"Edward Scissorhands" (1990): Edward Was Too Pure for This World
Edward Scissorhands is a 1990 romantic dark fantasy film produced by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton, who is responsible for other wonderful films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Batman Returns, and Beetlejuice.
I believe Edward Scissorhands is the most wonderful film Tim Burton ever did. It was released during a time when Burton was still at the height of his creativity and was producing hit after hit. I say it is his best film because it was just so beautiful. The writing, the sparkling surburbian sets, the drifting snowflakes, the music, the story itself.
Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) and Kim (Winona Ryder) were star-crossed lovers, meaning their romance was doomed from the moment they laid eyes on each other. They were just too different. Kim was a normal cheerleader from a small suburban community, while Edward . . . had scissors for hands.
But instead of dying like Romeo and Juliet, the two of them are separated for all time. They could not fit into each other's worlds, for Edward was too pure for the supposedly "pure" world of suburbia.
The story begins when Peg Boggs (Diane Wiest), makes her rounds through her bright suburban neighborhood, trying to find someone to sell her Avon products to.
After a series of hilarious and frustrating rejections, she gets desperate enough to approach the eerie castle on the hill where Edward lives.
As Peg drives her bright yellow car through the murky dark of Edward's estate, you can't help but get the feeling she has crossed into another dimension through some kind of magical portal.
Peg is freshly painted in rosy-cheeked make up with pearls in her ears, wearing a cute little get-up that makes her look like Jackie-O. She is as brightly colored and fresh as the shiny suburban world she has just come from. Now she finds herself in this dark, forgotten, creepy-ass place, and it's like she's entered a sort of whimsical Hell.
In fact, Peg has entered Edward's Hell. She finds him cowering in a corner of the castle, afraid to be discovered, almost animal-like in his wide-eyed silence.
Can you imagine living on your own in a dark, cold castle like that? No electricity. No heat. No one to talk to. Always cutting up your face on accident and no way to care for the cuts -- almost like a baby that keeps scratching its face.
It leaves you wondering what the hell Edward was eating. It's clear that he was eating something, as we later see he has the need. The Inventor (Vincent Price), who died before he could finish Edward, loved making cookies. Maybe Edward survived on those stale cookies for years.
Because Peg is a very kind, compassionate person, she pities Edward and decides to take him home. This decision was emotion based, not logic based. Had Peg been thinking logically, she would have left Edward at the castle but returned to visit him, bringing him food and teaching him about the world, perhaps helping him find a doctor to give him prosthetic hands before he finally descended to the "mortal" realm.
Taking him down to pink and yellow suburbia and thinking everyone would just accept him unconditionally was a mistake. Edward was too pure and innocent for a dark world full of hurting people.
That is ultimately the moral of the story: the people of the "normal human" world were carrying too much darkness inside them to love Edward unconditionally. Instead, they projected their darkness onto Edward and he was hurt because of it.
Let's examine how.
Contrast Peg's world with Edward's dark and depressing castle. The castle has the appearance of being an unhappy place, but it's actually the sacred space of a childlike artist, who spends his time there dreaming and creating in peace while hurting no one.
Meanwhile, the town where Peg lives is purposely put forward as picturesque. It's full of bright colors and perfectly trimmed lawns. Everyone there is neatly dressed with neatly cut hair. There's no trash in the streets. Even the kids have polished bikes. It's like walking into an idealistic version of the 50s.
But beneath that pastel facade, the actual people who live in suburbia are horrific.
Joyce (Kathy Baker) is desperately lonely to the point of being a sexual predator. Instead of learning to be on her own and enjoying life by herself, she seeks happiness outside of herself and as a result, reeks of clingy energy. This codependent energy sends suitors running and makes pretty much every man steer clear of her.
Rather than do some self-work and confront her issues, Joyce tries to resolve them with casual sex and chasing men. She sexually assaults Edward in the back of his new hair parlor, prompting him to flee the scene in shock.
Edward is so innocent that he doesn't even fully understand what happened and blurts it out at lunch with the Boggs family.
Esmeralda (O-Lan Jones) is a fanatical Christian who -- instead of feeding the poor or sheltering the homeless -- would rather sit in her house all day, playing the organ. She is a recluse and is clearly living her life in fear: fear of other people, fear of the unknown, fear of the outside world that has disappointed her in some way.
She uses her religion to justify her hatred and fear of anyone who is different. So when Edward arrives at suburbia, it isn't the least bit shocking that she calls him "The Devil" and tells everyone to steer clear of him.
