Edward Scissorhands and the Theme of Being Different
“People are afraid of me because I am different”
When we think of Tim Burton’s movies, we can’t simply separate the director and his work. This is one of those directors, who puts his own emotions and experiences into his films. Beetlejuice, Batman, Willy Wonka, Jack Skellington, Edward Scissorhands – what all these characters have in common? They are different from others. The way they look, the way they act – it's uncommon between normal usual people. Tim Burton shows his own nature through these characters – when we see photos of him, we can notice that he always wears black clothes and black sunglasses, with wild hair, and all this distinguishes him and makes him different from others. That’s why one of the most important themes that Burton explores in his movies is – what does mean to be different? In this essay, I’d like to discuss this theme on the example of one of the most important films in Burton’s filmography, and, probably, the most private of his works - “Edward Scissorhands”, of 1990, starring Johnny Depp, and Winona Ryder.
Director Tim Burton
What is "Edward Scissorhands" about?
The action takes place in a peaceful suburban community, where everyone knows each other, and where rumors spread in seconds. Mrs. Peg Boggs finds an unknown young man, Edward, played by Depp, in an abandoned castle and takes him into her family. Edward has an unusual flaw – instead of fingers, he has knives and scissors on his hands. Rumors about Edward spread throughout the town, everyone wants to know - who is he. His talent finds a use in a town – he begins to cut bushes for neighbors in forms of animals, people, etc. He also helps to cut hair and make different hair styles. At the same time, Edward falls in love with Peg's daughter, Kim, performed by Ryder, and that becomes one of the main problems of this movie, as Kim’s boyfriend, Jim, hates Edward with all his heart, and he’s ready to do anything to spoil his life.
How does Burton show Edward as being different from others?
The first thing we need to focus on is how Burton separates Edward and his original setting from other, “normal” people and their constant setting. Edward is originally not a human – he is some kind of a robot, or Frankenstein. That’s why he wears a strange black leather costume that is impossible to take off. His hair is black and wild, and his face is pale, and covered with scars. He lives in an abandoned old gothic castle that is located right in front of colorful “happy” town. Perhaps, this is a little hyperbolized – but that’s what Burton does. He is not afraid to show obvious things, so we could understand that Edward is odd, and he doesn’t suit into this usual society. The reason why he has scissors and knives instead of his fingers is revealed, when we see the scene, where his normal human fingers were ready, but Edward’s creator, played by Vincent Price, died just before he wanted to put these fingers on Edward. If his creator didn’t die, Edward would be just like others – that's what we hear on a TV show, where Edward participates – if he didn’t have such strange hands, he wouldn’t be different. And the people, who are not different, are “normal” citizens of this small town. They are completely different from Edward, but they all look the same. Costume designer of “Edward Scissorhands”, Colleen Atwood, is the one, who worked with Burton on the majority of his films. Here, she created the “normal” community at its best. People are wearing very colorful clothes, on the contrast with Edward. Every house and car have its own solid color – yellow, pink, green, blue, and beige. Everything looks clean and neat. Burton himself explains that he shows his own town, where he lived, as a child. What he says about this small town, “It’s not a bad place. It's a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It's a place where there's a lot of integrity”. For us, viewers, it can seem like an idyll. But, if we dig a little deeper, we’ll see that, Edward is actually looks horrifying, and his castle is fearful, and “normal” people look very friendly and peaceful, and their town is ideal, but what is inside of them? We see it completely vice versa. Edward is the most kindest and peaceful person in the world, while the other people are evil, jealous, and hypocritical. Even though Edward looks like a monster, but the real monsters are these “normal” people. Why do I put “normal” in quotes? Because these people are not normal at all.
