EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

Update: The Edward Scissorhands ballet by Matthew Bourne will tour North America at the end of 2006, after a popular run in the U.K. The tour will start in San Francisco with other cities to be confirmed. See the links section for more information about the stage show.

Edward Scissorhands is Burton’s masterpiece. It’s the story of an uncommonly gentle man (Johnny Depp, in what may still be his finest role) who finds fame, love, and then rejection in the heart of suburbia. Like the best fairytales, the story can be read many ways, from a plea for tolerance for handicapped people, to an exploration of the tortured artist at work.

Scissorhands is arguably Burton’s most personal film, a moving portrait of an artistic outsider who cannot touch what he desires without destroying it. While he may have made more technically adept films since, none of his other work comes close to the emotion of this deceptively simple story. The stunning visuals and heartbreakingly beautiful score by Danny Elfman have also added to this film’s status as an all-time classic.

Burton mixes classic fairytale themes to create an original and touching character in Edward. Taken from his gothic castle to a colourful and romanticised suburban neighbourhood he changes the lives of the townsfolk forever. The first half of the film is very funny, full of subtle physical comedy and gentle satire on suburban life. Edward brings his artistic skill to the town and the people almost ignore his bizarre appearance. Then he begins a longing romance for Kim, the girl he lives with but who seems to want nothing to do with him. He eventually wins her love, but is exploited by and then violently rejected by the townspeople.

The film is made with a skill far exceeding Burton’s previous works. The unforgettable images and Elfman’s haunting score make this one of the all-time fantasy greats. Every performance is perfect. Johnny Depp brings a feeling of tortured emotion to his almost silent character that lingers long in the memory. I literally forgot who’s playing the part. Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin are, respectively, touchingly real and hilariously blank as the parents who adopt him. Winona Ryder brings warmth and beauty (in a blonde wig) to her supporting role as the object of Edward’s affectations, who comes to love him for his artistic vision. Anthony Michael Hall is suitably menacing as the jealous jock who eventually gets his come-uppance, and Kathy Baker funny as the sex-starved, Tom Jones-listening housewife. Finally, Vincent Price, in his last feature film role, brings extra resonance as Edward’s inventor.

Some criticisms of the film point out the supposed plot holes – such as why does he have scissors for hands and where did he get the ice? They are missing the point, as this fairytale bears no relation to the real world, except in its themes. You have to suspend your disbelief. That’s why the timeless setting could be anywhere from the fifties to the present. Another criticism is that the violent ending was unnecessary, but without that the film would literally have no point. Edward is the most normal person in the movie and it is the twisted townsfolk who are the true monsters, resulting in his loss of innocence.

Semi-autobiographical themes are worked in by Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson, but not overdone. Edward represents, among other things: the unconditional love of an animal; a childlike sense of wonder; an adolescent’s clumsiness and someone who longs to touch others without hurting them. The famously beautiful scene where Edward makes an ice-sculpture as Kim dances in the snow is the ultimate representation of the artist communicating his feelings through his work. This film is almost perfect in its own way, even with the unfortunately sad ending. Unlike most Christmas films, though, this is refreshingly free of schmaltz.

To sum up, I believe Burton will never make anything approaching the depth and emotion of this wonderful film again. It’s funny, sad and visually striking. What more could anyone want from a movie?

Arran McDermott 2005


“Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t
up there now, I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still
catch me dancing in it.

We have a gallery of exclusive images from the movie. We’ll be adding more articles and links to this page as time goes by, so keep checking back! Check out the Edward Scissorhands forum to discuss the film with other fans.

 

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