No. 20: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
Reviewed by Sam Hatch
AS THIS IS PART OF A RETRO NOSTALGIA BINGE AS OPPOSED TO A TRADITIONAL REVIEW, THERE MAY BE SPOILERS PRESENT IN THE TEXT.
Edward Scissorhands blindsided me at a very strange time in my life. I was a huge Tim Burton fan already, with Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman all considered as personal favorites. But despite the fairy tale qualities of this film, it was considerably more mature and personal than any of his previous work.
Remember that band I kept talking about in the other reviews? Well it was dominating my life at the time. (I actually cribbed an element of Danny Elfman's marvelous score for this feature in one of my songs) In true adolescent form I was probably more intent on wooing one of our friends at the time than practicing my guitar chops. Unfortunately, the same girl was more intent on wooing the other guitar player in my band, who wasn't into her in the least. And so ensued the awesome Valentine's Day evening in which I asked said girl out on a date... only to have her run away, sobbing into the night.
And then this frickin' movie came out. I saw it once, and the second time I saw it was with the evil devilgirl as she (sort of) apologized for bugging out while still confirming that I had no chance in hell. Needless to say, Edward Scissorhands left me an emotional wreck.
Johnny Depp teamed with Burton in what would be a very fruitful relationship, and he plays the tortured soul Edward, a son created by Vincent Price's lonely professor (who lives in a gothic castle on the outskirts of a pastel nightmare suburban housing development). Edward's 'father' passes on before he can craft him appropriate hands, and is stuck living in a dingy attic with a set of hellish cutlery at the terminus of each arm. Dianne Wiest's humorously naive Avon Lady Peg reluctantly approaches the castle in a desperate attempt at gaining new customers, and after vainly attempting to conceal the numerous scissor-made scars on his face with her product she decides it would be best to bring him to her home instead.
The over-the-top pastel colors of her neighborhood had already been done by Joel Schumacher in The Incredible Shrinking Woman a decade earlier, but Burton put his own unique stamp on the film. The intention of the ensuing 'assimilation' scenes is to point out how hard it is to be a 'strange' individual while living in the super Leave it to Beaver confines of a Los Angeles suburb. This is supposed to reflect the experiences of Burton's youth, which had been previously explored in some of his short films.
But where the film truly succeeds (whether intentionally or not), is the beautifully detailed exploration on how a young man becomes a socially awkward adult when 'abandoned' by a father. In Edward's case, this emotional damage is also brilliantly reflected in the flesh, as he is literally left 'incomplete' by his father's absence. This leads to the eventual yearning relationship with Wiest's daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), and his inability to connect with her as desired. Her football jock boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall as a geek-tormenting jock - go figure!) makes things even worse by egging Edward into undertaking numerous bad ideas.
Needless to say, the emotional damage involved with Edward and his unrequited love for Kim certainly hit home at the time. Luckily, there was still plenty of Beetlejuice-style comedy to be found, as the community is populated by numerous humorous desperate housewives, all out to exploit Edward's remarkable topiary skills.
All in all, it's a genius piece of work. It succeeds remarkably at capturing the intended fairytale feel, yet also tackles mature subject matter such as abandonment issues and societal alienation. It also cleverly details that although sometimes people can become fascinated by a 'beautiful freak' they'll ultimately let their fear get the best of them and, in the case of this film, run them out of town. The emotional resonance of this film is profound (the ending tugs at the heartstrings like mad), and I must say that it is a very worthy entry on this list, both today and sixteen years ago. This goes along with Big Fish and Ed Wood as the very best of Tim Burton's work.