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I wanted... I so wanted to become an artist. It just never turned out so well.
~ Walter Keane after his dark secret is revealed.
I'm gonna sue EVERYBODY! I'll sue that pansy critic! And the World's Fair! And -- Unicef! Yeah! I'll take down Unicef, and all their precious little boxes of dimes! But I can't sue you, can I? You were the ultimate betrayal! You FAILED me with that painting! You like making me look bad?? You enjoy people laughing at me??!
~ Walter Keane slowly losing his mind.

Walter Stanley Keane is the main antagonist of Tim Burton's 2014 biographical drama Big Eyes.

He was portrayed by Christoph Waltz, who also played Ernst Stavro Blofeld in SpectreMandrake in EpicBert Hanson in Horrible Bosses 2Chudnofsky in The Green HornetLéon Rom in The Legend of TarzanCardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, and Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.

Biography

Walter is first seen when the recently divorced Margaret hopelessly tries to sell her art. Keane is having no trouble selling his Parisian street paintings, but he seems to be charmed by Margaret's art. He compliments her, and the two artists fall in love. When Margaret discovers that she cannot live without a husband, Keane instantly proposes to her, to which she accepts, so they marry. Margaret attempts to have her paintings hanged on the wall of a jazz club and Walter manages to convince the club's owner to let her do it. To Walter's surprise, however, the customers appear to be interested in Margaret's paintings, not his. Shortly after, Keane has a fight with the club's owner and ends up on the front page of a local newspaper.

This seems to work out for the better, since the publicity makes a lot of people interested in the art. When Keane shows up at the scene, he realizes Margaret's potential and sells many paintings in his own name. When he gets home, he eagerly shows Margaret the money and explains that if he poses as the painter, they'll have an easy time selling these paintings. Margaret agrees to do this at first, but soon becomes frustrated when Keane continuously takes all of the credit for her work. Because of this, she develops a new style so that she can at least draw something and put her name on it, but Walter seems to be insulted by her actions.

Eventually, Margaret makes a horrible discovery - the Parisian paintings were not by Keane at all, but by another artist with the signature S CENIC. She confronts Keane for this, and despite his desperate excuses, she broken-heartedly leaves the room. Keane gives up and admits that he'd always wanted to be an artist, but simply didn't have the talent to paint. This doesn't change his intentions, however, as Keane forces Margaret to create a "magnum opus" for the New York's World Fair. At this point, Margaret's daughter Jane soon discovers that she's the real painter, but she gets too intimidated by Walter to let everyone know the truth.

The finished painting, entitled "Tomorrow Forever", receives a scathing review from art critic John Canaday, which infuriates Walter. He has a drunken tantrum and starts throwing lit matches at Margaret and Jane, causing a large fire. This is the last straw for Margaret and Jane, who then leave Walter by moving to Hawaii while Margaret files for a divorce. Despite this, Keane soon calls Margaret and gives her an ultimatum: he remorselessly demands for 100 paintings and the rights to all of her previous works, otherwise he won't sign the divorce papers. A helpless Margaret reluctantly cooperates and starts sending him paintings, but after encountering some Jehovah's Witnesses who tell her that honesty is important, she starts signing the paintings with MDH Keane, much to Walter's annoyance.

Keane's defeat.

Margaret then unexpectedly reveals that she's the real artist on a random Hawaiian radio show, which makes national news. Walter responds by saying she's gone mad through the Gannett Company, but Margaret quickly charges him and the company with slander. Walter initially enters the courtroom with numerous lawyers, but they reveal that they are only their to assert that Gannett was only reporting on his claims in relation to a significant public event, and thus they are immune to Margaret's prosecution under the First Amendment. After the judge dismisses their case, the lawyers leave the courtroom and Walter is left with no legal representation; instead of choosing to postpone the trial and use the time to hire another attorney, he decides to defend himself, using the knowlegde of law he acquired from vague memories of Perry Mason episodes he had watched.

