49 – Edward Scissorhands

In all civilized cultures from the birth of storytelling, there are tales of the outside who does not fit in with accepted, respectable society. Those misfits, lionized as the underdog, have come to symbolize the fighting spirit of humans against odds imposed upon them by their fellow man. The story of Frankenstein is a famous example of this idealized character, with the gentle beast created by man but misunderstood by him.

Tim Burton’s sweet, beautiful Edward Scissorhands falls into this category as well. Edward is created by an aging inventor (touchingly played by Vincent Price in one of his final roles); however, the Inventor dies before completing his masterpiece, and Edward is forced to use the nearest implements as hands – scissors. Alone and frightened, the pallid-skinned Edward can do nothing more than roam the halls of his late master’s mansion. It is with no small trace of irony that Burton used as the home of Edward and the Inventor a once-magnificent mansion, as Price himself starred in so many films during his Roger Corman years that took place in just such an abode.

Edward paces the mansion’s halls, isolated and confused. Where did his master go? He might still be there to this day if an intrepid Avon saleslady (Dianne Wiest) didn’t coming knocking on the door of the foreboding mansion. Realizing there’s no one else home other than the frightened Edward, Peg Boggs brings him home to her suburban nuclear family to live. Of course, this brings many complications, as well: how will Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) react to him? How will Kim’s boyfriend (comeback kid Anthony Michael Hall) react? How about Peg’s husband, Bill (Alan Arkin)? And, of course, what about the placid neighborhood in which they all live? A land of picket fences, well-trimmed lawns, outdoor cookouts, and two-car garages. The reaction of the townspeople isn’t quite as sudden as that of the townspeople in Frankenstein, however; they see Edward as an oddity, albeit a harmless one. They at first marvel at his malformed hands, and some even put the hands to good use (as shrub-trimmers, as hair clippers). But somewhere along the line, they become more and more agitated at how disruptive this “freak of nature” has been to their quiet neighborhood. Kim’s boyfriend doesn’t like the attention Kim’s giving to Edward, and in a series of scenes reminiscent of 1950’s Hollywood, tries to make Edward look bad. And to an outsider, especially a physical outsider, looking bad or guilty to a town can be socially fatal.

There are several nuances that make this film work as well as it does. The set decoration, for one, is compelling and awe-inspiring. Burton is justly famed for his set designs; they always seem like eye candy, capturing the essence of the time period or the place of the movie. These aren’t sets created on a soundstage. These sets are the result of weeks and weeks of painstaking attention to detail. In addition to the set design, there’s the script itself. Burton’s script isn’t simplistic; it never shows the story as black and white. The script is emotionally charged, and while one can easily identify with Edward himself, one is somewhat more reluctant to do so for the enraged townspeople. These are not idealized men and women; these are flesh-and-blood humans, exactly what you would see living next door to you – or within yourself.

Another huge asset to this movie is the cast. Edward himself is played unerringly by Johnny Depp. When this film was released in 1990, Depp was very new to the moviemaking industry; most people knew him as that guy on the short-lived Fox show 21 Jump Street. Here, Depp is as eloquent in his silences as in his speeches, and that’s one true mark of a fine actor. In the years since his appearance in this movie, Depp has carved out a niche for himself in Hollywood while avoiding typecasting. To back Depp up in this movie, the producers assembled some wonderful supporting and character actors – Wiest, who at that point had won one Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters and had been nominated for another for Parenthood; the always-underused Arkin, who had been nominated for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming; Ryder, who would later be nominated for Little Women and for The Age of Innocence; and even Hall, that Brat Packer all filled out and grown up. With a cast that had a pedigree that long, you’d almost expect tales of rampant egos. It’s not easy getting gifted actors to work as an ensemble, but somehow Burton accomplished the feat. In fact, in many ways the modus operandi of this film mirrors that of many Woody Allen films – have a solid, meaty script acted out by an ensemble cast of the finest thespians in the land. (Maybe it’s no coincidence that Wiest turned in some of her best work with Allen!)

From the sumptuous sets to the mesmerizing performances, Edward Scissorhands is a delight. If eye-popping visuals aren’t enough for you, then take a good, long gaze upon Edward Scissorhands.

Edward Scissorhands: 9

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One Response to “49 – Edward Scissorhands”

  1. jennifer courneyea Says:

    edward sissorhands is a great movie with an amazing storyline, one of tim burtons best. johnny plays edward realy good and like what he has done with character. the movie it touching and love the setting of the movie and the way the things look in it. winona ryder plays kim very well and is one of my favourite characters in the movie. the movie is a unique love story and not like any love storys out their but is like beauty and the beast kind of. the moveie will make you cry but that cry will be a good one. i recomend this movie to anyone realy, and think you will love it!

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