Updated: Mar 30
In a strange nameless town in Nowhere, USA, with streets lined with Barbadian-style homes, a gothic Frankenstein pops a suburban bubble with an innocent prick of his scissor-hands. In a true testament to the filmmaker, this cultic fable presents itself as pure entertainment, but below the surface, the message slowly rises in suspense to keep its viewers engaged until the very end, going beyond the typical confines of its genre. Though Edward Scissorhands may seem like another phantasmagoric Tim Burton film, it is unexpectedly profound, full of stark symbolism as a commentary on American culture.
On a planet of stifled creativity and individuality, there is bound to be a clash between two worlds: the outcasts and the conformists. Each character represents various overarching facets of society - the Pariah, the Pollyanna, the exploiter, the bully, the growing teenager struggling to uphold social expectations, etc. which all serve as important players in a symbiotic civilization. This factor on its own, ever so slightly roots the story in reality at its most basic state. Collectively, the townspeople are the personification of the fear of judgment of others in the struggle to conform.
The film’s mise en scene of panoramic shots capturing both the pastel town and Edward’s dark and bizarre mansion sets the narrative: a looming fear of the outside world penetrating an isolated world of sterility. It’s clear that Burton placed a lot of value on the importance of viewer perspective to act as a platform for conceptual thought that exists beyond the script. Intimate shots of Peg, (the surrogate of a mother he never had) and Edward, imply that they exist on a similar wavelength in the same world, the difference being Peg’s desperate grasp at uniformity hides the fact that her values fundamentally differ from her neighbors’.
As opposed to being portrayed as a true monster, the contrast of Edward’s shocking appearance paired with close up shots of his wistful eyes, his scarred face and his whisper of a voice, reinforce the fact that eccentricity is often feared, though it is largely harmless. Throughout the film, Edward accidentally cuts himself or others in an expression of emotional pain, and though they eventually scar over, he is still marked with the memories of prejudice and rejection. Initially, his “handicap” appeals to the community’s self-centered sensibilities, and he is therefore regarded as “exceptional.” Yet later on in the film, his arrest for a framed robbery attempt is the beginning of his decline, and the true starting point of his failure to fit in. He is subsequently deemed untrustworthy and a threat to the town’s hollow lifestyle.
The constant attention from nosy neighbors slowly shifts from amazement and intrigue to harmful rumors that threaten the Boggs’ livelihood and Edward’s physical safety. In a moment of chaos, the police sergeant makes the choice to lie to the town, telling them that Edward is “taken care of,” while secretly letting him go free. He understands that people conform out of a need for security, but that the world can be dangerous for those who penetrate those barriers. In allowing Edward to retreat back to his home, he sends the message that it is better to exist in a place where you’re free to be yourself. This scene in particular stands out because it is one of the very few moments of intimacy between two characters, because eavesdroppers and gossipers are always within earshot. It is a moment of mutual understanding, and it is first time throughout the entire film that someone breaks through the facade and really communicates with Edward on a personal level.
The movie comes across as crazy: a gothic outcast with scissors for hands in a colorful town full of nutty, intolerant, busybodies, eating 1960’s Jell-O party ambrosia salad. Peppered throughout the film are scenes of Edward, wielding his scissor-hands as hair shears, creating masterful ice sculptures and pruning the neighbor’s bushes into dinosaurs. The true underlying theme of the film becomes apparent within the last ten minutes, when Kim realizes that she loves Edward, even though he is regarded as some kind of freak, leading her to reject both the town and their values which speaks to the moral of the story: that “different” is not a bad word. Though chased from the town with fire and pitchforks, Edward undoubtedly left his mark. When he retreats, it snows for the very first time in town and continues every year after, essentially making people realize that change is an unavoidable fact of life. Oftentimes, the best films are those that can be simultaneously weird and entertaining, while acting as a tool to discuss the world at large. Whether you’re seeking entertainment or substance, Edward Scissorhands has the ability to satisfy the cinematographic desires of any and all moviegoers.
Amanda is an artist/writer with a degree in visual and critical studies from the School of Visual Arts, though 90% of her day is spent looking at pictures of dogs. Instagram: @spin.osa