Tim Burton's razor sharp fantasy
Edward Scissorhands is directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne West, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, and Alan Arkin. The film was the first of many projects in which Burton and Depp worked together.
Tim Burton considers Edward Scissorhands to be his favorite among all of the films he has done over the years. And if we take the time to understand Burton's background and how he grew up, it's easy to see why. Burton grew up in Burbank, California, and he has stated in interviews how he felt alone most of the time, and that he had trouble maintaining friendships. During his teenage years, Burton made a drawing of a somber young man who had sharp blades for fingers, and this drawing served as a reflection of how Burton felt isolated from others and how he was unable to communicate effectively with those around him. Many years later, this drawing turned out to be the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands, and Burton brought in novelist Caroline Thompson to write the screenplay (this would be one of three of Burton's films that Thompson would write the screenplay for). Every detail mattered, because the movie was going to be extremely personal to Burton.
Burton has always been a special director in the sense that his movies never reach the two ends of any generic movie rating scale. In other words, his movies are never perfect masterpieces that everyone loves and adores, nor are his movies complete stinkers that go down as some of the worst movies in recent memory. Burton has had plenty of bad movies during his time, but he's had plenty of successful ones as well, with the 1989 Batman still in my eyes being the best thing he's ever directed. Edward Scissorhands, though, is right up there as one of Burton's best films, and knowing how much it meant to Burton personally, I would hope for nothing less.
The movie begins with an elderly woman tucking her granddaughter (Gina Gallagher) into bed one night, with the granddaughter wanting to hear a bedtime story. The elderly woman then begins to tell her granddaughter the story of a young man named Edward who has scissors for hands. Edward is a human artificially created by an old Inventor (Vincent Price). Edward is nearly completed, but the Inventor suffers a heart attack and dies before he can give Edward actual human hands. Edward remains alone in the Inventor's mansion for several years, which happens to be located just outside of a cheerful and colorful suburb. A door-to-door saleswoman from the suburb named Peg Boggs (Dianne West) decides to visit the mansion one day, and she discovers Edward all alone. Peg decides to bring Edward home with her, realizing how gentle he actually is. Edward shows himself to be a master of cutting hair and trimming hedges into beautiful topiaries, which earns him the adoration of the entire neighborhood. All does not remain well for Edward, however. He shows affection for Peg's daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder), and Kim's boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), considers Edward to be dangerous and is unwilling to befriend him. Jim gets Edward into trouble when he convinces Edward to help him commit a robbery, and from there, Edward begins a fall from grace.
Edward Scissorhands is meant to be viewed entirely from Edward's perspective, and this is apparent right from the get-go. When we see the suburb for the first time, we notice how all of the houses, cars, and clothing are made up of bright, vibrant colors with the green lawns, hedges, and trees standing out to ensure you that this is a lively neighborhood where everyone is safe and happy.
And then there's that gray mansion, the only color here that implies gloom and despair
The mansion, meanwhile, is anything but colorful and cheery. From that picture, you can tell the mansion and the mountain it sits on are very prominent, which confuses me as to how no one in the neighborhood seems to take notice to it. But anyway, this is our indication that Edward is what is sad and lifeless in this suburb area, and when he is brought into the suburb for the first time, everything around him is fascinating, like a young child seeing Disney World for the first time.
- Johnny Depp is perfectly casted as the title character, and the screenplay does a fabulous job of fleshing out Edward's naivety, bringing him into a world that instead of casting him off as a vile and dangerous creature, it embraces him with curiosity and a sympathetic desire to make his life better any way possible. Peg Boggs is, unsurprisingly, shocked when she sees Edward for the first time in the mansion, and as she is leaving, Edward comes out of the darkness, pleading in a meek voice for her not to leave. Edward is scared and alone, and he clearly still desires some form of a social connection, and Peg quickly sees this in him. Even when Edward becomes the talk of the town, he remains as gentle and innocent as he was the first time we come to know him. Edward's gentle exterior gives the film its undeniable sweetness, and there's never any sense of mushiness or the film tugging too hard at your heartstrings, even when things start to go wrong for Edward.
- It's hard to ignore the fact that there are small stretches during Edward Scissorhands in which there's really not much going on. The bulk of the plot is reasonably dedicated to everyone getting to know Edward and him showing everyone what he can do with hands, but when it comes to other important matters such as Kim getting to know Edward as well as learning about the Inventor, things get a little stingy. By the time Kim returns Edward's affections, it's quite hard to say if she just feels sorry for Edward or if she truly takes to his gentle personality. I know the latter is the preferred answer, but I was left wishing to see more "Edward and Kim together" scenes. I was also left with a desire to know more about how the Inventor got the inspiration for creating Edward and perhaps why he decided to give him scissor hands. This would have been a golden opportunity for Burton to truly speak about how he got his inspiration for when he drew the picture that inspired the film, but he doesn't take it deep enough. Did the Inventor feel the kind of isolation and lack of communication that Burton felt during his childhood and teenage years? I guess that's what we should assume, but it would have been better to know for sure.
- The movie also has a heavily anti-climactic finish to its central conflict. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that directing scenes of violence has never been Burton's forte.
So despite a rather hollow plot, Edward Scissorhands remains a sweet and compassionate fantasy film that ranks among one of Burton's best, bolstered by stellar performances from the lead actors and Burton's usual gothic and eccentric direction. It's tough to call Edward Scissorhands a fantastic film, but it certainly shows to be a personal one for Burton and how he felt during his early life. Kudos to him for giving us a vulnerable piece of himself.
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