To paraphrase Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas, of all the Tim Burton movies in the world, this is the Tim Burtoniest. Not that there's anything wrong with that...This 1990 film was Burton's first after the mega-success that was Batman, and with the rather free hand he was given, he decided to shoot for the moon with a serio-comic Fairy Tale. He came up with the concept and Caroline Thompson handled the screenplay.The youthful hero (Johnny Depp) is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, a sort of android. His creator, a lonely inventor (Vincent Price, in what was his final film appearance), upgraded a robot from his assembly-line machinery in his castle, until he finally almost completely resembles a human being - however, he dies just before completing his project by giving him hands. Edward is left alone with the scissor-and-shear limbs he already has. He shyly, quietly keeps to himself, passing the time by tending the garden (in particular, sculpting the bushes into whimsical images) until one day, an Avon lady comes calling. You see, while the castle and its residents are straight out of Gothic fantasy, the town at the foot of the hill it stands upon is a 1950s-60s pastel suburbia. Realizing he is friendly and mostly harmless (as he understands the dangers his blades pose) the Avon lady, Peg Boggs, compassionately decides to take him to live with her family.At first, Edward is welcomed by the community and he is quite happy to be of help to others; in particular, his talent for yard decoration progresses to dog grooming and eventually hairstyling. He's so fascinatingly alien that a local tart, Joyce, even tries to seduce him. Ironically, he falls in love with Peg's teenaged daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), one of the few who isn't immediately enamored with him. Of course, that's partially because she already has a boyfriend, the Jerk JockJim (Anthony Michael Hall). Jim decides to take advantage of her love for him to convince her to take advantage of Edward's innocent kindness, so he will help them commit a burglary. The consequences of this start a chain of events that lead to a most Bittersweet Ending.While only a modest success at the time, in part because of the strange premise and perhaps because Home Alone effectively commandeered the holiday movie season that year (both were 20th Century Fox releases, as it happened), it's since gained a large fanbase, and turned out to be the first of many collaborations between Burton and Depp. In 2005 it was adapted into a ballet by British choreographer Matthew Bourne.
This film contains examples of:
Adaptation Expansion: The ballet adds a lot of characters to the neighborhood that weren't in the movie, and it gives Esmeralda a husband and two children.
Ambiguous Disorder: Edward is speculated as being a metaphor for autism and related disorders. One particularly notable thing is the way the film portrays people's reactions to him. While one might see the fascination most of the neighborhood has with him as being parodic of the stereotype of 1950s suburbanites being closed-minded, it's perfectly apt considering the timeframe when the movie came out. In the post-Rain Man world of the late-80s and early 90s there was widespread interest in the savant abilities possessed by some autistics.
Anachronism Stew: The whole town seems like some sort of 50's-60's suburban fairy tale, but Peg drives a 70's Dodge, and Jim mentions his father getting a new CD player. There is a gothic castle atop the hill. Word of God says that these contrasts were done on purpose, so the seemingly idyllic 1950's neighbourhood Edward is brought into has a hidden dark side.
Artificial Human: Edward, but he is more of a homunculus than a robot or golem. In an interview, Johnny Depp once characterized Edward as a "creation" and left it at that.
Ascended Extra: Esmeralda has a slightly bigger role in the ballet. Instead of being a reclusive neighborhood crazy, she's the wife of the local preacher, Reverend Judas Evercreech, and she has two children (Gabriel and Marilyn-Ann Evercreech, a pair of stereotypical goths who hang out with Kim and her friends). Though she's just as nuts as in the movie, she's not as reclusive, and is seen mingling with the women of the neighborhood a lot more.
Auteur License: Burton exercises his for the first time...and certainly not the last.
Author Appeal: Many of Burton's favorites show up: strange hands, dogs, German Expressionism, Vincent Price, snow, model-building... heck, the hero looks like him!
Author Avatar: Edward for Tim Burton himself, as mentioned above. The over-the-top Gothic castle on a hill above the 50's suburbia has meaning as well, possibly representing Tim's isolation and introspection as a child growing up in VERY surburban and bland Burbank, Calif.
