It’s Valentine’s season, and with the ongoing restrictions of social distancing, celebrating the season of love has gotten much more difficult. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this period of passion. Whether you’re celebrating this time in quarantine with your loving partner or perhaps even spending it by yourself, there’s always the joy of watching a film’s abnormal conception of love. Introducing Tim Burton’s best work: Edward Scissorhands. Encounter a story entwined with peculiar characters and romantic heartbreak. Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is a wonderful representation of what will become an unrequited love mixed with romance’s harshest realities and the fears of conformity.
Set in a suburban neighborhood full of vibrant colors and cordial neighbors, Burton illustrates the hidden truth of what goes on behind closed doors. Compared to the gothic castle in ruins at the end of the street, the neighborhood seems like the desirable place to be. That is, until you meet these neighbors and see their darker, truer motivations — much like the somber castle lurking near the end of the street.
Despite it’s rather shaken exterior, the shadowed castle was home to an inventor (Vincent Price) with big hopes and even bigger ideas. Along from his bountiful ideas springs Edward (Johnny Depp) — “an uncommonly gentle man” with scissors for hands. The inventor treated Edward like his son, ensuring to educate and prepare Edward for the realities of the world. Before the inventor could finish developing Edward, his life is cut short by a heart attack, leaving the compassionate, artificial man to wander the spiderwebbed halls and gloomy chambers. That is, until the motherly radiant Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) makes her way through the castle’s faded rooms to give Edward the comfort of a loving family. Through this interaction, Edward’s heart is officially enraptured when he meets Peg’s alluring daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder). From here, viewers will witness Edward develop the most important trait of human beings: the ability to love.
Burton’s depiction of love is much like that of snow — beautiful and pure as one falls, but murky and tarnished as one melts away from the other. It’s devoting, tender, yearning, but it’s tragic, melancholy, merciless. It’s a painful reality ironically depicted in complete expressionism.
Burton is known for his expressionist style — constructed with pieces of obscure and dismal elements to represent the somber themes of his works. Edward Scissorhands is no different, being the first of his critically acclaimed expressionist films. Burton’s particular concoction that denotes his thematic style includes extensive focus of lighting and the attention to direct camera angles. A majority of the camera pans towards Edward are crucial in understanding Edward’s own inner conflict with himself: as a monster, and as a gentle being. The low camera angles portrayed the darker appearance of Edward — the one people saw him for on the outside. Edward appears much larger in these moments, seemingly becoming more powerful and threatening. A humanoid man with scissors for hands is sure to haunt anybody’s mind, and the darkly cladded buckled clothing and scruffed hair doesn’t help in easing the frightening presence. However, the use of high key lighting gave the true insight into Edward’s deposition. The bright light reflected his innocence, an angel in demon clothes. This choice of lighting leaves viewers feeling light themselves, deeming Edward as harmless and pure: a gentle man through and through.
Portraying this pure Edward is Johnny Depp, known for his striking acting talents in any film. His role in Edward Scissorhands further displays his incredible acting talent, Edward debatably being one of Depp’s most impressive characters. Edward is truly a complicated character to handle. Despite his lust to live, Edward is anything but an ordinary human being. He’s uncommonly gentle, a man with utter compassion and kindness for nature’s conceptions. Whether it be because he was never truly human or simply a man who was destined to be tender is up to you to decide, but Depp truly nails the character down to a T. Edward’s conformity crisis is truly one of the most remarkable notions that makes this film so spectacular. It’s difficult to portray someone else’s confusion and state of existence, especially when that someone isn’t a real person at all. Yet Depp rises to the occasion and creates the Edward that viewers ultimately fall in love with.
Where does Edward’s development thrive though, if not with Kim? Burton’s choice to cast Winona Ryder as Kim was nothing short of brilliant. Kim suited Ryder’s charisma flawlessly, since Ryder already radiated a kind and charming personality naturally. Playing an originally frightened teenage girl to a woman led by bold devotion, Ryder encompasses what it means to be an impressionable teenager in the midst of sheer love and burdensome journeys. While Kim’s own character development was lacking an intricate arc, that doesn’t mean she isn’t a relatable character. Ryder’s portrayal of Kim Boggs will surely leave you reminiscing of your own youth.
