Death and Marriage

I just rewatched Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride for the first time since it came out. While I was disappointed when I first saw it, this time around it was much better. Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that so much of the movie is a phantasmagorical meditation on the nature of marriage, which is a subject that I feel a little bit more willing to grapple with than my teenage, ponytailed self was. And in that sense, the movie is strangely interesting, as Stephen D. Greydanus highlighted in his review:

Weightiness and sacrifice are concepts often lost at weddings in this age of express-yourself non-ritualism, in which young couples who’ve already drawn up and signed contingency plans for their divorce approach the wedding as an occasion and platform to declare to the rest of the world their own deeply personal insights and theories regarding the nature and purpose of marriage — an estate with which they have, as yet, no first-hand experience, and which five years hence they are as likely as not to have left behind, or putatively re-entered with different partners, and certainly different vows.

Corpse Bride, with its indeterminate 19th-century European setting, recalls a time and place when marriage vows meant something — and more, did something. The film offers, in fairy-tale terms, a distinctly sacramental vision of the recitation of those words prescribed by society and the church — words that are not merely declarative, but performative, that actually bring about a new state of affairs which one cannot then simply abrogate by later changing one’s mind.


In our self-oriented culture, “till death do us part,” and the whole vow thing generally, represents a rather alarming prospect — one perhaps not fully exorcised by pre-nups and easy divorce, and better avoided altogether by opting for cohabitation over even noncommittal 21st-century American marriage. After all, who knows at the altar what one is really getting into? What if the person to whom you find yourself married isn’t the person you thought you were marrying? You might say your vows, only to discover that you’re married to a monster.

If the fascination of horror, as E. Michael Jones and others have argued, lies in part in its power to give imaginative voice to the suppressed testimony of conscience, then Corpse Bride perhaps resonates with a deep ambivalence in our culture regarding the institution of marriage.

Now, sacramental marriage is, all things considered, still a pretty remote possibility for me. But as a Catholic, it’s something which is always current, as it were. God is a family of Persons, and our families are a metaphor of that truth. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and either we reflect that marriage in our own lives, whether as husband and wife, or by directly anticipating it through celibacy. With regard to this the Church is complementarian as opposed to egalitarian: the consecrated celibacy of Holy Orders is objectively superior to Matrimony, but the latter is still necessary due to death and the need for new life. At least this is my current understanding of these matters.

So naturally, what this means in my case is something that I think about. Both notions of myself in married and religious life seem awfully farfetched; I work out my salvation in the peculiar fissure that I’ve found myself in, just trying to understand it better. I’ve written before how my relationship with the Church is the one thing in my life which felt like falling in love. That that love should be kindled in me is  a salutary thing, but I’m not sure how much the exclusiveness of it is positive and how much is just my own personal limitations. Because I have allowed, over the course of my life,  fear of getting hurt to stifle my relationships with other people. Bachelorhood for me carries the danger of just completely turning myself inward, when, really, I should understand it as there being more of myself free to give to others and to God.

It also occurred to me, as I continue to work on my NaNo novel, just how much of it is overshadowed by familial trauma. On one sense, it’s obvious, since I chose to write a murder mystery where one of the victims is in the narrator’s family. But I did live through my parents’ divorce and the dysfunction surrounding that. So although I wasn’t intending on doing something particularly cathartic, what happened to my own family is something that does loom over me here and there. In light of this and the above, it’s easy to see how marriage has become more of an object of fascination for me.

This post wound up being a bit heavier than I thought it would be.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Catholicism, pop culture and its discontents, Stuff other people said, this seemed important to say at the time, Uncategorized, What Is This Beast Called Man. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s