Movies That Everyone Should See: “Edward Scissorhands”

In light of the most recent effort from Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, and the fact that today is Mother’s Day and the movie features a sweet Mother looking after a misunderstood son who’s always getting into trouble through absolutely no fault of his own (LOL!!!), my choice for this week’s MTESS column was an easy one.

1990’s nouveau classic, “Edward Scissorhands”.

Director Tim Burton studied character animation in college and began his career as an animator and storyboard artist for Walt Disney Studios. His desire to express his personal vision led him to pursue his own projects, however, and after a handful of shorter films Burton was selected to direct the big screen debut of Paul Reuben’s character “Pee Wee Herman”. “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985) was a surprising success, earning favorable reviews and seven times its budget at the box office. It earned him another comedy, 1988’s “Beetlejuice”. Like “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, “Beetlejuice” was a financial success that garnered praise from critics. It earned back five times its budget at the box office during its theatrical run.

The success of those two films earned Burton the opportunity to helm a blockbuster. Warner Brothers gave him the chance to bring his sensibilities to “Batman”, a high profile, enormous project with a massive budget (for the time). It was released to extraordinary fanfare and earned spectacular returns at the gate. It was the largest opening weekend at the time, the highest grossing movie of the year, and was one of the highest grossing films of all time (it remains in the top 50 today when adjusted for inflation).

Three movies, each more successful than the last, culminating in one of the biggest box office hauls of all time. In 1990, Tim Burton could make any movie he wanted. The movie he chose to make was “Edward Scissorhands”.

“Edward Scissorhands” was the first movie Burton directed that he (co)wrote as well. It’s obviously a very personal film. The character sprang from a drawing Burton did as a teenager, and it reflects his own feelings of isolation and alienation growing up.

To play the character, Burton cast Johnny Depp. It marked the first time they worked together… the two would eventually go on to seven more collaborations (“Ed Wood” 1994, “Sleepy Hollow” 1999, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” 2005, “The Corpse Bride” 2005, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” 2007, “Alice in Wonderland” 2010, and “Dark Shadows” 2012), making them one of the most prolific actor/director pairings in history.

“Edward Scissorhands” was one of the first movie roles in Johnny Depp’s illustrious career. He had had several bit parts, and a lead in John Water’s “Cry Baby”, but was probably still best known at that point for “21 Jump Street”. It was totally against his pretty boy image at the time, and his memorable performance helped set him on his way to the A-list.

Burton brought back Winona Ryder, whom he had previously worked with on “Beeltejuice”, to star opposite Depp. It was a decision made easier by the fact that the two stars were romantically involved in real life at the time. It was Johnny Depp, reportedly, who convinced  Ryder to drop out of The Godfather Part III in order to be in this film (a wise choice in retrospect).

The story is set in a garishly colorful, ridiculously conformist suburbia. Gossipy neighbors populate a housing development composed of pastel painted yet exceedingly similar houses. Far atop a rocky hill sits dark, Victorian mansion. When an intrusive Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) braves to go to the darkened castle, she discovers a meticulously kept garden of sculpted hedges within the courtyard, and something even more unique within.

Living in the mansion, alone, is a young man with scissor blades for fingers. Edward.

Edward was a creation of an inventor (Vincent Price), who never had the opportunity to finish him. He died of a heart attack just as he was about to give Edward his hands. Now she can see that Edward lives alone, isolated from the rest of the world.

In an act of compassion, she offers him the chance to come home with her.

His interjection into the family – and the neighborhood – is initially well received. After a brief, awkward introductory period, the locals are more than willing to allow him to sculpt their shrubbery, groom their pets and cut their hair. He even draws the affection of the neighborhood cougar (Kathy Baker), and becomes a bit of a local celebrity by making an appearance on a talk show.

He has a more difficult time being accepted by the family’s teenaged daughter Kim, though (Ryder). After getting off on the wrong foot by startling her in her own room, she and her friends reject him as an odd, freakish outsider. He, however, begins to fall for her, admiring her beauty from afar.

