Edward Scissorhands

An Essay by Ann Devine

Edward Scissorhands directed by Tim Burton is a variation of the classic horror theme exemplified by the story of Frankenstein, where a monster (or outsider) enters into an apparently peaceful community and disrupts the calm. Burton, however, manipulates the horror genre and on many occasions inverts audience expectations by presenting a mixture of horror, comedy, romance and fairytale.

Even before viewing the film, one is aware that it is not a conventional horror. Burton's previous films Beetlejuice and Batman prepare one to expect a film which is visually stunning, perhaps with humour or self-parody. The advance publicity for Edward Scissorhands used the phrase 'the story of an uncommonly gentle man' and posters showed a picture of a sombre Edward with a butterfly perched on one of the sharp blades constituting his hands. Contrasting images such as these reinforce the idea of a mixture of the romance and horror genres. Even without seeing publicity material, the PG certificate and the choice of teen favourites Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder for lead roles evidently suggest that this is a film aimed at the teenage market. The casting of Vincent Price as the inventor is an allusion to the horror genre, a little joke which, unfortunately is appreciated by few of the target audience who have little or no knowledge of Price's career in the illustrious Hammer Horror films. A close analysis of the opening sequence of Edward Scissorhands reveals many of the conventions associated with the horror genre but these are offset by elements of comedy and romance. As the credits roll, the eerie music, the graphics (names white on black, making jagged scissor shapes) and the predominant colours of black and white establish the relationship with the horror genre. We then see visual images associated with the conventional 'haunted house' (huge door closing, cobwebs, strange gadgets) yet the music becomes lighter, more frivolous and on closer inspection some of the gadgets look like toys, reminding the audience that this is not a horror film. The motif of falling snow, associated with Edward and used throughout the film, creates an atmosphere of tranquillity and romance which again contrasts with the horror images.

Colour and music are used to highlight the differences between the two 'worlds' of the film. The first time colour is used is when the grandma is telling the story of Edward Scissorhands to the little girl in the oversized bed. Visually, this scene is reminiscent of fairytale (specifically Little Red Riding Hood) and is another means used by Burton to indicate the purpose of his story. The two worlds are contrasted visually by the use of colour, the kitsch pastel colours and uniform shapes of the suburban houses differing completely from the black and white of the derelict castle. The suburban world is apparently perfect with its cloudless blue sky, spotless houses, well-kept gardens and stereotypical inhabitants who are contrasted with the imperfection of the 'unfinished' Edward Scissorhands .

The two worlds meet for the first time when Peg Boggs decides to visit the castle to sell Avon products. The lighthearted music associated with the suburb becomes eerie as soon as Peg views the castle through her wing mirror, the long shot emphasising the sense of unreality and illusion. When Peg reaches the castle, long wide-angled shots convey the relative size of character and setting and suggest too her vulnerability in the strange environment. Black and white are the predominant colours, except for the character of Peg. We first see Edward in a long shot, coming into medium close-up and his pale, scarred face, weird hair, black clothes and 'scissor' hands mark him as the conventional monster, yet even before the audience can make that judgement we must consider the juxtaposition of these images with the gentle voice and the close-up shot of the sad eyes.

Peg's offer to take Edward home with her precipitates the clash of the two worlds and places the film firmly in the tradition of the classical narrative structure, the equilibrium of the cosy, suburban society is being disrupted by the presence of the seemingly unnatural Edward Scissorhands. Although a disruptive force, Edward is initially treated very kindly (particularly by women) and described in terms such as 'different, mysterious, exceptional'. He becomes a minor celebrity, even appearing on a television chat show. However, because of his simplicity and naivete, he is soon shown to be unable to cope with the sophisticated, corrupt society in which he finds himself - the scene where he is seduced by an older woman to the ironic background music of 'With these Hands' aptly illustrates this failure to cope. After being duped by Kim's unscrupulous boyfriend, Jim, he is blamed for a robbery he did not commit. Suddenly, the very things which rendered him unique (scissorhands) are seen as evidence that he is a dangerous criminal and unfit to live in 'normal society'.

From this point onwards events gather momentum, as those who had welcomed Edward reject him and he is forced to flee from the suburb back to his own environment, thus restoring equilibrium. At the end of the film, the agent of disruption, Edward, has been removed but, lest the audience should feel that Edward has been treated unjustly and the film end on a low note, the hero is given the chance to show his love for Kim and exact revenge on the obnoxious Jim. Although the suburb ostensibly returns to normal, Edward's visit has a lasting effect - snow continues to fall and he is kept alive in Kim's memory.

Edward Scissorhands contains numerous stereotypical characters and the whole film satirises American society, a society whose values are as phoney as the cotton wool snow which Pete Boggs nails on his roof at Christmas time.

Female stereotypes abound: we have the voracious man-eating middle-aged woman who lusts after Edward; the maternal acceptant Peg Boggs and the beautiful, virginal, adolescent daughter who eventually sees beyond Edward's superficial oddities to the underlying goodness.

Male and female roles are polarised. The Boggs family is presided over by the materialistic father to whom Peg and the others defer at all times. Jim is the archetypal spoilt, rich kid who rebels in order to annoy daddy and he also plays the role of the jealous adolescent boyfriend. The Boggs family is utterly conventional in lifestyle and morality.

Why are there so many stereotypical characters? Simply because the film is a satire and, if it is to be successful, a satire must present the audience with recognisable types.

Burton satirises a society which is so uniform, complacent and unimaginative that it is unable to cope with someone or something different. Significantly, Edward discards the trappings of the suburban society (cutting off the clothes Peg had given him) when it is revealed to be corrupt, shallow and decadent and returns to the castle, an environment which is ironically more natural and human than that of the suburb. Thus Burton inverts the more usual horror convention in that his 'monster' is essentially more human than the apparently normal characters.

The final image of Edward in the colourful gardens, surrounded by nature and creativity reinforces the idea that American society is too sterile and narrow to cope with one who does not conform.

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