I wrote this for epinions.com and also x-posted this to my personal LJ, here it is...
Very personal analysis of the Tim Burton film "Edward Scissorhands." I posted this review, entitled "Loss of Innocence", on epinions.com:
You know when a movie from your childhood is truly magnificent when, over the years, it gets better and better with each viewing. All too often, childhood favorites, when viewed years later, make me say, "God, why did I like that?" now that I have a more adult perspective.
"Edward Scissorhands" is one of the former, and has themes that allude to stories like "Frankenstein," "Beauty and the Beast," and "To Kill a Mockingbird." I first saw this movie when it came out in 1990, when I was ten years old. I have watched it several times over the past sixteen years; the last time was seven years ago, my freshman year at college, on a snow day. Since I am an adult, and at a point where time speeds up, seven years does not seem terribly long ago to me. However, I have had enough new experiences in those seven years to view "Edward Scissorhands" with a different perspective than I did back then.
I have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism, and I knew from a very young age that I was different. This intuition was amplified when I started going to school and kids and teachers pointed it out to me, all too often in nasty and narrow-minded ways. What does this have to do with "Edward Scissorhands?" It has everything to do with it. That is what this movie is about-- how much it sucks to be different and "weird" (how people with Asperger's Syndrome are often perceived) in a superficial and narrow-minded world. Edward himself is a character I can strongly identify it. "Edward Scissorhands" is even suggested (you can Google it) to be an allegory about Asperger's Syndrome; it would make sense since Tim Burton is said to have the condition.
Enough with the background, on with the review.
When Avon representative Peg comes to an old mansion to try to peddle her wares, she discovers a lonely and isolated man of unspecified age (he looks to be in his 20s, but he's an android, so I guess it doesn't matter). The man, Edward, comes out of the shadows and reveals that he is "unfinished," with scissors for hands. He is actually an android, an artificially intelligent creation by an inventor who died before he could give him hands. Peg takes pity on Edward and decides to take him home.
Edward has never been off the mansion grounds before, and everything is new and exciting (and sometimes scary) to him. He almost immediately becomes enamored with Kim, the teenage daughter in the household. Edward himself becomes an object of interest to the son of the household, Kevin, and to the nosy neighbors. It is clear to us (but not to Edward, as he's had no social context other than the inventor who created him) that these people really don't care about meeting him, but see him as a form of sideshow entertainment, and exploit his talents for hedge trimming and hair dressing for their own selfish purposes.
Meanwhile, Kim is completely freaked out when she picks up on Edward's attraction to her. She is already involved with her boyfriend, Jim. However, when Jim frames Edward for a burglary, Kim breaks up with him and unexpectedly finds herself attracted to Edward's innocence and gentle nature.
Although Kim and the rest of her family understand Edward's true nature (with Kevin it isn't clear one way or another, however), the damage has already been done by the burglary. Now the townsfolk shun Edward, and the ending leaves Edward back in his mansion after a deadly standoff between himself and Jim. After Edward kills Jim in an act of self defense, Kim realizes that to protect him she has to leave him and lie to the townsfolk about his death.
Edward represents a young child who, before going to school (or another institution where intense socialization takes place), knows that on some level he is different, albeit not to what extent. Before this realization, an innocent child tumbles through life in curiosity, and enjoys and experiences the world in his own way before being told why he is "wrong." This is exemplified in the scene where Peg enters the mansion and sees newspaper clippings along the fireplace; the clippings are often random (a picture of The Virgin Mary) and often expected (an article about a blind boy who learns to read Braille, a language that requires normal hands). Here, it is clear that Edward knows that normal people have hands, but he has yet to discover how radically different he truly is from the rest of the world.
Everyday things that we take for granted are new and fascinating to Edward: children playing outside, photographs on the walls, a mirror, and stuffed animals, just to name a few. The sound of a telephone is alarming and scary to him. He is filled with curiosity, and wants to understand everything and how it works. Throughout the film, we constantly see him poking or prodding things he has never seen before, such as a bowl of grapes in the living room.
Equally fascinating to Edward are the people in the neighborhood. Other than the inventor who built him, he has never had human contact. It is here that the parallel about a child going to school for the first time and learning just how different he is starts to take place. The neighbors want to meet Edward, but they do not want to know him. They are interested in him in the same way that we are interested in seeing a sideshow freak at Coney Island. At the barbeque where the neighbors meet Edward, one man makes a corny pun about his hands, a few feign concern about his condition, and Joyce, the town slut, sees him as just a new and unusual way to get the sexual attention that she never tires of.