Beast and Beauty: Edward and Kim. Played with in that Edward's personality is more akin to that of a Gentle Giant, and he isn't so much ugly as odd in comparison to the other characters, but he fits the "beast" role quite well when he kills Jim in the climax.
Berserk Button: Towards the climax when Jim hurts Kim, Edward immediately gets enraged and kills him literally with his bare hands. It also counts as Beware the Nice Ones.
Betty and Veronica: Jim and Edward to Kim. Played with slightly in that you can interpret it both ways: Kim's boyfriend Jim as Betty and Edward as Veronica, or Jerk Jock Jim as Veronica and The Woobie Edward as Betty.
Bittersweet Ending: Edward retreats back to the castle after a series of misunderstandings. Once Edward defends Kim by killing Jim, Kim tells the townspeople that Edward and Jim killed each other. The elderly Kim admits she never saw Edward again after that night. Edward still lives alone in the castle and his ice sculptures are the reason it snows in town.
Bumbling Dad: Bill Boggs, who spends much of the film cheerily unaware of what's going on.
Cannot Spit It Out: Many people seem to know a doctor who could help him get real hands, but they never seem to actually give the information of who or where.
Cassandra Truth: Subverted. Esmeralda, a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, believes Edward is evil and tries to convince her neighbors of this, but no one takes her seriously. Once Edward has been arrested for the burglary, thus changing their opinion of him, she's able to say she told them so. The subversion is that the audience knows all along Edward isn't evil.
Cherubic Choir: The score is arguably the modern popularizer of this trope, using it for both optimistic and creepy effects.
Clingy Costume: Both in-movie and on set. The leather stifled Johnny Depp so much in the Florida heat, that when he did the scene where Edward runs back to the mansion, he collapsed from heat stroke.
Cursed with Awesome: Edward lacks real hands, and thus must interact with extreme caution with all around him. On the other hand, having scissors for hands means he's quite skilled with all sorts of skills such as gardening or hairdressing.
Disproportionate Retribution: Along with the break in, the main reason everyone turns against Edward was because Joyce, after Edward did not reciprocate her advances (though, Edward didn't even understand what was going on), she spreads the word that he tried to rape her. Essentially, she utterly destroys the reputation of an utterly Nice Guy with the emotional age of a small-child, simply because he didn't understand the concept of sex. It's apparent that most people in the neighbourhood are well aware that Joyce is a Cougar, so it's likely that no-one really believed that he tried to rape her, they simply wanted an excuse to ostracise Edward.
Dreaming of a White Christmas: Averted and then played with. There's no snow at all in this town and Bill Boggs staples fake snow on the rooftop of their house at one point. However, Edward essentially brings this to Kim when he carves the ice angel, and continues to bring snow to the entire town even when he's once more confined to the castle at the end.
DVD Commentary: Two - One with Burton, and one with Danny Elfman that combines this with an isolated music track.
Elephant in the Living Room: Almost completely averted for everyone who is introduced to Edward. People are either fascinated with Edward's hands or perceive it as just a very minor quirk. Bad first impression notwithstanding, Kim is the only one who feels awkward after being formally introduced to him.
Everytown, America: Save for the castle on the hill, the town is a throwback to 1950s suburbia.
Fetish: Edward is heavily viewed as some sort of sex machine by the women of the street.
First Law of Tragicomedies: The first half is mostly comic, an Affectionate Parody of suburbia. The humor gradually disappears as Edward's situation deteriorates. Even the soundtrack album acknowledges this by dividing the tracks between two "acts", one with the upbeat material ["Edward Meets the World"], the second the bittersweet and tragic stuff ["Poor Edward!"].
Flashback : Edward's life before Peg found him is gradually revealed this way.
Framing Device: The film is framed as an old woman who turns out to be a much older Kim telling her granddaughter this story.
Freaky Is Cool: Used in-story: At first, Edward and his talents are warmly welcomed by most of the neighborhood because they're refreshingly unusual.
Freudian Excuse: Jim's father might be an even bigger asshole than Jim is. Judging from what Jim says, he's a very selfish and ruthless hardass (ruthless enough to prosecute his own son for breaking an entry and attempted theft), and at times Jim seems almost afraid of him. This may explain why Jim turned out so bad.