When asked by the judge to testify, Walter explodes into a manic rant where he boasts about his apparent legitimacy and he how he has met countless celebrities. The judge then demands that they both draw a painting in one hour to prove who's the real artist, leaving Walter devastated. Instead of drawing anything, he emptily stares into the air while claiming to be "getting ready" while Margaret starts her own painting. When there's almost no time left, he suddenly grunts in pain and claims that his arm hurts, rendering him unable to paint. However, the judge sees through his blatant lie and Margaret completes her painting and wins the lawsuit, gaining $4 million in damages and leaving Walter in bitter defeat.

In the film's epilogue, it is told that even after being exposed and shamed of his actions, Walter continued to insist to the world that he was the real artist despite producing no evidence to back up his claims, and eventually died penniless the year 2000 at the age of 85.

Quotes

That sounds a bit confusing, doesn't it? Keane means me.
~ Keane after he discovers Margaret's new painting idea.
Quiet, don't raise your voice! (Margaret: Oh, I will talk as loud as I want.) No you won't! Or I'll have you whacked! (Margaret: What?) If you tell anyone, I'll have you taken out! I know people... Remember Banducci's cousin? The liquor wholesaler?
~ Keane threatens to have Margaret killed.

Gallery

Trivia

  • The real Walter Keane's family are certain he created the paintings, even to this day.
  • It is unknown if Walter Keane simply lied about the paintings in the end, or if he was so delusional that he ended up thinking he was the true artist.
  • Despite Keane's antagonistic role, Christoph Waltz does not think of him as a villain.
  • Originally, Keane's last scene would end up with a close-up on his eyes, big, sad, and full of tears. The shot was meant to emulate the structure of the waif paintings.
  • The real Margaret Keane said that Walter was even more narcissistic and over-dramatic than how he was portrayed in the film. If anything, she said, Burton and Waltz toned him down.
  • The real Walter Keane died at the age of eighty-five on December 27, 2000.

Navigation

           Tim Burton Logo.pngVillains

Movies
Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Francis Buxton
Beetlejuice: Beetlejuice | Sandworms
Batman (1989): Joker | Bob Hawkins | Joker Goons | Alicia Hunt | Carl Grissom | Max Eckhardt | Vinnie Ricorso | Joe Chill |
Edward Scissorhands: Jim
Batman Returns: Penguin | Red Triangle Circus Gang (Organ Grinder, Poodle Lady, Tattooed Strongman, Stungun Clown, Thin Clown, Fat Clown, Sword Swallower & Knifethrower Dame) | Max Shreck | Catwoman
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie Boogie | Lock, Shock and Barrel
Batman Forever: Riddler | Two-Face | Sugar | Spice | NygmaTech (Frogmen) | Neon Gang (Neon Gang Leader) | Salvatore Maroni
James and the Giant Peach: Aunt Sponge | Aunt Spiker | Rhino | Skeleton Pirates | Shark
Batman & Robin: Poison Ivy | Mr. Freeze | Bane | Snowy Cones Thugs | Golums | Jason Woodrue
Mars Attacks!: Martian Leader | Martians (Martian Ambassador & Martian Girl)
Sleepy Hollow (1999): Lady Van Tassel | Headless Horseman | Reverend Steenwyck
Planet of the Apes (2001): General Thade | Attar | Limbo
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Arthur Slugworth
Corpse Bride: Barkis Bittern | Maudeline Everglot
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Sweeney Todd | Mrs. Lovett | Judge Turpin | Beadle Bamford | Jonas Fogg | Adolfo Pirelli
9: Fabrication Machine | 1 | 8 | Machines (Cat Beast, Winged Beast, Seamstress, Steel Behemoths, Seeker Drones & Spiderbots) | Chancellor Fredinand | The Chancellor's Party
Alice in Wonderland (2010): Red Queen | Knave of Hearts | Card Soldiers | The Jabberwock | Jubjub Bird | Hamish Ascot
Dark Shadows: Angelique Bouchard | Julia Hoffman
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Adam
Frankenweenie: Mr. Whiskers | Shelley | Were-Rat | Sea Monkeys | Mr. Burgermeister
Big Eyes: Walter Keane
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Mr. Barron | Malthus
Dumbo (2019): V.A. Vandevere | Neils Skellig | Pink Elephants | Rufus Sorghum

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