling Parisian street scene paintings, but when he sees some of Margaret’s work, paintings of small children with large, solemn eyes, Walter doesn’t just persuade her to sell her work, but he also takes credit for it, convincing her that no one would take the paintings seriously if people knew that they had been painted by a woman. As the paintings grow in popularity, so does Walter’s wealth, as well as the Keane empire, with Walter the face of a brand, and Margaret painting with painstaking detail behind locked doors.
Margaret’s story is that of so many women; abused by one man and therefore exponentially more vulnerable to future abuses at the hands of other men who see her vulnerability as an invitation to exploit her further. As we watch Margaret suffer years of intimidation, gaslighting, and intimidation at the hands of her husband, we see the gripping portrait of a woman who is breaking, but not broken.
At the center of one of the most groundbreaking stories of art fraud in history is one man’s desperation to own someone else’s gift, and one woman’s quest to have her work recognized as her own. Big Eyes is moving, illuminating, and paints a picture of abuse that is so very rarely seen: That of men who don’t hit or rape, but instead work tirelessly to suppress the greatness of their wives in order to give their own pathetic lives meaning. Margaret Keane is an unlikely heroine in an even more unlikely story of a lifetime.
I give this one 4.5 stars.