Edward has absolutely no idea that he's being mocked. He thinks these people are his friends. It is only later on that he gradually starts to see that he is a joke to these people. They take advantage of his sculpting and hair dressing talents. Like the talented child outcast (which often is a description for a kid with Asperger's Syndrome, though it doesn't have to be), he is shown adoration when his talents are needed, but when they aren't, he is shown unforgiving cruelty. I can recall very similar instances. The same kids who would pick on me in elementary school would be nice as soon as they needed me to draw something for them. I would cling to the hope that these kids decided they liked me and wanted to be my friends. It's this kind of confusing message that kids with Asperger's Syndrome face on a regular basis.
It is a message that confuses Edward, to say the least. He has been isolated most of his life (and we never learn just how long that is, or how long it's been since the inventor died). He wants to love and be loved, but every attempt he makes to try to get along with people is met with shock, horror, and sometimes abuse. For example, at a dinner scene in which he passes a piece of meat to Kim, he accidentally drops it in her lap. Here, he is trying to be polite and be helpful, but he messes it up. People with Asperger's often find themselves in similar situations. They do things that they think are helpful, but wind up messing up and embarrassing themselves. "I'm sorry," says Edward, clearly embarrassed about his actions, just as an Aspie who messed up socially would do.
Kim's boyfriend, Jim, represents an epidemic of society and its attitude towards people who are different. Somebody with Asperger's once said to me, "It's hard enough when people who are assholes normally are assholes to you. But what about people who are normally nice to others that act like assholes to you?" Or people who are different, like Edward Scissorhands? Before Edward enters the picture, we really don't know much about Jim. He seems like a run of the mill boyfriend with, at worst, a little bitterness towards his parents and a smartass streak. All it takes, however, is meeting somebody like Edward to bring out the worst in him. Additionally, since he is socially apt, he picks up very quickly on Edward's feelings for Kim. In one scene, Jim and Kim go into Kim's house, and Jim winks and tells Edward to let them know if he hears Peg pulling up into the driveway. Knowing how Edward feels about Kim, and how innocent and naive Edward is, Jim has fun throwing this comment at him. This comment, of course, goes completely past Edward, just as it would a child who hasn't had "the talk" yet.
A pivotal moment in "Edward Scissorhands" is when Jim and Kim cajole Edward into breaking into a room in his house so that he can steal expensive items to sell and use the money to buy a van for himself and Kim. Edward cannot conceptualize that what he is doing is wrong, and it is this naivety that Jim exploits. An alarm unexpectedly goes off, and Jim leaves Edward trapped in the room. Kim tries to go back to help Edward, but Jim carries her away from the house, kicking and screaming.
After Edward is arrested and later brought home, Kim is guilt stricken. She apologizes and tells Edward that she tried to make Jim go back. She also thanks Edward for not ratting her out. He doesn't rat out Jim either. He doesn't rat out anybody because he is afraid of hurting Kim. At this point, he is so enamored with her that he would rather take the blame for the crime than do the honest thing that would save him, but also see her get hurt. It is this kind of loyalty and selflessness that people on the autism spectrum often get in trouble for socially. It sends a clear signal that they can be exploited.
Jim comes into the yard to see Kim. She goes outside to break up with him, but all Edward sees is her going outside-- presumably to be with him. Johnny Depp's acting here is unmatched as he portrays the anguish in Edward's face. He is clearly beginning to understand that he can be nice and selfless, but it does not matter because he is not normal; Jim is, even if he is dishonest, selfish, and exploitive. The fact that he is normal is what matters in the real world. Anguished, Edward has a meltdown (autistic style) and destroys the curtains, drapes, and wallpaper in the house. He then storms into the bathroom where he continues to do more damage and looks at himself in the mirror, in an expression of self-loathing. He feels hopeless and helpless because he knows that he is different and that he cannot do anything about it.
In addition to the news about the burglary, word also spreads (perhaps Kevin started this proverbial game of telephone?) that Edward damaged the house of his surrogate family. Suddenly, all the neighbors who once accepted him, albeit in a perverse way, hate him. Stories about him are twisted and spread around and, because he is different, they are accepted, no matter how absurd they seem. This is something I too often have found myself faced with, as do many others with Asperger's Syndrome. For example, Joyce, the town slut, tried to seduce him in an earlier scene. Now, the story is that Edward practically raped her and that it was a miracle that she got out (I actually said aloud, "You BITCH!" at that line-- I did not remember that part of the movie at all). Nobody questions this story, but they clearly would if a "normal" person were the subject of conversation. Because of one foul-up that a "normal" person would have a chance of being forgiven for, Edward's reputation is now ruined and he is now dehumanized.
