October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Wynona Ryder, Dianne Wiest
Synopsis: An old woman tells her granddaughter a story about where the snow comes from. A long time, an inventor created an artificial boy, Edward, but died just as about he was about to give him human hands. Edward is stuck alone in the old mansion on the hill, with blades and scissors for hands instead. One day, an Avon saleswoman named Peg visits the mansion and finds him. She takes pity on him and bring him home to her family. Edward is immediately smitten by her daughter, Kim. After some initial distrust, Edward becomes popular in the neighborhood due to his polite innocence and his talents for cutting hair and making topiaries. He becomes somewhat of a star, but not everyone loves him – Kim’s boyfriend is jealous of her attention to Edward and tries to get him in trouble, and one of the neighbor ladies comes on to him and then accuses him of attempted rape when he refuses her. It doesn’t take much for the neighborhood to turn against him, and when he accidentally cuts Kim’s brother trying to save him from being run over, a mob forms and chases Edward back up to the mansion. Kim follows him, but Jim interrupts and threatens them both. Jim tries to goad Edward into fighting him but only succeeds when he hits Kim for interfering. Edward stabs Jim and he dies, falling out of a high window. Kim kisses Edward goodbye and returns to tell the neighborhood that both boys are dead after roof caved in on them, bringing a spare scissor hand for proof. Back in the present, Kim tells her granddaughter than she never saw Edward again but she the snow is really ice shavings from Edward making beautiful ice sculptures up in the mansion, drifting down on the town.
Edward Scissorhands, an early Burton film and his first collaboration with Johnny Depp, is a beautiful tragic fairy tale. It’s a story about being an outcast, about celebrating those who are different, about love and loss, and most of all about the fickleness of humanity. People are afraid of the strange and different yes, but they also love a novelty. Edward is new and shiny and thrilling and provides entertainment, but everyone is quick to turn on him once the novelty wear off because, except for the Boggs family, they never saw him as person in the first place.
I love Edward Scissorhands, but I also struggle with it a great deal. Like I said, it’s a fairy tale. Not in the Disney sense of happy endings and pretty princesses. But in the original sense, a morality tale in a fantastic setting disconnected from reality, with a tragic ending. It’s an allegory, and as such it’s a beautiful story and beautifully told, but it doesn’t quite hold up in direct sunlight. I know, I know, why am I asking Burton to be realistic? I’m not, really, but some aspects of this movie consistently bug me.
The fact that the inventor made Edward with scissorhands, and then planned to replace them with real hands seems strange to me (literally the worst placeholder hands ever), but I can let it go because hey, he’s a crazy inventor played by Vincent Price. But the ending drives me nuts. Kim supposedly loves Edward, but she never walks the quarter mile up the hill to see him again. She says she wanted him to remember her as she was (as he’s apparently eternally young), but there’s a long time between 18 and 80. I mean, yeah you don’t want run back up there right away to make people suspicious that he’s still there since he killed your boyfriend, but you really don’t want to check on him ever in sixty years? You love him but you’re happy to doom him to eternal solitude? So too, the idea that in all that time no one else has ever gone up there to see what happened or, you know, retrieve Jim’s body, is just a little too just so for me.
It’s lovely and tragic, but also frustrating. There are so many other ways it could have ended, should have ended if Kim really did love Edward and sometimes I feel the only reason it ended as it did was because Burton wanted it to be lovely and tragic and say something about the cruelty of the world and the small mindedness of a certain kind of person. Which is fair, it’s his allegory and there is definitely a truth there. But really, if you love someone that much you’re kind of a shitty person to ignore them from just down the street for decades to preserve your own comfort and vanity. And I don’t think Burton intended Kim to be a cruel character, it’s not how she’s made out to be in the rest of the movie, but the ending kind of makes her into one. I don’t mind a sad ending, in fact they often speak to me more than happy ones, I just don’t like it feel pointlessly sad and this one kind of does to me.
My other issue with it is the plot point of Joyce claiming Edward tried to rape her. I know this movie is 25 years old, and rape – actual, attempted, or accused – was much more uncontroversial and often employed casually. But the biggest problem in dealing with rape is the fact that women aren’t believed. There’s always been this idea floating around that false rape accusations are common (they aren’t), which puts the burden on the victim. The reality is accusing someone of rape is almost never beneficial to the accuser and often makes their situation even worse. I get that the movie is trying to show how ready people are to believe awful things about Edward because he’s strange, but really it just reinforces the idea that women call rape out of spite and that slutty = malicious liar.
That said, Edward Scissorhands is for the most part a sweet movie. Although the neighborhood folks are flighty and lack compassion, the way in which Peggy and her family accept Edward is incredibly moving and wonderful. The romance between Edward and Kim is delightfully awkward and innocent, and Johnny Depp’s performance is one of a kind. I’m not sure anyone else could have played Edward with the sort of openhearted sadness and genuine kindness that he did, while also wearing so many pounds of costuming, make-up and prostheses. Edward says less than 200 words in the entire movie, and yet he is the core of everything that happens, the emotional center. I don’t always love Depp’s performances, but he is incredibility talented, especially at giving eccentric characters who could easily just be oddballs or punchlines a sense of humanity and heart, even when we have very little to go on. Depp can convey deep love or dark tragedy with the barest of expressions or the slightest change in his tone. This movie makes it easy to see why Burton has carried on a career-long love affair with Depp as an actor, and he can be forgiven for perhaps going to back to him a little too often.
And Edward Scissorhands definitely speaks to anyone who has felt different and ostracized, specifically because it doesn’t sell us a line about how if we do our best and be ourselves, someday everyone will understand and we’ll get all the good things we deserve. There will always be people who do understand, who get it, get us. But not everyone is palatable for the masses and being yourself and doing your thing can often come with a price. You may still be rejected by the majority no matter how talented or well intentioned you are. Not many movies respect the outcast enough to be this honest about it. Maybe that’s why the end bothers me so much, because it’s actually true. Kim didn’t love Edward enough to give up her comfortable life to be with him. Whether that’s what Burton intended to say, it’s there. Maybe it’s more realistic than I first thought.
I think this movie can be summed up best by Burton himself, when he said he doesn’t think it’s his best work but it is his favorite. Edward Scissorhands is a classic and will always have a special place in my heart, flaws and all.
Quality: 8 T-Rex topiaries out of 10 – The man knows how to make a movie, and all the cast put 100% into their performances, especially Depp and Dianne Wiest, who is aggressively, fiercely loving and positive in her frumpy, motherly way.
Enjoyability: 7 Vincent Prices out of 10 – Unique, weird, and sad. Some bits don’t age well, but overall it’s as timeless as any Grimm tale.