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Film / Edward Scissorhands

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"The story of an uncommonly gentle man."

To paraphrase Linus van Pelt, of all the Tim Burton movies in the world, this is the Tim Burtoniest. And we mean that in the best possible way.

This 1990 film was Burton's first after the mega-success that was Batman (1989), 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 titular 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 Jock Jim (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 1970s 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 70s suburban fairy tale, but 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 1970's neighbourhood Edward is brought into has a hidden dark side.
  • Arc Number: Five is something of a recurring number in the film, likely because most of the drama is centered around Edward's lack of fingers. A disproportionately high number of characters have either five-letter names or names that start with "E" (the fifth letter of the alphabet), and the pivotal burglary scene has Edward donning a black baseball cap emblazoned with a "V" (the Roman numeral for five).
  • 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.
  • Asshole Victim: After every bitchy thing he does to Edward, Jim gets his life cut short (figuratively speaking) by Edward’s hands.
  • 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!
  • Bait the Dog: Joyce first acts very comforting and sweet to Edward. Unfortunately, that all changes when she slanders Edward as a rapist all because he became uncomfortable and ran away when she seduced him.
  • Beast and Beauty: Edward and Kim as the freakish "monster" and fair lady respectively. 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.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Joyce first seems like a friendly woman who really likes Edward. However when Edward runs away from her after she tries seducing him, she shows her true colors as a spiteful and petty scumbag by spreading rumors that Edward raped her.
    • Also Jim first appears to be a decent guy, but he also shows his true colors when he tries framing Edward for stealing from his parents' house.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Comes very close to being a Downer 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, but he's shown as being at peace.
  • Blood Splattered White Dress: Kim's lovely white dress ends up spattered with Jim's blood.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Picking on a guy with blades for hands? Yeah, real smart move. Jim's lucky Edward's so sweet-natured... until he isn't.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Inventor, who despite being a Mad Scientist played by Vincent Price is nothing but a kind, ingenious, and lonely old man.
  • 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.
    • The outfit is always visible under the normal clothing that he is given to wear, implying that he might not have actual skin beneath it.
  • 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.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Subverted. When Joyce first tries to seduce Edward, who can't consent because he has no idea what she's doing, it's played for laughs, but Joyce spreading rumors about him raping her is portrayed as cruel.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Edward gives Joyce a haircut for the first time, she acts as though she's having an orgasm.
  • 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.
  • 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!"].
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: A single bell chimes six times when Jim falls to his death after being stabbed by Edward.
  • 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 and entering, and attempted theft), and at times Jim seems almost afraid of him. This may explain why Jim turned out so bad.
  • 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: 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.
  • Gossipy Hens: The women in town can't help themselves from gossiping about Edward.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Jim is Kim Boggs' boyfriend, who gets violently possessive when the childlike Edward is brought home by her mom. He decides to manipulate him into picking a lock for his gang to rob a place, leaving him to be arrested when a burglar alarm goes off. When Kim dumps him over this, he drives around in a drunken rage and almost runs over her kid brother. He then blames Edward for a scratch the kid got from being rescued and leads an Angry Mob to kill him, eventually slapping Kim when she tries to stop him.
    • Joyce is a bored housewife whose interest is piqued when Edward arrives. She offers to help him use his scissor hands to open a salon, but this is a front to seduce him. When he resists, not understanding what's happening, she tries to force herself on him. Edward successfully escapes the assault, but Joyce uses a scratch she got in the process to claim he tried to rape her.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Edward by the end of the film thanks to a chain of events caused by an attempted burglary that was never cleared up for the public.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: If not for his innocent childlike demeanour, Edward would be pretty terrifying, and while it's only reasonable to be cautious around somebody with a collection of razor-sharp blades where his hands would be, the behaviour of the people in the suburb rapidly descends into unreasonable suspicion to downright hatered. Edward, meanwhile, becomes more and more alienated and frustrated and starts acting out, only prompting more fear and loathing from the population, culminating in Jim's death at Edward's hands (admittedly in self-defence). All of this could have so easily been avoided had only people had been nicer to him and been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Edward doesn't angst about it, but he definitely implies that he'd rather be normal.
  • Innocent Inaccurate:
    • 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.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy:
    • 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.
  • 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 continuously 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.
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • 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 (along with her parents, and possibly the cop) who doesn't perceive Edward as a malicious man.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: The police officer at the end, who fires into the air and then tells Edward to keep running. He goes back and tells the crowd to disperse and that it's all over. He clearly wanted Edward to get away and his plan probably would have worked if things hadn't gone so horribly wrong after that.
  • 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."
  • Protagonist Title: Edward Scissorhands is, of course, the protagonist.
  • The Quiet One: Edward only speaks 169 words throughout the entire film!
  • Quirky Town: 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.
  • Reality Ensues: Peg's plan to open a beauty parlor built around Edward' haircutting skills hits a serious snag when the bank sensibly points out that he's a huge financial risk, considering he has no previous work experience and not even a legal identity.
  • 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.
  • Scars Are Forever: 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.
  • Sent Into Hiding: At the end, Edward is sent back to his castle at the top of the hill and Kim tells the townspeople, who want him executed after he's framed for a crime, that he died.
  • Suburban Gothic: The film marries Suburban Gothic with traditional Gothic tropes to explore the themes of suburban conformity and mistrust of anything different.
  • 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.
  • Truth in Television: The subdivision wasn't a set built for the film. It's a real subdivision that was repainted shortly after construction and used in the film. It was "restored" after the film and is a normal subdivision named Carpenter's Run in central Florida now, sans castle, of course. It's pretty typical of the sort of bland, repetitive, carbon-copy, subdivisions that sprung up in the housing boom in Florida from when the film was made until the early 2000s. It's exactly why Tim Burton chose it to represent the kind of bland, repetitive, carbon-copy, Anytown, USA stereotype.
  • Twisted Christmas: The climax takes place on the night of a Christmas party.
  • The Unsmile: When the inventor reads Edward a limerick, Edward takes a first attempt at a smile. No, it isn't pretty, but he tried.
  • Woman Scorned: Joyce spreads nasty rumors about Edward, after he rejects her attempt at seduction.
  • World of Jerkass: Excluding Edward, Kim and her family, and Officer Allen, nearly everyone else is shown to be judge-mental, nasty, vindictive and even slanderous.


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