Kim starts to develop feelings for Edward when she sees him intently clipping a rosebush, presumably making one of his trademark sculptures. She starts to see the passion, drive, and gentleness within and finds herself growing to like Edward. She sees it even more when she finds him carving an immaculate and beautiful ice sculpture in the backyard. However, things get worse from here. Edward accidentally cuts Kim's hand, and Jim accuses Edward of trying to hurt her. He knows that Edward had no such intention, but because he is jealous and threatened by Edward's difference, he accuses. He also knows he can get away with making such an accusation, because Edward is such a freak in everybody's eyes, that they will not question. When Kim goes inside to get cleaned up, Jim demands that Edward leave.
Angry, Edward goes through another meltdown. He cuts down a lawn sculpture that he made for a neighbor, and he deflates a tire in a car. I also want to note here that he angrily removes the clothes that Peg gave him in the beginning. This could easily symbolize that the clothes were a mask to make Edward seem more "normal," but he was clearly not comfortable in them. You will notice that before this meltdown, they did slowly get destroyed. Edward is not comfortable putting on this charade, and it is here that he tears down his proverbial mask. We see the set of clothes that he came in in the beginning, a bizarre black leather outfit that seems more fitting to Edward's eccentric character.
When he finally calms down and goes home, it is obvious that Kim is now in love with him. She asks him to hug her, and Edward cannot because he is afraid of hurting her. He goes to the window and looks outside, clearly frustrated that yet something else that normal people take for granted is something he cannot do. In a surprisingly touching moment that would have otherwise been clich餠had it not been done right, Kim shows Edward how he can hug her without hurting her.
The following scene has Edward pushing Kevin out of the way of a speeding vehicle. In the process, he accidentally cuts Kevin's face. Of course, the neighbors think that Edward is attacking Kevin. When they come out to see what's going on, I had to wonder how much of it was out of concern for Kevin and how much of it was out of their perverse curiosity, so they could have more dirt on Edward to talk about. Here, Jim attacks Edward. In an act of self defense, Edward hits Jim, slicing his arm in the process. The slicing, of course, was not intentional. He was acting out of reflex and, unfortunately, cannot push Jim without also cutting him. Again, the townspeople do not see the scenario for what it is. They do not see Edward defending himself. They see him attacking, unprovoked, despite all the visual evidence in front of them. They see only what they want to see, only what is convenient to herd mentality.
I can relate similar examples to my own life, such as when I was a kid in school and was verbally or physically assaulted by other kids. If I responded in an act of self-defense, I often was the one who got in trouble because A) I didn't know how to cover my tracks, and the other kids did, and B) It is easier and more appealing to blame the weirdo, the one who mainstream society subconsciously sees as a threat to the survival of the human race.
Edward is out of options. Mob mentality has reached its height, and the town wants Edward dead. He runs back to the mansion to hide. Kim finds him there, where Jim is also hiding so he can ambush Edward and kill him. He pulls a gun on him, leading to a standoff that ends with Edward killing Jim. Once again, this is an act of self-defense, but who will believe it? Edward realizes he has to stay if he is to survive, and Kim does as well. She tells Edward that she loves him. Edward, at long last, feels loved and is at least happy knowing that. Kim goes outside and tells everybody that Edward and Jim killed each other at the same time. She knows that nobody will go home until Edward is dead.
The ending is, of course, heartbreaking, but Edward still manages to find happiness in his eccentricities. He continues to make ice sculptures inside the security of the mansion, and is at peace with himself.
I also want to mention that Kim is no saint. Although she clearly loves Edward, she also could have saved him by telling the truth about the burglary, that Edward was indeed exploited. But she didn't. I suppose this could serve as a commentary that even the most understanding of people can still be somewhat selfish.
What a beautiful movie. Roger Ebert gave it only two stars, and I usually agree with him on reviews. This time, I say he has no idea what he's talking about!
Notes: It is never explained where the ice sculptures come from, or why Peg so easily takes Edward home. These are things that you just have to accept, since it is a fantasy movie and suspense of disbelief is essential for the plot to move. Perhaps the ice that comes out of nowhere is symbolic to Edward's uniqueness.
This movie is largely about superficiality, but Edward falls for Kim based on looks alone, at least initially. I think we can overlook that, however, because he has no context. His love for her does grow later on primarily based on the fact that she understands him in a way that nobody else does.