Corpse Bride Ending Explained

Summary

  • Victor was supposed to marry Victoria because their families wanted to solve their financial and social problems through an arranged marriage.
  • Barkis killed Emily because he wanted her family’s money and desired social status, which he could achieve through marrying Victoria.
  • Emily turned into butterflies and departed to a different afterlife after giving Victor his wedding ring back, symbolizing her freedom and release from her vow.

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At the end of Corpse Bride, Barkis is killed, Emily turns into butterflies, and Victor and Victoria are married, but how and why did that all happen? The 2005 stop-motion animated movie directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Corpse Bride is inspired by an old Jewish folktale called “The Finger” where a man similarly accidentally commits his wedding vow to a dead finger sticking out of the ground, only the original story is quickly resolved by some quick legaleze regarding Jewish customs, whereas Corpse Bride has a few more twists and turns in its story.

An awkward young man, Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is arranged to be married to the quiet Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), but he’s too nervous to remember his vows during rehearsal. When he takes a walk in the forest he finally gets them right, but accidentally vows to marry the corpse of Emily (Helena Bonham Carter). Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant) seizes on the opportunity to marry Victoria himself, with plans to kill her and keep her family’s fortune (which doesn’t actually exist). Victor needs to find a way to get out of his new marriage to Emily and break up the marriage between Victoria and Barkis.


Related: Corpse Bride Voice Cast & Character Guide

Why Was Victor Supposed to Marry Victoria?

Corpse Bride Victor Victoria Wedding Rehearsal Candles

Victor and Victoria meet each other for the first time in the opening minutes of the movie after they’re already pledged to be married to each other. Victor’s family are fish merchants who have money, but no social status, while Victoria’s family have social status, but their finances have dried up. An arranged marriage between Victor and Victoria could solve the problems for both families, although Victor and Victoria don’t have a say in it due to the time and place of the culture they lived in. The song “According to Plan” is all about the parents’ collective schemes to use their children for their own social and financial ends.

Despite the arranged marriage, Victor and Victoria share a connection when they meet for a brief moment before the rehearsal. Victor and Victoria are both shy and reclusive, which is part of the reason their parents desire to arrange a marriage, in addition to their respective social and financial schemes. Victor and Victoria obviously don’t have enough time in the movie to form a deep emotional connection, but they certainly have more chemistry together than Victor has for Emily or Victoria has for Barkis in their other marriages.

Why Did Barkis Kill Emily?

Corpse Bride Barkis Kill Emily

It turns out Lord Barkis was the one who killed Emily. The full story of Emily’s death (minus Barkis’ explicit identity) is provided in the song “Remains of the Day,” sung by the skeleton Bonejangles (Danny Elfman). The song details how Emily came from a rich family and fell in love with a poor stranger from out of town, but her parents refused to allow them to marry. In defiance, he convinced her to elope, telling her to bring the “family jewels and a satchel of gold” to meet him next to the graveyard. Someone snuck up on her and killed her and the jewels and gold were gone when she woke up.

Barkis obviously wanted the family’s money, but why did he kill Emily instead of actually eloping with her as planned? His plan to marry Victoria could provide the answer to that question, and it’s not all that different from the Van Dort family’s goals. Barkis didn’t just want money, but also social status. While Emily’s family had money, he couldn’t inherit social class from them via marriage. He also expects to get money from Victoria, thinking her family was rich, but through his marriage into the Everglot family would give him the elevated social status he wanted.

Why Did Emily Turn Into Butterflies?

Corpse Bride Emily Butterflies

After Barkis stole Emily’s jewels and left her for dead, she vowed she would remain buried under the tree until her true love came to marry her. This prevented her from passing on into the afterlife as she awaited her fantasy husband, although it’s not entirely clear how the logic for the world of the dead works in Corpse Bride. There’s a whole city of zombies, skeletons, and other dead beings underground, yet Emily’s vow to wait for her true love being what keeps her on the material plane seems to be unique, as none of the other dead beings appear to be similarly “stuck” waiting for some resolution to their life.


Related: All 7 Corpse Bride Songs, Ranked Worst To Best

Regardless, after giving Victor back his wedding ring so he can marry Victoria, Emily turns into butterflies and seemingly departs to a different sort of afterlife. It’s entirely possible she just goes back to live with the other dead people in the underground and the butterflies were just artistic license for her being freed, although the transformation into butterflies seems mystical in nature, and the way they fly towards the moon as the scene fades to black suggests she’s departing the mortal world for good. For the sake of the story, the moment shouldn’t be constrained by any established “lore” in the movie and seen simply as Emily being freed.

Why Didn’t Victor Marry Emily?

Corpse Bride Victor Emily Wedding

Despite saying the wedding vows and placing the ring upon Emily’s finger, Victor wasn’t technically married to Victoria since she was dead and he was still alive. After discovering Victoria was already married to Lord Barkis, Victor agrees to die so he can be properly married to Emily. While this is a fairly extreme step for him to take, by the movie’s own logic, he already has a far deeper connection to Emily than he did to Victoria, and there’s nothing wrong noticeably wrong with Emily other than the fact that she’s dead (which is only a minor detail). In many ways, it may actually make more sense for Victor to end up with Emily – although Victoria certainly shouldn’t be with Barkis.

So why does Victor end up with Victoria instead of Emily at the end of Corpse Bride? After Barkis dies he offers to keep his promise to marry Emily, but she says his promise is already fulfilled because he set her free. Emily releases him from his commitment so he can marry Victoria and remain with the living where he belongs and she can move into the afterlife where she belongs.

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