1001 Movies – Edward Scissorhands (1990)

edwards scissorhandsAn artificial man, who was incompletely constructed and has scissors for hands, leads a solitary life. Then one day, a suburban lady meets him and introduces him to her world.

Brief Thoughts:

Before: This month’s random choice was picked using a random number generator. It’s a film that I know a bit about but have never watched so I’m looking forward to it.

After: It was fun and kept my attention the whole way through. It’s a good retelling of Frankenstein and a look into what is means to be different and just how weird suburbia and normality actually is. I’m glad I watched it but I’m not sure if I’ll watch it again

Idea

This is a film that at it’s core is about what it’s like to be different and to feel out of place in the crowd. Whilst most people aren’t as obviously different as Edward is, almost everyone has felt lonely in a crowd and felt out of place in the world. What Burton does is amplify those feels and those differences and this isn’t just done in the story it’s done through the direction and the production as well. There are two main settings for this film, Peggy’s suburb and the castle on the hill that she found Edward in. These two places could not be more different and that is shown in the way that they are filmed and portrayed on screen. The castle is pretty much entirely black and white with only a few hints of colour in the garden, it’s very dreary. The different between that and the colourful suburbia is almost as stark as the Oz and Kansas in ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz‘. The two could not be more different with the suburbia being full of pastel colours and shades or oranges, pinks, blues and greens.
Even when he put’s normal clothes on Edward stands out because his face is so pale and you can see that they are just put on on top of his black jackets and trousers. It’s a simple but effective way of showing how normality is a mask as you can see the ‘true’ Edward underneath.

Peggy and her family really take Edward to heart even with a rocky and uncertain start. To the point that when he gets arrested the dad tries to make sure to teach Edward ethics and what’s right or wrong in a situation in the same way you would teach a kid. Edward is so naive of the world but he wants to do good and please others, he really does try his best but at times he’s just too different. And at other times even when he does the right thing people have already made up their minds about what they saw that they are unable to accept the truth.

‘Edward Scissorhands’ really shows the impact of a mob rule and how easily public opinion can be turned. For a large chunk of this film everyone likes Edward and his difference, the women are all talking about how quickly he could take off their clothes and appreciating his ‘skills’ are a hair dresser. I put skills in quotes because although he is definitely talented I’m not convinced on the actual designs or styles themselves, one literally looks like he’s turned her hair into a plank of wood.
However when Edward gets arrested everyone who thought he was the best thing since sliced bread starts turning against him and suddenly he’s a threatening figure in their lives. Even Peggy and her husband, Bill, get upset when he loses him temper and cuts up the curtains and marks the walls. Suddenly he’s got to be held to a higher standard and the whole ares turns against him and them by association. Peggy even says she thinks it might have been better if she left Edward in the castle rather than bringing him back home because it would have been safer for everyone, including Edward. At the end of the film there is a literal mob of house wives all out for blood and even the police telling them to go home wasn’t enough as they walk into the castle grounds

Plot

One of the few things I knew coming into this film in advance (apart from the fact that Edward has scissors for hands) is that it was an updated Frankenstein. What surprised me is it followed the framing narrative of Frankenstein in that it’s a story within a story. It starts with a old lady agreeing to tell her granddaughter why it snows and then goes into the story of Edward.
This clearly isn’t an accident, Tim Burton knew exactly what he was doing when he decided on that kind of narrative and what he was paying homage to. There was a couple of times throughout the film I expected it to return to the old lady and her granddaughter just so the little girl could ask what this has to do with snow. That didn’t happen but did get cleared up near the very end of the film with the snow being the flurry of ice that Edward is cutting to make a sculpture. Stories within a story can be hard to get right, some are very meta (Princess Bride I’m looking at you!) and some make it easy to forget that that is what’s happening. In this case I think it was done really well, it might have been nice to have a reminder of what was happening part way through the film or some kind of narration but that would have broken up the tension and the story.

The story itself really is an updated Frankenstein and a simple one at that. However the simplicity allows you to focus on the characters and the absurdity of the situation that they find themselves in.

When Avon lady Peggy finds a man with scissors for hands in a dark castle all by himself she decides to take him back to her home and look after him until he no longer needs her help. Her family are slightly confused by this but agree that he needs looking after and shouldn’t have been left alone. Edwards talent for pruning turns into a ‘business’ where he shapes all of the neighbourhoods trees and hedges into beautiful works of art, from there he goes into trimming dog’s hair and then women’s hair into creative (read: utterly mad) hairstyles.
Edward is desperate to please because he’s been alone for so long, especially Peggy because she rescued him and Kim (Peggy’s daughter) because she’s beautiful. This need to please goes wrong when it ends up getting him arrested and leads to the whole neighbourhood (apart from Peggy and his family) turning against him and calling him a freak. When Kevin, Peggy’s teenage son, nearly gets run over and Edward rescues him people think that Edward attacked Kevin and become a mob on the hunt for blood. Edward runs but is chased by Kim and her ex, Jim. Jim then attacks Kim and Edward and gets killed in self defence, and Kim has to pretend both men killed each other to get the mob to leave.

Characters

Edward is a really gentle being who unfortunately is unable to do the simplest things without causing damage due to his scissors/hands. He really wants to please and to help and clearly comes to think of Peggy and her family as his own. Johnny Depps acting is really good. Edward himself says very little and a lot of what he does say is only a couple of words in response or just repetition of what he is asked. His physical acting really shows how out of place Edward feels to begin with and how comfortable he becomes even though he still doesn’t fit in properly. He is full of expression, confusion, joy, and love. He’s so childlike and the wonder at the world is shown so clearly on his scarred face. I sympathised with Edward and how he wanted to fit in but even if he did everything that was asked of him he was still too different.

I want to be like Peggy. I want to be able to see past someone’s differences into their heart and be able and willing to help them in any way possible. Peggy is never afraid of Edward and what he could do to her, she just sees someone in emotional pain and who needs help and opens up her home to him. She doesn’t grow as much as the other characters but that’s because she already starts in such a good place.

Music

After watching a lot of old films that don’t have soundtracks this year I really noticed the soundtrack in this one and felt it added to the whole tone and the film in general. Most of the time the music matches the tone of the scene, in that if it’s in the castle/a flashback it’s quite creepy and disjointed, and if it’s in the ‘normal’ suburbia it’s quite light. However when Edward it feeling particularly out of place the music reflects that and amplifies his emotions and the viewers empathy.

I wouldn’t say I’d recognise the music if you played it to me, I wouldn’t go out and buy the soundtrack, like I have with Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. However, it was used really well and added to the film in a way that music should.

Awards

BAFTA: WINNER – Best Production design. NOMINEE – Best costume design, best make up, best special visual effects.
Oscars: NOMINEE – Best make up
Golden Globes: NOMINEE – Best actor in a musical or comedy (Johnny Depp)

Did I enjoy it? Yes
Am I glad I watched it? Yes
Would I watch again? Maybe
Would I have watched it if not for this challenge? Probably at some point but it wasn’t high on the list.

Next weeks film: Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

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