That could be a Blatant Lies Jim invented to justify himself. Anyway it don't save him from being an evil murderous jerk.
Genre Blind: A question: if you're an Avon representative and see a big, ominous-looking house on the top of a random mountain, and the sky over it looks overcast, and the inside is empty and dusty, do you go in? 'Cause that's what Peg does in the beginning! Nothing bad comes of it, but if this were the case in a horror movie, she'd be Too Dumb to Live.
Good Scars, Evil Scars/Scars Are Forever : Edward has many small scars on his face, due to his own hands and having no one to tend to him after the Inventor's death. The latter trope is played with: one of the first things Peg does when she meets him and realizes he's friendly is tend to them so they won't get infected. She later uses makeup — she is an Avon lady after all — to help conceal them to an extent, as well as to counteract his pale skin.
The Grotesque: Edward might be the most famous modern example of this trope.
Gossipy Hens: The women in town can't help themselves from gossiping about Edward.
Edward - who is himself apparently immortal - doesn't understand what's happened to his 'father.' When Peg inquires about him, Edward replies simply, "He didn't wake up."
There's the scene following Joyce's attempted seduction in which he pleasantly tells the family that she took him into the back room "and took off all her clothes". None of the family seems particularly surprised by this revelation, perhaps reinforcing this part of Edward's character.
Variation, when Kim learns Edward knew whose house he was robbing, when he seemed to have been tricked into thinking they were retrieving stolen goods.
Kim: Then why did you do it?
Edward: Because you asked me to.
Even though Peg loves Edward very much as a friend, she eventually realizes that bringing him to live with her family was a mistake, and that it would be better if he lived in his tower where he's safe.
Laser-Guided Karma: Esmeralda spends the entire movie accusing Edward of being a satanic creature. When Edward gets pissed after Jim tells him to go away one of the things he does is re-trim her hedges to resemble a devil staring at her window.
Kick the Dog: A literal version! It's easy to miss, but when Joyce is chatting with Edward in her garden and her dog is continously yapping over their conversation, she casually back kicks it to shut it up, demonstrating to the audience that she's not a very nice person.
Mad Scientist: Subverted with the Inventor, aptly described by online critic MaryAnn Johanson as "perhaps the first kindly mad scientist".
Kim; for the first half she's the only one that sees Edward's condition as odd (which, in reality, it would be), and for the second half she's the only one who doesn't perceive Edward as a malicious man.
The cop who helps Edward and Kim.
Kim's friend at dinner who won't accept the roast because Edward "...used his hands. I don't think it's sanitary." She's got a point - his clippers have trimmed bushes and hair and are only cleaned with oil out of the garage. No one else at the table seems to mind.
Pinocchio Syndrome: Edward's odd hands mean he is unable to touch others physically, which becomes a problem when he falls for Kim. The film suggests there are ways he could gain ordinary hands, but that never comes to pass. Ultimately, it matters more to him that she understands and reciprocates his love.
Please Wake Up: Edward tells Peg, when asked about his father, "He didn't wake up."
The Quiet One: Edward only speaks 169 words throughout the entire film!
Quirky Town: And how! Could qualify as a humorous Schizo Tech/Decade Dissonance setting; while few go near it, and most believe it to be haunted, apparently no one minds the sheer presence of the castle on the hill.
Reasonable Authority Figure: The police officer, who worried for Edward's well-being, and actively doesn't pursue him when he retreats into the mansion.
Recycled Trailer Music: Danny Elfman's much-recycled/imitated music is one of several scores that provided this trope with its name.
Ridiculously Human Robot: Edward can eat, bleed, and even fall in love. This despite the fact he's basically the final iteration of a line of machines originally designed to make cookies. Except he is more like a homunculus than a robot.
Torches and Pitchforks: The mob doesn't have these items specifically, but as Burton notes on the DVD commentary, they fit this trope otherwise.
Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers gave virtually the whole story away. This may have been to make sure people understood this wasn't a horror movie, but a tragicomic fantasy.
Travelling Salesman Montage: Peg repeatedly strikes out while trying to sell Avon products to her neighbors. After having yet another door shut in her face, she gets the idea to drop by the creepy castle on the hill.