Tim Burton always loves to blur the line between Christmas and Halloween. Just look at Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Batman Returns. But Edward Scissorhands is one of the more subtle examples. The film is set around Christmastime, but has a dark, gothic tone that makes it fun to watch in October as well. Perhaps it’s because of long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman’s musical score, both magical and mysterious, that fuses the two holidays that evoke so much spirit. They aren’t too far apart after all.
Set in an idyllic ’50s-style suburban neighborhood where it never snows, a door-to-door saleswoman, Peg, (Dianne Wiest), having a particularly unlucky day, decides to venture to the end of the block where a driveway leads up to a Gothic castle at the top of a hill. Everything in her cul de sac is of vibrant colors. Each house is either green or purple or orange or some other bright hue. But this castle is black, the driveway is black, the gate is black. Peg, without hesitation, wanders into the dilapidated mansion. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she meets a young man (Johnny Depp), all alone, with black unkempt hair, scars on his face, and dressed in all leather. Oh, and he has scissors for hands. As an audience, we’re a bit nervous for Peg, but eventually we realize this man is kind and gentle. His name is Edward. Peg adopts him into her home, where he immediately falls for Peg’s teenage daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder).
Edward was made by a man known as the Inventor (Vincent Price), who pieced him together like Frankenstein. This movie shares several similarities to James Whale’s 1931 classic Frankenstein, but here the doctor’s creation isn’t a monster. He has language and more of an understanding of how the world works–though still has to iron out some kinks. We see, through flashbacks, the Inventor giving Edward lessons on how to carry himself and how to operate using morals. Edward can speak, though doesn’t do so very often.
Edward is the opposite of Frankenstein. He’s sweet, innocent, and wears his heart on his leather sleeve. But Burton doesn’t just create Edward as some perfect human. He explores his darkness inside as well, and how he attempts to suppress this darkness. How would you express your rage if you had knives for fingers?
Peg’s yenta neighbors catch wind of their new resident and immediately want to get to know him. They love how he so artistically trims hedges into animals and people shapes, so every house on the block soon has one of Edward’s masterpieces. Though his appearance and personality suggest that he doesn’t fit into this clean cut idealistic community, he soon becomes the most popular guy in town. Everyone loves him. Everyone accept for Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), Kim’s boyfriend, who initially teases Edward, but eventually becomes threatened by how he’s gaining Kim’s affection.
Edward Scissorhands is incredibly deep. Touching on several different themes, including that of the fickle interests by society of celebrities and what’s popular. Without becoming too on-the-nose, we see how people love to be invested in who’s hot at the moment, but once they have a reason to turn on them, they go all in, becoming influenced and edged on by one another. They won’t ever know the whole story, but they don’t care. The real monsters can be right under their noses, but that takes too much intuition and awareness to figure out. They rather have someone handed to them on a platter. Someone whose faults are blatantly obvious–or appearing to be, at least–that way they don’t have to think as hard about their hatred. People love the camaraderie of hate. They can’t find that bond elsewhere, so they need to use their detest to fulfill their loneliness.
The script by Caroline Thompson is absolutely brilliant, squeezing every last drop out of this premise–although certain likable characters get unfortunately compromised by the end. But we never need a perfect resolution with every person in this movie, much like in real life, where people’s likability isn’t black and white.
Without being overtly cynical, there are many layers to this film. We see how a black and white world can be full of color and a world of color can be black and white. When we mix those two worlds together, it can produce something great. But it can also bring out the worst in people. However, if we never give it a chance, we might miss something beautiful.