In the same year that saw Depp hit the screens in John Water’s Cry-Baby, the actor was busy teaming up with another eccentric director with a very distinct style – Tim Burton. Having previously directed the off-beat and commercially successful, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetle Juice (1988), Burton was coming off his Hollywood blockbuster, Batman (1989) when he directed Edward Scissorhands (1990)
For those that may be unfamiliar with the premise (are there seriously people that haven’t seen this movie?), Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) lives alone in a decaying mansion on the edge of suburbia after the sudden death of The Inventor (Vincent Price). Physically incomplete – with unwieldy scissors for hands – and emotionally stunted due to lack of social interaction, Edward is part Frankenstein’s monster and part Pinocchio. Edward’s isolation is interrupted when neighbourhood Avon Lady and bored housewife, Peg Boggs (Dianne Weist), desperate for a sale ventures up the desolate mountain to the run down mansion. When she discovers Edward alone and abandoned she does the only thing in her bored suburban life that makes logical sense and takes him into her home.
Despite his ‘grotesque’ appearance, the novelty of a stranger in the suburban enclave with its pastel painted houses generates enough attention and envy from the other bored house-bound women, that Peg soon finds her social status elevated. As Edward tries to gain acceptance and fit in he discovers his talent at sculpting things with his scissors – first topiary, then dog grooming, and finally hairdressing. Each talent bring him increasing popularity within the neighbourhood and notoriety outside it.
Edward’s rising fortunes take a turn for the worse when he gets mixed up with Peg’s daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder) and her boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). His fall from grace snowballs and is eventually cast out of the neighbourhood when Jim and the neighbours turn on. Despite Kim and Peg’s continued acceptance and understanding of Edward, they are unable to mend the rift. The ending, which I will try to avoid spoiling for those that may not have seen it (go watch it now!), is heartbreaking it’s a fitting end to Edward’s story and avoids any Hollywood cliché that may have otherwise been attached to it.
The film runs the gamut from dramatic to comedic and everything in between. The humour is often derived from Edward’s reaction to unfamiliar situations and people’s reaction to him, but it never feels forced in Burton’s colourful fantasy world.
Depp’s performances up until now have only hinted at his chameleon-like abilities as an actor, but have mainly alternated between clean cut boy-next-door and bad boy heart throb. As Edward, Depp relies heavily on facial reactions to convey much of his characters mood, and when he does speak, Edwards soft, child-like voice makes a big impression. While I haven’t counted them myself, it’s been said that Edward has fewer than 126 words of dialogue in the entire movie. Depp draws inspiration for his Edward Scissorhands character from silent movie greats Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
While the film primarily deals with the themes of isolation and self-discovery, there is also underlying themes of art and the power of creativity and imagination. In the early scenes, we are shown the brightly coloured houses of the subdivision in contrast to the dreary muted greys and blacks of the mansion. The subdivision gives the impression of being alive and vibrant while the mansion appears deserted and decaying. When Peg arrives a the mansion we see how alive and creative the mansion is, with its sculptured topiary and lush greenery. Burton’s visual style seamless blends 1960s, 70s, and 80s styles together in the look of the subdivision and the fashions to give it a retro feeling that I find actually works to make the film feel timeless in a way.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Depp playing the iconic role now, but it has been reported elsewhere that before his involvement other leads had been considered, including Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr., and William Hurt. While I personally would love to visit the alternate universe in which Robert Downey Jr. plays Edward, I am thankful Burton and Depp found each other since they would go on to make a total of 8 films together (so far).
There’s a million other things I want to say about this film and could probably write a thesis on it, but I’ll leave it at that for now and we’ll move on to our next film in the journey and one I have not seen before – Arizona Dream.