Sweeney Todd was a fictional character first appearing in penny dreadfuls in 1846.
The “Demon Barber of Fleet Street” has seen several incarnations since then, from Stephen Sondheim to most recently Tim Burton’s film adaptation of the musical. The character even transcended fiction and is now an urban legend; while there is no historical account for this barbarous barber, a few spurious claims have led many to assume the story is based on true events akin to Jack the Ripper. This story’s longevity and it’s focus on depravity raise some interesting questions, as the character is sinned against and abused by others:
Is Sweeney wrong to want justice?
Is violent retribution ever an answer?
Why do our souls cry out against evil but so often beget evil in response?
Power, sanity, greed, and institutional corruption in the film expose the human condition and make us take a hard look at the human creature, contrast so oddly by the fact that it’s set to music and has a lyrical quality that creates a cavalier, unsettling juxtaposition.
As my friend Scott suggested “I have to admit, this movie is… off. Maybe it’s because the film is a musical about eating people; or maybe it’s because of the throat-cutting montage; maybe it’s as simple as the director’s stark use of color throughout the film: dirty grays, off white’s, and endless black. I suppose it’s probably all of these things, but it’s something more, too. There is an “off”-ness to the film that reminds you how awful life can be, especially for those who don’t have hope for hereafter. And this is what my day needed: an exhortation via film and teaching that there is something “off” about life this side of eternity, reminding us to wait in hope, and in faith, for the kingdom that is to come.”
I had the honor of speaking on these themes at a live showing of film, slicing up the narrative for discussion: this 30-minute audio is what poured out.