Burton portrays himself through Edward
What makes Edward different from others is his talent. He doesn’t just have scissor hands, he knows how to use them. He knows how to create things. Here, Burton tries to show Edward, as not like a stupid Frankenstein, but as a creative person, an artist, who is not accepted by others. It is common for writers, poets, artists, musicians, directors – they are often not appreciated by usual people. It is relevant for Burton too. Edward can cut bushes, and make figures of them, as no one in this town can. He can make hairstyles in such a beautiful way, as no one from these “normal” people can. That’s what makes him unique. And, first, people accept him. Yes, they are really kind to him. Everyone is so happy to talk with him, even though he will answer just two words to you. And that’s because they can use him for their profit. He will cut their bushes, their hairs, and they’ll like it. But when they notice that something is wrong with, and they feel he’s scary or dangerous, they’ll throw him out of their society. People are afraid of something they don’t understand. And when they are afraid, they’re trying to destroy it. But what makes this film even more interesting is that at the end, people really throw Edward out, and he returns to his dark castle. They don’t reconcile with each other – Edward and people, who used to like him recently, are left as enemies in a movie. But Edward is shown as a noble and kind person at the end, because even though he is thrown out, he still makes snow for people. Old Kim, who appeared to be the narrator at the end, said that she knows that Edward is alive, because, they’ve never had snow before him. It means, that even though people hate and despise Edward, he forgives them and tries to make them happy by giving them snow that’s coming from his ice statues. It supports the fact that Burton wanted to show himself through Edward. They both are not accepted by normal society, because they are too different, but anyway they want to make other people’s lives magical and wonderful, by making snow or by producing new movies.
Kim and her role in this movie
Talking about narrative, we see that the actual narrator of this story is old Kim, Edward’s love. We realize it only at the end, but anyway the whole story is shown to be retold for her granddaughter. It’s interesting, because the young Kim appears only after 40 minutes on the screen. Kim has a very important role in the whole plot, as she is the only person, who actually changes her attitude towards Edward. She is the only one, who accepts him. There’s an interesting question – why? She is a usual high school girl, who is dating a usual high school football player – she is having fun, and acts like a usual girl. But, when she meets Edward, she changes. She is feeling that he’s the one who really loves her, sincerely and honestly. Edward has no pride, no prejudice, he is not a cool guy, like Jim, Kim’s previous boyfriend – but Edward is more real than anyone else. Maybe, that’s why she starts to love him too. And what makes this relationship heart-breaking, is that they are destined to break up – they will never be together, and there is no chance they will ever be together. Through Kim, Burton shows that some people can sincerely love these different people, but they will never be close to them, as society says so. That’s a big drama of this movie – the director shows that Edward has no chance to be happy in this life, but he can make happy other people through his ice statues and snow that’s coming from them.
What does it mean to be different from Burton’s point of view?
That’s how Tim Burton shows the theme of being different in his “Edward Scissorhands”. Different people can be extremely talented, but they’ll remain odd for others. They can help people and make them happy, but they’ll be different. They can love someone, and can be loved by someone, but they’re not destined to be happy, because they’re different. The only thing that spoils the lives of these different people is society, which is trying to put this person into its rules and frames. Let’s think – if Edward and Kim isolated themselves from this crazy society, would they be happy together? Yes. But, in this case, the society wouldn’t let them to do so. That’s why Burton, through his movies, tells us that it’s ok to be different, it’s ok to show your talents, to develop them, but there’s a chance that you won’t find any understanding from the society. But, its Burton’s point of view, and its his experience. In his other movie, “Big Fish”, he shows a person, who is also different, because he always invents new stories about his life and makes it look like a fairy tale, but he is not shown like an outcast. A lot of people like him, his wife loves him, and he makes his son to love him at the end too. So, what does it really mean to be different from Burton’s point of view? Probably, for him there is no concrete answer. He thinks that different person mostly doesn’t suit into normal society, so this person should find someone who will love him the way he is. Different people can be happy, if they find someone, like Kim, who will love your difference. For Burton, it’s hard to be different, but it doesn’t always mean that you have to suffer. If you find people, who will sincerely love you, they wouldn’t mind your differences. So, it’s important to understand that being different is not a punishment – if you have talents that other people don’t, it doesn’t mean that you’re worse or better than other people. You are given this talent for some purpose, so the only thing you should do is to use it. To use it to make other people better, to help them in some way. In “Edward Scissorhands”, Burton explores the theme of being different, and concludes, that a different person will never be accepted in the “normal” society of wrong values, but if he finds right people, who will love his differences, talents, he can get true happiness.
© 2019 Egor Demin