Tim Burton’s fairy tale can’t draw blood, but it leaves its mark.
Fairy tales can be hard to pin down. They don’t aspire to fulfill basic narrative expectations like pacing or logical character motivations: Why does the Witch want to eat Hansel and Gretel? Well, uh, because that’s what witches do, I guess.
Edward Scissorhands is a fairy tale through and through, and it too has fairly underdeveloped characters and motivations. Honestly, this is probably what the film was going for but unfortunately, the the plot feels empty and simplistic as a result. Fairy tales only come alive – and become meaningful – when you take a step back and look at the story through metaphor and allegory. But a film is a different beast than the short story, which is where fairy tales thrive. The unstoppable forward momentum of film makes taking a step back and reflecting pretty much impossible during the film’s runtime. The act of watching Edward Scissorhands isn’t very entertaining, and so I’m not sure it’s a good movie. However, once the film is done and that reflection occurs, the artistry and themes are fun to play with. This I definitely admire, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that fun to watch. Edward Scissorhands is a weird movie.
For those of you who don’t know, Edward (Johnny Depp) was created in a lab in a castle on a hill, a deliberate allusion to Mary Shelley’s novel and James’s Whale’s cinematic adaptation, Frankenstein. Edward is like Shelley’s and Whale’s creatures in some ways and different in others. In the end they are all three scrutinized and repulsed by society. For Victor’s creation, it’s because he’s ugly and not ‘natural.’ The problem with Edward? His hands are scissors.
Edward, scissors and all, is found and brought home by Peg (Diane West), a makeup saleswoman. This is about as much plot as the film cares to give. Much of the runtime is devoted to various hijinks and conflicts which serve to explore one aspect of the metaphor on display: Edward is unlike the majority. He’s different and thereby stands in for those who don’t feel normal. The film then begins to explore how being different can go: What if people like the difference? What if this difference is valuable to others? What if the difference is potentially dangerous? These are all addressed, but they feel extremely disconnected. Whole sequences could be switched around without problem. Nothing really builds on anything else, making it all clunky and underdeveloped.
The best thing about Edward Scissorhands is the way the director, Tim Burton, fuses the 1950s American white suburban setting with a surreal aesthetic to explore the truth about the suburbia we see. The lawns are perfectly maintained, the sun always shines, the houses are pastel, the housewives are ferocious, and the whole society functions like clockwork. It elevates every disconnected sequence by giving each a greater social context and narrative depth. It doesn’t solve the narrative jankiness entirely, but it’s certainly adds value that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
In the end I still don’t know where I come down on Edward Scissorhands. Is it narratively satisfying? Not really. Does it have something to say? Is Edward Scissorhands a good movie? I don’t know. I didn’t really enjoy the film and I can’t find it in myself to recommend it, but the story is not without value. It’s wholly unique. If you’ve read this far and think you’d be into it, you probably would be.
I saw Edward Scissorhands at a screening put on by Mount Allison’s Association of Chronically Ill and Disabled Students (ACID). Check them out on Facebook to learn more!