Tim Burton’s fairytale about a lonely outcast who is thrust into the frenzied clutches of suburbia is the perfect Christmas movie.
You could be forgiven for thinking Edward Scissorhands (1990) is a Halloween film, with its Frankensteinian hero moping about in a gothic mansion. But the themes it explores are all too familiar at Christmas – loneliness, reflection, and the pressure of expectation. So the crap side of Christmas, but Christmas nonetheless. If that doesn’t convince you, there’s also a Christmas tree and an ice sculpture.
After some edgy title credits, the film opens on a cosy, traditional scene, as we are drawn into the magical world of bedtime stories. Old grandma – check. Snowy window – check. Roaring fire – check. And the charming proportions of the tiny granddaughter tucked in to her gigantic bed. Grandma begins the story of an Avon saleswoman (Dianne Wiest) who stumbles across Edward (Johnny Depp), a recluse with scissors for hands.
From here the pace picks up quickly, and suddenly we are whisked around the colourful neighbourhood on the excited heels of the residents as they embrace the arrival of Edward. He shakes up their arcadian uniformity with extravagant topiary and bonkers haircuts. This is accompanied by Danny Elfman’s jaunty score and there is opportunity for some hilarious ‘fitting in’ moments (I laughed out loud during the ‘lemonade’ scene). Edward grows in their esteem but, inevitably, it doesn’t last long.
The important thing here is that no one actually gets to know him as an individual – he is just a convenient tool for the townspeople. At the bank he is told, pointedly, ‘you may as well not even exist’. Even early on in the film there are signs that his prized place in the community will be short-lived. Edward’s movements are slow and awkward around the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood. His Manson look contrasts heavily against all the pastel. His metal pieces and mechanical hands are symbols of industry and progression – but the neighbours are stuck in their ways, unwilling to look ahead. Even his welcome innovations – like the elaborate tree shapes – are ultimately used against him.
By the time we reach Christmas, Edward has been forced out of the Battenberg world and back to his monochrome mansion in the hills. His encounter with happiness is brief and can’t last forever (just like Christmas!). Kim’s plea for him to hold her, and his response that he can’t, is so poignant. In the same way that throughout the film he can’t hold onto anything with his scissor hands, he can no longer hold onto the acceptance and trust of the people who once welcomed him. He is doomed from the start – when his hands are destroyed in the flashback, so is any chance of him fitting in.
Anyone who’s seen this film knows that it is very, very sad. When the inventor dies leaving Edward utterly dumbfounded and lost, I had tears streaming down my face. To say it pulls at the heartstrings is an understatement. And it’s even sadder to know that the character of Edward comes from a very real, personal place, inspired by Burton’s own feelings of loneliness and disconnect as an adolescent.
It’s undoubtedly a tear-jerker, but the reason I like it so much is because it’s quirky, it’s artistically brilliant, it has some fantastic moments of dark humour and it doesn’t resort to a Disney happy ending. There is an important moral to be learned about acceptance and the impression we make on each others’ lives, and there is no shying away from that here.
Burton projects that message brilliantly at the end of the film. The reveal that the grandma is the once-smitten Kim is a little cheesy, but necessary. It is her bittersweet words that complete the moral of the story: ‘Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t up there now, I don’t think it would be snowing.’
I’m sorry, I think I’ve got something in my eye…