Written by: Caroline Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker
Creating a being set to represent a monster typically holds a mirror to the society in the way they treat it. This shows that perhaps the creation, in fact, does not represent the monstrosity but rather the individuals in the way they react. This story has become a useful and potent storytelling tactic going back to Mary Shelley and finds its way back onto the screen through the gothic mind of Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands.
Going around trying to sell her Avon products, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) heads to the large gothic mansion on top of the hill where she meets Edward (Johnny Depp), who has scissors for hands. Out of compassion, she brings him home to take care of him. Edward tries to fit into the typical suburban lifestyle but finds the struggle of how cruel people can be when faced with something they deem to be different.
The way individuals in a society treat outsiders really says plenty and Edward Scissorhands attempts to cut right into this within America’s most sacred living development, the suburbs. Heralded as where you go to reach the “American Dream” of the white-picket-fence, landing in this area indicates you have made it in the socio-economic sense. This allows the injection of a character like Edward to be the ultimate test for how we, as a society, treat a perceived outsider and the results show a mixed bag. You have a character like Peg, who could have screamed at the sight of Edward, but instead shows a level of compassion we should all strive to achieve. However, there’s also the rest of the town who utilize Edward’s status as an outsider for either exploitation or straight-up cruel abuse.
Tim Burton has no issues pointing this out throughout the narrative and much of it comes down to Edward and his design. Crafted through the mind and handiwork of an inventor, Edward was on the verge of being completed but did not receive human hands and instead gets stuck with sharp scissors in its place. This makes it difficult for him to do basic human functions, as shown for comedic and melancholic effect throughout the feature. Picking up a fork to eat dinner takes a Herculean effort, but even without intention, he could easily harm someone with the sharp objects that comprise his hands. Having the scissors for hands seems like a silly idea but it directly plays into the issue ailing this character and how much it relates to Frankenstein’s monster. Unaware of the damage he can cause, any moment with someone could turn dangerous and this stress sits right on the surface for most of the film. Seeing as this is a movie we know something will eventually go wrong but the big moment remains a mystery until it eventually arrives.
From the gossipy housewives to the passive-aggressive mockery, Burton nails suburbia both in the layout and the way the characters interact with each other. Each of these characters can be pinpointed to a recognizable figure if you grew up in a similar environment. It comes with blood-boiling moments for what gets excused but it all comes down to Edward and how he experiences the world for the very first time. His moments of discovery and receiving warmth from characters like Peg and eventually Kim (Winona Ryder) shows the best humanity has to offer when looking not only at what makes an individual different but rather how it makes them unique in their own way.
Believability within this feature needs to be stretched, which makes sense considering it’s a movie centered on a guy with scissors for hands but there are moments where things appear with little to no sense. The glaring one comes from the ice sculptures Edward makes later in the film. It makes you wonder how this guy can get his hands on so many large chunks of ice to turn into extremely impressive sculptures. However, it all goes with the aesthetic and feel this film wants to give off, which plays well into Burton’s gothic style. Within this feature, he has his repeat contributors like Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder to match the dark colors and mood he sets. With the production design, he draws a clear line between his taste, which consists of the dark castle on the top of the hill versus the colorful suburban environment that becomes a safe haven and personal hell for the titular character.
Edward Scissorhands provides plenty to enjoy throughout the runtime and its central lesson remains one everyone should pay close attention to. Even if we may not interact with someone who looks as wildly different as Edward, there’s always someone pushed to the boundaries in our communities. It becomes the duty of the compassionate to condemn outright hate, but to also integrate them to make a better society overall.