When she and her bully boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall) convince him to help them rob the boyfriend’s father’s house, Edward naively agrees. Things go awry quickly and he’s trapped within by the house’s security system, while the others flee. The cops arrive, and Edward is arrested alone.

It’s here he begins to see how fickle the neighbors affections are.

Gossip runs rampant, and the people who had befriended him turn to rumor mongering and false accusations. Kim’s boyfriend refuses to confess to the police, leaving Edward on the hook for the crime. The situation and the changing social climate cause Edward to act out, damaging the family’s house he’s staying at with his bladed hands. This strains his relationship with the family, as well.

However, as he loses the admiration of the neighborhood, he begins to gain the affection of Kim. Through it all she’s begun to see that Edward is sweet and kind, and that it’s her boyfriend that’s really the monster. When she finds him carving an ice sculpture in their yard, the spray of shavings reminds her of snow… which she’s never seen before. She dances and spins in it in joy, and from that point forward she recognizes the beauty within Edward. She begins to fall in love.

Of course, the idea of a romance between them is doomed… not only due to the obstacles his deformity pose, but because the town has turned against him now. He saves the family’s son from being run over in the street, but everyone assumes he’s attacking the boy. The police begin to chase him, and Edward is forced to run back to the dark castle from which he came.

No one is content to leave him in peace, however. The neighbors chase him to his door. It’s the suburban version of the villagers chasing Frankenstein’s monster. Fearing for his safety, Kim follows him into the mansion. Her boyfriend follows as well, only… looking to kill him.

It’s a frightening and violent climax, where Edward is finally pushed to harm another in order to defend himself, with tragic results. Kim’s boyfriend is killed. Knowing that they can never stay together, Kim leaves, telling the mob outside that Edward died in the confrontation as well. It’s the only way they’ll leave him alone.

But before she goes, she professes her love for Edward. He is left to live alone, but he knows he’s worthy of love. The bedtime story bookends of the movie reveal that Kim never stopped thinking of him, either.

It’s a bittersweet ending to a uniquely twisted take on classic monster romances. “Scissorhands” follows in a long lineage of films where monstrous men or creatures fall for beautiful women… there are shades here of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein… many, many more.

But it’s most special for being Tim Burton’s image of what it’s like to be an outsider. Edward is an artistic loner, who doesn’t fit in well with the “normal” people. He’s an odd, dark, solitary figure, incapable of conforming because that’s not who he is. But he’s also gentle, soft-spoken, sweet, and naive. His pale, scarred visage is oddly beautiful. In contrast to the ridiculous generic surroundings, Edward stands out in a way that should be seen as wonderful. Beauteous. His differences are a gift to a world blighted by smothering sameness.

It’s a tragic romance that imparts deeper themes of socialization and conformity. It’s one of the trademark films of one of our most visionary directors, and marks the first collaboration between he and his frequent star, Johnny Depp. It’s dark, offbeat and bittersweet, but at the same time, moving and unforgettable. It’s structured along the lines of many classic tales, yet somehow feels unique and new. It’s a very special movie that’s inspired a great deal of affection from audiences over the years.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

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40 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Edward Scissorhands”

    • Yeah, clicking over there, you wrote “this film captures the sentiment, appeal, and poignancy for those who only want to fit in, but their beauty simply won’t allow it. The film’s final scene still moves me to no end.” I completely agree. Winona in the old age makeup getting all wistfull while Depp shaves the ice sculptures by himself… that’s a really awesome ending.

      Glad they didn’t go with something more conventional. A “Happy Ending” would have totally undercut the tone…

      Nice to agree on this one!

  1. It has been quite a while since I’d seen this one. My comment in your Dark Shadows review mentioning it planted a seed of need for a revisit. For all the reasons above, I remember loving this movie. That seed has now taken to the soil and has begun sprouting. Well done, Fogs.

