Thursday, 15 December 2011

Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Fig. 1. Edward Scissorhands poster.

Edward Scissorhands is a film about contrast. Burton presents the apparently safe, pastel-coloured suburbia as housing dangerous, cruel inhabitants, while the eerie Gothic castle in which Edward is found becomes a place of refuge – “It is unlike any other home in the town, and it clearly is a place to be avoided. It exudes darkness and isolation. Yet, in a Tim Burton world nothing is untouchable and no place is unreachable” (Propes, unknown). The protagonist, the eponymous Edward, finds himself caught up in the politics and vindictiveness of the suburbs, initially relishing the company but eventually rejecting it for its rejection of him.

Fig. 2. Castle shot.

Edward is the most immediately noticeable aspect of design in the film; clad in skin-tight leather, with impossibly pale skin, a shock of dark hair and deep black bags under his eyes (making him reminiscent of Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and of course the iconic blades for hands. All this is used to make him seem ‘other’, and yet over the course of the film the viewer comes to trust the visually threatening Edward more than the apparently safe citizens of the town.

The film is distinctly autobiographical on Burton’s part; the concept of a well-meaning yet inherently ‘different’ individual being exploited then eventually driven away from society when their talents became threatening is a powerful one. It is easy to identify with Edward, even though he is physically unlike anything one would see in reality; “On one level, [the film is] about handicap: Edward is both handicapped and "special", like an autistic child with miraculous drawing ability. Edward also represents the artist, tolerated and celebrated by "normal" people - but only as long as he is not unduly threatening.” (Tookey, 2009).

 Fig. 3. Edward & Kim.

There is a constant presence of topiaries throughout the film, creating whimsical yet unsettling silhouettes. This further serves to highlight Edward’s nature as highly skilled but unnerving at the same time. Initially the topiaries are playful, but as the film progresses and there are more and more night shots the topiaries create eerie shapes in the gloom as the people of the town turn against Edward.

In contrast, the castle initially seems dangerous, but its association with Edward, and its role as a haven from the rest of the town, eventually make it seem more welcoming, regardless of the cobwebs, dust and perilous-looking floorboards; “The sickly sweet colours of the town perfectly contrast the wintery hues of the gothic mansion high up on the hill and the snow-spray which falls from Edward’s ice sculptures reminds the jaded townspeople (and the audience) of the innocence they have lost by touching them with his own” (Gilbert, unknown). In fact, in the climax of the film when we see the castle’s gardens fallen into disrepair due to Edward’s absence, the viewer feels a distinct pang of regret that Edward ever left.

Illustration List
Burton, T. (1990)  Fig. 1. Edward Scissorhands poster. (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Burton, T. (1990)  Fig. 2. Castle shot. (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Burton, T. (1990)  Fig. 3. Edward & Kim. (Accessed on 14/12/11)

Gilbert, J. (unknown). (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Propes, R. (unknown). The Independent Critic. (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Tookey, C. (2009) Chris Tookey’s Movie Film Review. (Accessed on 14/12/11)

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