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Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Edward Scissorhands is a modern fairy tale. It is the story of a being, a man, named Edward (Johnny Depp, in a relatively early role) created by an old inventor (Vincent Price, in one of his last roles). The movie is introduced in a prologue involving a young girl and an old woman, the girl’s grandmother. The story is told as the answer to a question “Why is it snowing and where does it come from?” asked by the child of her grandmother at bedtime. In answering, her grandmother tells Edward’s story, at least the part she knows.

The setting changes and the body of the movie begins with the efforts of Peg (Diane Wiest), an Avon lady, to sell her wares to neighbors in her segment of suburbia. As she goes from neighbor to neighbor making no sales, her desperation builds. Peg sees, seemingly for the first time as a potential residence of Avon customers, a large forbidding mansion at the top of sizeable hill at the end of her cul de sac. In attempting to sell to the mansion dwellers, she discovers Edward, alone in the ruin. By his own description Edward is “not finished” and has scissors for hands. Peg, who is the epitome of the well-meaning person, brings Edward home to her family in an attempt to help him.

Peg finds clothes for Edward, attempts to make him feel comfortable and shows him pictures of her family. Peg has a husband: Bill (Alan Arkin), a son: Kevin (Robert Oliveri) and a daughter: Kim (Winona Ryder). Edward seems to be touched by the image of Kim although she is away with friends at the time. However, when she returns, their first meeting is not an auspicious occasion and their relationship starts off badly.

Later, while Bill is clipping the hedges in his yard, Edward seeing Bill “work” with his clippers begins trimming a bush and ends by sculpting it with his scissorhands. After sculpting most of the foliage in the neighborhood, Edward advances his sculpting skills to giving dogs fancy hair stylings. The next stage in his skill development is women’s hair styling. As his fame builds he is interviewed on a TV show. During all these events, Kim’s sympathy for Edward increases and her estimation of her increasingly obnoxious boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) falls.

After being on a TV talk show (host played by John Davidson), several people become interested in setting Edward up with a hair styling salon. However, when he attempts to get a loan the bank rejects him because he has no collateral or social security number. Adding to this setback, when Kim asks him to assist her, Jim and a few others in a less than honest endeavor at Jim’s house, Edward is left holding the bag and in trouble with the law. (However, the police in the movie seem astonishingly tolerant compared to their real-world counterparts.) As a result, the generally upward path he began traveling in his dealings with others turns downward. On the other hand, Kim starts to realize that Edward offers her real heartfelt emotion quite unlike the treatment she gets from Jim.

Tim Burton directs the outstanding cast in this modern adult fable. In some respects it resembles other fantasies Burton has produced for children: The Nightmare before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. However, even though both of those films have some dark elements, Edward Scissorhands is much darker. In that respect it is similar to Burton’s Batman and especially Batman Returns. Also, as in the Batman films and The Nightmare before Christmas, Danny Elfman does the musical score for Edward Scissorhands.

I believe this film has several important messages. The movie demonstrates the double-edged nature of individuality. The human need to belong often conflicts with each of our special natures. Individuality is what differentiates us from others. With such differentiation, our special abilities can stand out and exalt the individual. However, with that exaltation, the individual may be identified as very different. Most people, no matter how apparently different, have some very common basic desires for acceptance. On the other hand, there are more important things than acceptance at all costs. Edward Scissorhands shows this conflict in an insightful and creative way.

I believe Tim Burton is one of the most perceptive and skillful film-makers on today’s movie scene. Edward Scissorhands, with its message about the scarcity and importance of tolerance in the modern world, is one of Burton’s best films.

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