The start of the film sets the scene, locating the viewer in a picturesque Connecticut town. There, the Maitland couple enjoy a happy life fixing up an old farmhouse and making quick errands to the hardware store down the hill. As they drive home from the store, they find themselves driving through the pinnacle of New England quaintness: a covered bridge. As they swerve so as not to hit a small dog that has wandered onto the bridge, they drive through the side of the covered bridge. The dog that they tried to avoid hitting stares at them, but eventually jumps off the floorboard that is the only thing keeping their car up on the bridge, and the car goes toppling into the river and the Maitlands die. Ironically, it is the little dog whose life they tried to save that causes their horrific deaths. This interplay between expectation and reality, between the picturesque and the macabre, is an ironic juxtaposition that pervades the whole film.
Ghosts that are bad at haunting (Situational Irony)
Barbara and Adam believe that they will be able to get the Deetz family out of their home by haunting them, and go to great and grotesque lengths to try and do so. Ironically, they find that their horrifying antics do little to spook the New Yorkers. When Lydia meets them, she hardly blinks. Then later, when they really think that they have horrified the family by creating a forced dance number in the middle of Delia's dinner with her agents and other celebrity guests, they find that the opposite is true, and that they have only delighted the party goers with their haunting. Barbara and Adam consistently think that their behavior will have the opposite effect, and are continually deflated to realize that they are not as scary as they wanted to be.
The Difference Between Life and Death is Small (Situational Irony)
After they die, it takes Barbara and Adam a while to realize that they are no longer in the world of the living. They wander back into their house as though nothing has happened. It is not until they realize that they no longer have reflections that they realize they are no longer alive. In this way, there is barely any difference between when they were people and when they are ghosts. The stark differences emerge slowly, as when they realize that they cannot go outside lest they find themselves in a funhouse claymation nightmare, and when they stretch their heads and bodies into disgusting contortions and dismemberments. In Tim Burton's world, the differences between the living and the dead are subtle and somewhat unexpected. These ghosts are not white or transparent; they look a lot like the humans they once were, with some key differences. In spite of these similarities, Barbara the ghost wants to prevent the human beings from dying, as she believes that “being dead really doesn’t make things any easier.” This in itself is an ironic statement, in that it assumes that life is burdensome and death is a relief, a rather morbid belief.
The Harry Belafonte Soundtrack (Situational Irony)
In spite of the film's almost exclusively white cast and its setting in the rural hills of Connecticut, the soundtrack prominently features the music of Harry Belafonte, a black singer and songwriter who popularized Caribbean musical styles and was known as the "king of Calypso." At the beginning of the film, Adam and Barbara are listening to Belafonte in the attic, and then later, their primary means of haunting the Deetzes is by possessing the guests' bodies and making them all lip-sync and dance to "The Banana Boat Song" by Harry Belafonte against their will. The whole spectacle is rather ironic, in that the dinner party is made up of snobby and self-impressed art world people who then engage in an over-the-top and at times ridiculous dance that makes them look foolish. What makes the spectacle even more ironic is the fact that the unsuspecting partygoers are not scared, but charmed by the event.
Beetlejuice Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Beetlejuice is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.