    “He’s an odd, dark, solitary figure, incapable of conforming because that’s not who he is. But he’s also gentle, soft-spoken, sweet, and naive.” These are the characteristics that made me feel a deep kinship to the tragic Edward. It’s almost strange how this nonconformity has harbored a similar such kinship for so many, sort of like “alternative” music becoming the mainstream. Thankfully, Edward still retains charm by contrast.

    • Cool, Dak. I hope you revisit it and it reminds you why you remember it so fondly. That’s a sign of a job well done. LOL!

      Meanwhile it’s funny you bring up the music. I didnt get a chance to work this in, but one of the things I learned doing my research was that Burton asked Robert Smith of the Cure to do the music, but Smith didnt know who Burton was and turned him down.

      No offense to Danny Elfman, but that’s a change I would have been interested in seeing how it worked out, LOL! I bet that would have been great. :D

      • My goodness, the mind boggles at that little factoid. I just can’t even imagine. I believe “interesting” to be a rather apt term to use, in it’s multiple shades of meaning.

  2. Definitely one of my favorite Tim Burton movies. Too bad he hasn’t lived up to his early potential in a while. I’m still generally a fan of his newer works unlike most people though.

    • That’s cool. Yeah, me too to an extent. I think I’m more tolerant of them than most, lets put it that way. Even when his movies stink, they usually still have something to offer.

      He’s still got the capability of creating a classic, I’ll keep giving him chances as long as he keeps working…

      • Yeah, I’ve read several reviews of Dark Shadows and most have seemed to want to like it, and actually do like big parts of it, but they can’t deny that it just doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts like most of his older movies did.

  3. Love this film. Watch it pretty much once a year. Burton never better. It was all down here from here. Took me a long time to realise that bad boy Anthony Michael Hall was geek boy Anthony Michael Hall from Breakfast Club!

    • I know, right? What’d he do, Hulk out? LOL. Crazy transformation.

      Meanwhile, I guess if this was someone’s favorite Burton film, it would technically be “all downhill from there” by definition. But to me, he still had some future classics up his sleeve in the form of “Sleepy Hollow” and “Big Fish”. To me, those are both great movies.

  4. I think Hollywood has reined Tim Burton in. The purse-strings have tightened and so has the creativity. Since 2005 his movies have been a remake or rehash of one kind or another. Hollywood doesn’t want to risk the money so his movies have lost it’s edginess. Could change though. Frankenweenie is on the way! If you had to MTESS only one Burton movie, would this be it?

    • No. Big Fish is my favorite. Great flick. That one gets to me.

      Hollywood MIGHT reign in the budgets after Dark Shadows (its on its way to a disappointing BO) but he had a $150 million dollar budget for that flick. Alice in Wonderland made tons of money. Tons. It wasnt that good, but it was a solid earner.

    • Ah. I wouldnt have either, but I happened to be doing this last night and with Mother’s day impending I was like, might as well whip up a banner for a day. :D

      Thanks for the props, I love this movie… had to do it justice!

  5. Another film in my collection and one of my all time favorite films (revised list) at #6. The Danny Elfman score is one of his best and this film still gets me teary eyed no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Excellent choice, Fogs.

    • Wow. #6, huh? That’s pretty lofty. Especially as I know you Tanskis document all your movies! :D

      It’s a great one, totally worthy of however high someone wants to place it. To me? Its a total classic.

  6. Interesting choice for Mother’s Day, Fogs, awesome banner btw! I saw this ages ago and I actually enjoyed it despite not being a huge Tim Burton fan. It’s amazing how many times Depp has worked together w/ Burton but I think this is one of their best collaborations.

    • Yeahhhhhh… I wasnt really like thinking ahead on the whole mother’s day thing. Probably better movies out there for that. “Mask” or something. you know? Off the top of my head… “Terms of Endearment” LOL…

      Whatever, today was Edward Scissorhands’ day in the sun, glad you liked it in spite of your lack of love for TBurt!