Instead of doing the self-work to overcome her own issues with fear, Esmeralda projects her own demons onto Edward and fails to welcome and love him unconditionally -- as her Christ would, ironically enough, want her to do.
Last but not least, there is Jim (Anthony Micheal Hall), who is Kim's boyfriend when the film begins.
Jim is one messed up lad. He is wildly insecure and bitter, full of anger and hate. He is a danger to everyone around him but projects his own wounds onto Edward by insisting that Edward is the danger.
Throughout the film, his behavior is more and more destructive. He orchestrates a robbery on his own father's house, drinks and drives, nearly runs over Kim's little brother, slaps Kim, and nearly shoots Edward.
He sees Edward as a danger, when he, in fact, is the danger. Rather than go inward and address his internal issues -- his bitter relationship with his father, his fear of losing Kim, his anger and hate -- he projects all of it onto Edward in a scene that culminates in his death.
To be clear, none of the people in suburbia are deliberately cruel to Edward. Blinded by their own insecurities, fears, and unhealed wounds, they believe their behavior to be logical and correct. They aren't intentionally doing him harm and even Jim is convinced that he's right to the very end.
Very few people do terrible things without some notion it is the correct thing to do.
The Boggses are no different. While they are kind to Edward and try to take him in as family, they still ultimately hurt him. Bill Boggs (Alan Arkin) in particular tries to teach Edward morals, under the impression (after Edward participated in Jim's robbery) that he doesn't know right from wrong.
They are well meaning but wind up hurting Edward more with their fumbling. After almost being shot by the cops, then being chastised over and over for something he didn't do, and finally, watching Jim get away clean with everything, Edward has a meltdown and destroys the wallpaper and the drapes. Afterward, he is seen sitting in shame at the supper table while Bill lectures him.
Notice how Edward's glass is full in the picture above? It's because the Boggses forgot to give him a straw. Tiny details like that show how unaware they are of their neglect, well meaning as they are.
In the end, the few people who aren't walking around with unhealed wounds are the ones who help Edward the most.
Officer Allen (Dick Anthony Williams) helps Edward multiple times throughout the movie, and by the end of the film, lets him run back to the castle without trying to apprehend him. He even attempts to keep others from following Edward.
Officer Allen seems to be the only person aside from Peg who sees Edward for who he is: an innocent, pure being who can make mistakes like everyone else but is ultimately harmless.
Why is it that Officer Allen can see who Edward really is? Is it because he's a better person than everyone else? No. It's because he isn't walking around with unhealed wounds, so he has nothing to project onto Edward.
Likewise, Peg was able to accept Edward unconditionally because she, too, is one of the few people in the film not walking around with unhealed wounds and psychological trauma.
When Kim first meets Edward, she rejects him. It is clear she is attracted to him and likes him as much as he likes her, but she is in denial about it for a long time.
The fact that Kim is dating someone as broken and destructive as Jim is evidence enough that Kim has unhealed wounds: a woman would have to have low self-esteem to be with a guy like that.
Kim's denial shows that she feels unworthy of the purity of Edward's love.
By the end of the film, however, Kim comes to recognize her self-worth, leaves Jim, and allows herself to experience the purity of true love with Edward. It is only through loving ourselves that we can know real love. Kim was fortunate enough to know it in her lifetime.
Another thing I love about the film is that Edward doesn't save Kim from her bad relationship with Jim. He shows up and his simple existence teaches her what real love looks like and what real love can be. He gives her the courage to leave Jim, but she ultimately makes the choice and acts upon it herself.
In other words, Kim was not a damsel to be saved. She even fights to protect Edward from Jim at the film's climax, and though Edward is the one who ultimately kills Jim, the scene always felt very balanced in that they protected each other.
Kim was willing to come to bodily harm to protect Edward's life, while Edward sacrificed his purity to protect Kim: he killed someone.
I'm not saying that it was wrong for Edward to kill Jim. He killed Jim to protect Kim and in self-defense.
But when you kill someone, it does take a toll on you. It changes you forever. Once Edward drove his scissors through Jim's belly, he would never be the same pure and innocent being again. And he would have to live with what he did forever.
Jim wasn't evil. He was a messed up kid who died foolishly. He ultimately brought about his own demise with his destructive behavior. As the saying goes, he is a tragic figure, though not one to be pitied.
In the end, the loss of Edward's purity -- and the infectious darkness of a world that could not handle his light -- parted the lovers forever. But their hearts remained connected through Edward's "snow."
". . . Sometimes . . . you can still catch me dancing in it."
Own this Tim Burton classic today!
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