Thursday, 26 November 2015

Film Review: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Fig. 1: Original Theatrical Poster (1990)
Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990) tells the story of a boy left with hands for scissors after his creator, an inventor, died before he was able to give him real hands. For the majority of the film, the scissors are seen as a kind of beneficial disability, as living his entire life with them has given him skills in hedge cutting, hair dressing and ice sculpting. Value for his talents is short-lived however, as he is soon taken advantage of for his "talents". The story "is told gently,subtly and with infinite sympathy for an outsider who charms the locals but then inadvertently arouses their baser instincts." (Lee, 2014).

Fig. 2: Edward.
Edward is arguably a truly innocent character, and is in many ways a "blank slate" that's been released on a world where innocence is not valued, but rather viewed as too child-like. This is shown in a scene where Edward is asked what he should do if he finds a large sum of money that doesn't belong to him, he is given a few options, and chooses the option to give it to his loved ones, but is told this option is wrong, and the morally correct decision is to take the money to the police. Morals are a major theme in the film, and it's questioned several times whether people are born morally good, or if morals are taught. A deeply religious character shows no evidence of being either morally bad or good, but simply seems to appear in order to build tension - an interesting choice in character writing, as religious people are often viewed as holding a moral high ground. Kevin, the only child character in the film, is also not wholly innocent, but instead a typical young boy who finds blood and violence appealing, even taking Edward into school to show him off to his class mates, portraying him as frightening man capable of murder; "one chop to a guy's neck, and it's all over."

Fig. 3: Joyce asks Edward to cut her dog's fur.
Edward is meant to contrast the other characters in the film by being odd and socially inept, but not everyone feels that this is the case; "One problem is that the other people are as weird, in their ways, as he is: Everyone in this film is stylized and peculiar, so he becomes another exhibit in the menagerie" (Ebert, 1990). That being said, all the "normal" characters are in some way an exaggeration of people most of the audience will recognise from their own lives - many people will know of an Avon lady like Peg or a merciless flirt like Joyce. In fact, all characters fit into some kind of stereotype, but many seem to possess no qualities beyond it. Through making the characters over the top stereotypes, they are just as weird and unbelievable as Edward, the irony is that they all view Edward as strange and feel their lives are normal. 

edward scissorhands cars
Fig. 4: The suburbs.
The suburbs they live in, though pleasant in design, do not feel like an appealing place to live. Attitudes seem to be incredibly old fashioned, as all the women are gossiping, two-faced housewives who would happily trample over each other to achieve their own goals, "the husbands go to the office at exactly the same time, and the wives bake apple pies and gossip over the garden fence" (Lee, 2014). The women only stand together to mock or ostracise their neighbours, and there is an immediate sense of unease when Edward is introduced to the Bog's friends and neighbours, who view him as a spectacle instead of a person, and seem to have no awareness of or respect for his innocence. Edward's child-like qualities make him feel like a character that needs protecting, something Peg attempts to do, but in the end this is left up to Kim, who concludes that a solitary life away from these people is the safest thing for him.

edward scissorhands pastel houses1
Fig. 5: Colourful houses.
The suburbs in which the film takes place feel like a "a goofy sitcom neighbourhood" (Ebert, 1990) rather than a place that could exist, which based on Burton's other works, is most likely intentional. However, the set is in fact a real neighbourhood in Florida, that was stripped down and repainted to create the place we see in the film . The production designer for the film, Bo Welch, has said "The friction between Edward's look and the neighbourhood, that we altered severely, just gives me infinite joy... I don't know if I've ever seen it again." 

Fig. 6: Out of place mansion.
There are many aspects of Edward Scissorhands that don't make much sense; the placement of the Gothic mansion overlooking the suburbs is never explained, and no one seems to know who lived in it, or even bothered visiting before Peg, but the fact Peg does go up to the mansion suggests she - and probably other people - believe somebody was currently living there. If people believed the house was empty, it would have no doubt been demolished and made to fit in with the modern suburb. The mansion also seems largely ignored despite it's placement and colour scheme, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the pastels of the rest of the set. Whatever the explanation behind the mansion is, it seems to be something that only makes sense to Burton, and not the audience, who are most likely also expected to ignore the lack of explanation and backstory and simply accept the set as being quirky and original. 

Fig. 7: An older Kim tells the story of Edward to her granddaughter.
Edward Scissorhands is a visually fun and interesting film, but overall seems to miss the mark. The film appears to try so hard to be strange and different, but the story doesn't stand out against any other film, especially not any film by Tim Burton. Beetlejuice and Batman were simultaneously colourful and dark, with stories and characters that kept up with the films absurd visuals and designs. Edward Scissorhands lacks this, and it's almost painful to think it's viewed as one of Burton's best creations. The characters are not overly memorable, the message the film is trying to convey is confusing, and the romantic subplot makes no sense other than to make the ending that little bit more painful. The choice to have the story told by a much older Kim feels unnecessary, as the film would work fine without it. Much like the romance, it seems it was only included to tug the audience's heartstrings but only raises more questions; did she really never go back? If Edward allegedly loves her so much, why did he never try to see her again? Why did she never go back if she felt the same way? Why, with the belief that Edward was dead, was the mansion not destroyed?

Without the iconic set design, Edward Scissorhands would not be the success it was, and in comparison to other films Tim Burton made, as well as other films released at the time, it simply doesn't stand out.

Figure 1. Original Theatrical Poster (1990) [Poster] At: (Accessed on: 10.11.2015)

Figure 2. Edward. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 20.11.15)

Figure 3. Joyce asks Edward to cut her dog's fur. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 20.11.15)

Figure 4. The suburbs. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 5. Colourful houses. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 6. Out of place mansion. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 7. An older Kim tells the story of Edward to her granddaughter. (1990) From: Edward Scissorhands. Directed by: Tim Burton [Film Still] United States: 20th Century Fox. At: (Accessed on: 20.11.15)

Ebert, R. (1990) 'Edward Scissorhands' In: [Online] At: (Accessed on: 25.11.15)

Lee, M. (2014) 'Edward Scissorhands, review: 'a true fairytale'' In: The Telegraph [Online] At: (Accessed on: 25.11.15)


  1. Ouch! Well, you and I will have to agree to disagree! (Or it's a fight to the death in the lower 4th corridor!) :)

  2. So, you didn't much like it then! ;)
    Still, a well-written review - just a reference after the Welch quote missing :)