Within their meaningful interactions, Depp and Ryder shared such fascinating chemistry that strongly depicted the youthful relationship between their fictional counterparts, Edward and Kim. On or off set, Depp and Ryder proved to be a perfect combination. Their similar appealing personalities complimented each other thoroughly. Where one lead, the other followed right by their side, two sides of the same golden coin. Edward’s shyer and reluctant nature balanced Kim’s patient ability to understand Edward as a whole, rather than judge his scarred appearance. There’s no doubt that Depp and Ryder became one with their character, enlightening viewers of an admirable bond between two seemingly different people.
In regards to the cookie-cutter houses of the neighborhood donned in intensely vibrant colors, Burton creates a brilliant representation of a beautiful mask hiding something very wicked underneath. As the movie progresses, one begins to understand the purposefully hidden nature of human beings. The neighbors, despite their glamorous lives, are repulsive — driven by their own personal agendas and desires. They are masters of pretend, conforming to society’s standards and expectations all while disguising their own repellent tendencies. Despite their curiosity towards someone as peculiar and new as Edward in their picket-fenced world, they yearn to make him conform to their way of life, to mold into one of them. The neighbors are designed by Burton to be a complete contrast to Edward, a man so undesirable on the outside but so lovable on the inside compared to neighbors so admirable on the outside, but horrendous on the inside. It’s a crafty metaphor of human life in general. There’s always the good, the bad, and the in between. But who you decide to be is what ultimately determines your role in society: whether you’re an Edward, a Kim, a Peg, or even a neighbor. Each role is important in a successful society, despite it’s ugly truth.
Along with the theme of ugly truths, Burton focuses on the more bitter effects of love. There’s plenty of films out there where true love prevails and it all ends happily ever after, but there are even fewer films where the prince fails to save the princess and true love is sealed with true love’s kiss. Edward Scissorhands follows the latter approach to love. Burton’s writing style is already unconventional in cinematography, so these somber themes are wistfully natural when watching a Tim Burton movie.
Even the soundtrack of this movie reflects the increasingly somber tone of Edward’s journey in the real world. That isn’t to say, however, that the entire soundtrack is simply there to make you burst into tears. Take “Ice Dance” by Danny Elfman, for example. “Ice Dance” is played during one of the most iconic scenes of the entire movie (SPOILERS AHEAD). As Edward sculpts an angel, Kim dances as the ice shavings fall all around her, imagining herself to be surrounded by the first snowfall she’s ever experienced. Edward, while sculpting a masterpiece with such skilled craftsmanship, stares at Kim in absolute wonder as she lets herself free of the confinements of society, even if just for a moment. With Edward, she doesn’t have to pretend, and the snow ebbing in the sky reminds her of how much she’s fallen for Edward herself. “Ice Dance” is a piece full of hopes and purity, admiration and innocence, playing in the background of Edward and Kim’s most treasured moment together. As the song progresses, the sound of the choir becomes more pronounced, draping the listeners in a veil of happiness and enchantment. Your heart will flourish as you watch Edward and Kim fall ever more in love with the other. There’s no doubt that this song will bring you memories of bliss and euphoria — love’s most treasured concoction.
Edward Scissorhands is the most perfectly imperfect movie to watch this Valentine’s season, whether you’re looking to watch two young souls experience true love, or you’re looking to cry over everything that could have been, or perhaps just wanting to relate to the difficulties of conformity within society, this film is waiting for you. It’ll change you. It’ll break you and mend you all at the same time, and you’ll thank it for allowing you to witness one of the most tragically beautiful love stories in cinematic history. So perhaps get a bit strange yourself, and sit down with a plate of shish kabobs and some ambrosia salad to really set the peculiar mood.
And with that,
“I love you.”
Edward Scissorhands is rated PG-13.
Kaitlyn Riley is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl