December 8, 2015 Edward Scissorhands: A Gothic Classic 25 Years Later
Modern Hollywood icon Johnny Depp’s “Winona Forever” tattoo may not have lasted, but his creation of the creepy, kooky, and undoubtedly lovable Edward Scissorhands with Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice 1988, Batman 1989) still resonates with audiences twenty-five years after its initial release on Friday December 7, 1990 via 20th Century Fox. Burton has become known for a distinct aesthetic over the course of his career along with an ongoing working relationship with Depp. The pair have collaborated eight times, but Edward is arguably the character that is most cherished.
Along with Depp in the title role, the cast includes great actors like Dianne Wiest (The Lost Boys 1987, Bullets Over Broadway 1994), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine 2006, Argo 2012), Winona Ryder (Dracula 1992, Girl, Interrupted 1999), Kathy Baker (Picket Fences series,13 Going on 30 2004) , Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club 1985, The Dead Zone series) playing the farthest thing from a nerd, and Horror legend Vincent Price (House of Wax 1953, The Fly 1958) in his last on-screen performance. Including the musical composition of Oingo Bingo’s Danny Elfman, Edward Scissorhands is a film that many remember vividly. With a twenty million dollar budget, the film was considered a box office success, bringing in approximately eighty-six million dollars worldwide.
Edward Scissorhands has become a classic, and a treasured part of our culture, whether the film is shown on television in anticipation of Halloween during the month of October, or the character of Edward is worn as a costume, he is familiar. There is a connection to Edward we all have because of his awkward, quirky, and for the most part, misunderstood nature. His story is tragic. Edward is the hero that does not get the girl and is not magically given a set of human hands to live happily ever after with his true love. Instead, he is eventually seen as a threat and is hunted, presumed dead after his love interest tells a lie to protect him, and must live the rest of his existence isolated from society and separated from the woman he loves, becoming a story she tells to her grandchild.
The gothic fairytale theme is evident in Edward Scissorhands. It can be likened to tales like Frankenstein or Beauty and the Beast. Edward is ultimately seen as a monster, but he is really a just a boy looking for love and acceptance. From the moment Diane Wiest’s Avon-selling character, Peg, finds him living alone in a creepy castle on top of a mountain, his innocence and endearment is palpable. He may look strange with a scarred face, ghostly pallor, bondage style attire, and, of course, his scary scissorhands, but he is completely unaware of how spooky he seems.
The humor in Edward and the levity it provides throughout the film leading up to the dramatic climax is what makes the film truly special. It is these instances where Johnny Depp really comes to life as Edward, in scenes where he is trying to eat dinner with utensils but settles on using his hands to spear his food, when he tries to put on clothes, or when Winona Ryder’s character, Kim, comes home to find Edward in her room causing him to poke holes in the water bed out of sheer fright. It is these moments, along with his longing for Kim, beautifully captured in a scene where Kim asks him to hold her and he responds, “I can’t,” that make us root for his character.
The stark contrast between Edward’s dark, eerie world of over-sized tree/bush statues and the over-saturated pastel-colored community his castle overlooks further makes us understand Edward’s experience as he is thrust into a new environment. It is all strange to Edward, but also beautiful and different, and really that is what he initially is to everyone that he meets in suburbia. Burton’s creation of this dichotomy allows us as an audience to see everything through Edward’s point of view and makes the turn of events at the end of the film all the more upsetting.
Edward Scissorhands has stood the test of time because it is given us not only the formation of a power couple in Burton and Depp and an easily identifiable aesthetic that has become Burton’s signature, but also a fantasy story with a more realistic quality than we would expect. In that respect, it is more like Frankenstein than Beauty and the Beast. Edward does not get his happily ever after in the conventional way. He gets to experience love and he holds on to that, but his isolation becomes his bliss because he can be his true self away from the fear and judgment of society. It is easy to get sucked into watching Edward Scissorhands and to the world Tim Burton created. His characters are iconic and Edward is one of his best.