The theme of family is a surprisingly important theme in a movie about demons and the dead. As the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the deceased Maitlands actually provide a more stable parental unit for Lydia than her own, living, parental figures. The Maitlands are concerned for her welfare, listen to her and seem to take the trouble to get to know her, which is not something that her parents seem particularly keen to do. Preoccupied with her social standing and her own art career, Delia Deetz thinks that Lydia's angst is a waste of energy and a way of getting attention, rather than a manifestation of her depression, and a cry for help. The Deetzes are a parody of the fractured family, one in which the parents and children don't understand one another, and where the appearance of harmony is more important than real love. By the end of the film, the Maitlands and the Deetzes agree to live alongside one another in harmony in the house, providing Lydia with two sets of parents. With a strong familial base in place at home, Lydia's stability has improved and she has become a happy, well-adjusted kid, showcasing the importance of a strong family base as an important theme.
There's No Place Like Home
The Maitlands adore their home. In the beginning of the film, they are about to embark on a long stay-at-home vacation, and the prospect of holing up in their house delights them. After they die, they don't mind at all that they are required to haunt it for the next one hundred and twenty five years—after all, there is really no place they would rather be—but they are very protective of it and cannot stand seeing the Deetzes move in and systematically change everything. They might be ghosts, but Barbara and Adam remain fiercely protective of their home. Thus a comic struggle arises. While viewers are used to the trope of an unfriendly ghost, rarely does one imagine that the reason for the unfriendliness might be the ghosts’ distaste for the design scheme. The film takes a generally dim view of realtors and developers in general. Indeed, the Deetzes don't see the house as a home but as an investment, and Jane, the realtor, is insensitive and grasping, badgering the Maitlands to sell a house that they clearly love. The Maitlands’ love for their home illuminates the theme of loving and caring about what really matters, rather than getting preoccupied with opportunism and appearances.
The supernatural and the metaphysical are not only a theme, but a strong element of the film’s plot. Beetlejuicerequires that viewers not only think about the possibility of the supernatural, but see it as an authentic realm of existence. Ghosts are real in Beetlejuice, and they have problems just like everyone else. The supernatural is often unusual and heightened, but it is rarely a cause for real concern in and of itself. Indeed, when they find out that their house is haunted, the Deetzes are barely frightened, instead focusing on the business angle of the supernatural. Rather than try to exorcise the ghosts or flee the house, the Deetzes see dollar signs when they imagine the potential of opening a paranormal theme park. Their daughter Lydia's rather dark personality predisposes her to be open to the supernatural. The film suggests that the world of the supernatural is within our sight, but that the living choose not to look for it. When Lydia explains why she can see them, she tells Barbara and Adam, “I read through that Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It says, ‘Live people usually ignore the strange and unusual.’ I myself am strange and unusual.”
Another theme in the movie is that of business and money-making. The Deetzes, comically unlikeable characters, are so focused on business opportunities that they do not seem to process the potential danger and outlandishness of their situation. Instead of being spooked by their unexpected house guests, the Deetzes set to work thinking about how they can use the haunting for profit. When she and her fancy art world acquaintances are interrupted by the ghosts at a dinner party, Delia marvels at them as though they are a party piece, an exciting and unexpected guest at her trendy party that can help her revitalize her artistic career. Charles wants to use the paranormal activity in the house as a springboard for a theme park that will bring him huge profits and transform the sleepy, happily quiet town to which they moved. The Deetzes are shown as vacuous and greedy people, primarily motivated by a desire to make money.
Along with the world of the supernatural, the movie explores the theme of death in depth. Within the first ten minutes, the pure-hearted, idealistic couple at the center of the story are sent to their deaths—by a furry little dog, no less. The film deals unsentimentally with the theme of death. Furthermore, it suggests that death is not an end, but an opening into an entirely new world, a portal to the paranormal, a world of sandworms, magic, tunnels underground, and a legal system of its own. The world of the dead is mythic and looks a lot like the world of the living, with just a few key differences. While the film takes a somewhat lighthearted approach to the theme of death, it also sets out to show that death isn’t all fun and games. When Lydia is suicidal, Barbara urges her that death is no easier than life. Even though the dead people in Beetlejuice can walk and talk just like normal humans, and carry on their lives normally, they know that life is preferable.
The central characters in the film are Barbara and Maitland, a happily married couple who can hardly keep their hands off each other. They are the quintessential couple going through their “honeymoon phase,” delighted to live in a simple farmhouse, fixing it up and enjoying one another’s company. Their marriage doesn’t end after death, and they continue to work together and cooperate with one another in the afterlife. Marriage as an inseparable bond “til death do us part”—or even beyond—is brought into full focus when Otho uses the Maitlands' wedding clothes to conjure them in a seance. As the humans break the boundary between the living and the dead, Barbara and Adam find themselves in their wedding clothes, holding hands but disintegrating in a second death. In contrast to the Maitlands’ happy marriage is Beetlejuice’s predatory proposal to the young Lydia, and the rushed wedding ceremony between them. Their wedding is crude and approximate, with neither feeling the same love that Barbara and Adam feel, but it threatens to be just as binding. The only thing as final as death in Beetlejuice is marriage.
Country vs. City
Part of what makes the Maitlands and the Deetzes such incompatible housemates is not simply the fact that the Maitlands are ghosts and the Deetzes are living, but also that the Maitlands have simple and pure tastes and desires reflective of their life in the country, while the Deetzes are pretentious city dwellers with trendy taste. Delia Deetz is not willing to integrate into country living, and insists on redecorating the charming farmhouse to reflect her urbane tastes. Additionally, where Adam and Barbara were happy with the slow pace of their existence in the country, Charles struggles to relax and cannot look around without seeing a business opportunity, a symptom of his urban background. The film can thus be seen as a kind of allegory for the incompatibilities between city and country, and the struggle between urban complication and rural simplicity.
Beetlejuice Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Beetlejuice is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.