      • Definitely random. Absolutely do not want to give the impression that it’s my favorites list or there’s an order.

        I always basically just see if it meets my head snap test. If I’m standing next to a self professed “Big Movie Fan” and they say they’ve never seen movie X, do I snap my head around quickly to gawk at them? LOL You’ve never seen ____?

        Usually I try to choose either movies that are so high quality they should be seen regardless of pop culture standing, or movies that have such a place in pop culture they cant be ignored.

        Then after that, it’ll usually be something dumb that can determine which one gets written up for the week. This week happened to be a Burton/Depp movie cause of Dark Shadows, but it can be coming across a picture, or the movie being on tv… a lot of silly little things.

  7. This may be the reason I will never consider Burton unredeemable as film maker. It was the only one of his I went to see twice in the theater. I watch it once or twice a year as well and it still stands as ‘the’ bench mark outsider movie in my mind. Great review Fogs

    • Thanks Ric. You know, seeing as he’s been getting discussed so much lately (just podcasted about him) I wouldnt ever think him unredeemable either… not just because of his classics (and IMO he has a strong lineup of them) but more because even his suckier movies have decent moments and strong potential. Maybe they didnt deliver for whatever reason, but you can tell he still could bring it all together if everything lines up right for him…

  8. I agree everyone should at least experience ES at least once. Lots to talk about, life lessons, messages, and conversation starters are present for sure…..but I never loved this movie. (Maybe I am a freak)….lol

    • That’s ok, maybe it just appeals to the freaks and you’re NOT one. LOL :D

      It’s a unique movie, that’s for sure. It’s very much based on feelings, so if you cant connect with it, the rest of it can easily leave you flat…

  9. Well I know what you will be voting for in this week’s poll… :D Sadly I have never seen this one (or many Burton/Depp collaborations, for that matter). Sounds like it would be a good candidate for my next project if I don’t get to it before then.

    • Huh. LOL. I guess when you ran that poll, my thinking jumped to you having already have seen all of those movies. LOL. I dont know why…

      Funny how the mind works, isnt it?

      This is a good one to check out, yes. Definitely

      • Haha, well to be fair I probably should see all of the movies in my poll. I just figured it would be a good one to run, given the release of Dark Shadows and all. Plus it was the first thing to come to mind. :)

    • Agreed. It’s just very emotive, you know? Its a simple story, and its been done before… but it has enough spin to feel completely unique, and really speaks well on so many levels to the teen experience, and the experience of being different.

  10. Completely and utterly agree. I won’t let anyone in my house if they haven’t seen this film. Ok, that might be a lie, but maybe I should instate that rule…

    Think this if my favourite Tim Burton film. It’s a combination of everything he does best and I think it’s some of the best of Danny Eflman’s work too. It just all came together beautifully in this one.

    • Sure did. Although I still find it fascinating to think about what might have been if he had gotten Robert Smith of the Cure to do the music. :D Wouldnt that have been awesome? Smith turned him down cause he didnt know who Burton was… :(

  11. I absolutely adore this movie, probably the only film to ever make me actually well up with tears.

    I love the fact that Johnny Depp played Edward as a loveable, kindhearted loner and played Willie Wonka as a psychotic suspect-paedophile loner. Depp always bases his performance on another famous person and both of these performances were based on Michael Jackson, funny how public opinion has been reflected in these two movies…

  12. Excellent review, I haven’t seen this film in ages. I always used to find the part when Kim dances in the snowflakes really good. The ending used to always move me

    • I’m sure it still would, Vinnie, if you ever run across it again.

      I watched it in order to write up this post, and I still thought it held up great. The ending is every bit as touching as it ever was.

      • It’s the little detailed moments that make a difference when watching a movie. I’ve wrote the beginning of a post about the memorable last shots before the credits roll , you should have a look.

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