Big Eyes is based on the true story of an American artist, Margaret Keane and her husband, Walter Keane.
Margaret’s large-eyed, waif child paintings were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, however, it was her husband who took credit for the paintings.
Margaret divorced her first husband in the 1950s and moved to San Francisco with her daughter. It was a difficult time for a divorced mother to support a family, and when her ex-husband threatened to take custody of their daughter, her recently-met boyfriend, Walter Keane, offered to marry her.
Although she kept painting her large-eyed children for a long time, nobody seemed to notice her talent. One day, Walter came up with an idea, and he hung her paintings at a local bar. When people started to notice Margaret’s paintings, he lied that they were his, in spite of having his own career as a realtor.
It started as a small lie, but he seemed to enjoy the fame. He said to his wife that nobody wanted to buy the woman’s paintings, and she naively believed him, convincing herself that she should keep the secret for her family.
Walter was an amateur painter, but he knew how to sell. Soon, he opened his own gallery in San Francisco, and people swarmed to buy posters and postcards of the large-eyed children. They bought a stately house in Woodside (it was where I once lived!), and enjoyed their success. Walter often appeared on TV shows and talked about his “artistry” in public. He was so good at talking that he almost seemed like a con man. Of course, that was exactly what he was, but nobody knew the truth except Margaret at that time.
As for Margaret, she suffered from the consequences. Even though she poured herself into the paintings, she couldn’t reveal the true nature of the paintings. She even had to lie about it to her daughter, who was the inspiration of the paintings.
When Margaret had had enough of her husband, he threatened that nobody would believe her. She left her husband with her daughter, and moved to Hawaii to start a new life. She kept sending him her new paintings as she had promised, but it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses that changed her mind. She decided to announce the truth to the public via a radio program.
Following Walter’s denial, she decided to take the matter to court. When the judge ordered them to paint in front of the jurors, Walter excused himself from painting, saying that he had a sore shoulder. Margaret successfully painted the large-eyed girl, and won the case.
Walter kept denying the truth, and died penniless in his old age. Margaret has continued painting the iconic large-eyed children into her late 80s, enjoying her life with her third husband in north California now.
A peculiar fate brought them together. They were a perfect couple in a way—a talented wife, but with low self-esteem, and a mythomaniac husband with great selling skills. They complimented each other in a certain sense, however odd it was. Walter was a squalid guy, but his morbid interest in fame seemed to be augmented by Margaret’s talent. At the same time, if not for Walter, her paintings would have remained anonymous.
What matters the most is that Margaret is happy now. I felt sorry for Walter nonetheless. He could have had a less exciting, but peaceful life with an ordinary woman. But maybe he preferred a glorious life based on a lie. It was a pity that we couldn’t hear his side of the story, but even if we could have, he wouldn’t have told the truth.
Amy Adams was well cast for the role. Her beautiful large eyes projected her heart through them, which was one of the themes of this movie. Christoph Waltz, who portrayed Walter Keane, was the heart of the story. He was a silver-tongued born liar, with a remarkably persuasive motor mouth. No words can describe how irritatingly well he played his part.