Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Movie – Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Tim Burton co-wrote and directed the movie Edward Scissorhands during the break between Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).  In fact, Burton was in the midst of a great run of movies in the Eighties and early Nineties.  I consider Edward Scissorhands to be Burton’s best film.  It combines elements of Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and even a little bit of Frankenstein.  The result is a modern day fairy tale about a lost, innocent man-child and the dangers that we ourselves would bring to such a person.

We see the movie as the story that an elderly woman is telling her grandchildren.  These events happened when she was a teenage girl herself.  In the story this woman, named Kim (Winona Ryder), lives with her parents Peg (Dianne Wiest) and Bill (Alan Arkin) in suburbia.  It is a Tim Burton view of suburbia, though, so it involves any number of strangely painted, but otherwise identical, houses.

One day Peg approaches the big, old mansion on the hill overlooking the town.  She finds a wondrous set of topiaries (sculpted shrubbery) on the grounds, but otherwise the mansion is rundown.  No one answers, but she enters anyway.  (You can’t make an Avon sale without being a little forward.)  She finally finds a young man hiding in the attic.  When he comes out she sees that he has a very strange appearance, and most startling of all – he has scissors where his hands ought to be.

Peg gets over her initial fright when she sees that he is lost and all alone.  He tells her that his “father” (Vincent Price in his last role) created him from machines he had built.  The inventor replaced machinery with more human-like appearance until all that was left were the hands.  Unfortunately, the inventor died before he could finish that.  Edward has been alone in the mansion ever since.

Peg’s maternal instincts kick in and she takes Edward back home with her.  The entire neighborhood is filled with nosy women and the story about her bringing home a strange looking man is all over the area almost before she gets in the door.  All of them start to show up on one pretext or the other in order to try to snoop out the news on who this is.

Peg and Bill put Edward in their daughter Kim’s room, since she is gone for the weekend with friends.  Unbeknownst to them, Kim returns early from her trip.  She enters her room and when she finally notices this strange, dangerous looking man in her bed, she understandably freaks out.  She probably ends up scaring Edward more than he scared her, though.  In one of the funnier scenes, we see that Peg and Bill should probably have thought twice before putting a man with scissors for hands on a waterbed.

Everyone finally calms down, and Peg and Bill host a cookout to allow the neighbors to meet Edward.  He quickly gains a lot of admirers for his ability to sculpt shrubbery and to cut women’s hair.  Only two people dislike him at first – a religious woman who thinks he is devil spawn, and Kim’s jealous boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall).  As it turns out, Jim was right to be worried because Kim does start to develop feelings for Edward.

Both the religious woman and Jim start to spread bad rumors about Edward.  Jim involves Edward in something bad and leaves Edward to take the blame for it.  Edward is completely innocent, so he doesn’t even grasp the concept that someone might lie to him, or that if he found money he shouldn’t necessarily give it to his friends.  A neighbor woman (Kathy Baker) tries to seduce him and he doesn’t even understand what is going on.  She takes his rejection badly and spreads a rumor that Edward tried to assault her.  Slowly, everyone except Kim’s family starts to turn on him.  In every case, though, these people are seeing the evil inside themselves reflected onto the innocent Edward.

Johnny Depp does a great job in his first of many collaborations with Tim Burton.  Depp hardly speaks during the film, so in some ways it harkens back to the silent film era where someone’s body language and facial expressions were more important at conveying how they felt.  He also got quite good with the scissor prosthetics he wore on his hands. 

Winona Ryder also does a great job as the girl who comes to love a “man” that others consider a monster.  I believe this is the only film in which she has appeared as a blond – which is ironic because she is a natural blond in real life.  Art also mirrored reality in another way as Ryder and Depp started a relationship that lasted for a few years.  He was left with a permanent reminder of it because of his “Winona Forever” tattoo – since altered to read “Wino Forever”.  The only thing stupider than getting your spouse’s name tattooed on you is getting your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s name (see also Alyssa Milano).  I once saw a woman with a tattoo on her arm that said “My [heart] belongs to” and then a man’s name.  The name had a line through it and under it was a second man’s name.  That also had a line through it.  Under it was a third man’s name, probably soon to be crossed out itself.  Luckily, she still had quite a bit of arm left.

I want to take a couple of sentences to talk about Anthony Michael Hall.  I didn’t even recognize him as the boyfriend at first.  It wasn’t until about halfway through the movie that it finally dawned on me why he looked a little familiar.  When I paused the movie and told my friend who was watching it with me, he was really surprised.  I had a hard time reconciling the skinny geek Hall played in a number of iconic 80s movies (i.e. The Breakfast Club) with the muscular, aggressive bully he played in this movie.  His appearance had definitely changed in the few years in between.

The film Edward Scissorhands was released in mid-December and it has a winter tie-in.  The tale that the elderly Kim is telling her grandchildren involves how it never used to snow where she lived before Edward came along, and why it snows now.  I have to say that the reveal at the end really hit home with me.  I really liked it a lot.

There’s not much reason to avoid this movie.  Maybe if you only like straight ahead dramas that are grounded in reality.  For everyone else, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Really liked your review. Reminded me how much I like this movie and early Burton. I really gotta rewatch it. I haven't seen it since I was a kid.

  2. Looks like I have missed something good.
    Would catch it up soon...
    Nice review. :) :)

  3. Lovely review! I like this movie so much and consider it to be one of Depp's best performances, he was just perfect. The soundtrack and cinematography were mesmerizing and I always watch this movie close to Christmas, it's such a magical picture.

  4. Great review Chip! I remember seeing this movie when I was little and loving it, for the story, the quirckiness of it and, of course, for Johnny Depp, one of my favorites. I should re-see it soon, it's been a long time!

  5. Boy, this is one on which you and I will disagree. I remember seeing this film in the theater, going because it was a Burton film and for really no other reason. It was weird, it was kooky, and it had a singular vision. I really liked it. And then the end happened. The last 15 minutes or so of this movie absolutely enraged me.

    I won't delve into spoilers here. I just hate the way the Ryder character behaves at the end of the film. Perhaps I need to rewatch it.

  6. @Dave Enkosky, vinay, Sati., and Diana - Big Thanks! Your comments about wanting to see the film, either for the first time, or to see it again, are the main reason I am writing these reviews. It is to recommend movies that I like to others so that they might have a good time watching them, too. Thank you for letting me know that my words were able to convey that. I hope you enjoy the experiences of seeing the film again.

    @SJHoneywell - Thank you for avoiding spoilers. FYI - I am okay with them in the comments as long as people put a big spoiler warning before them.

    I understand how an ending that you don't like can ruin a good movie experience. An example for me is Once. I just re-watched the last 30 minutes of Edward Scissorhands prior to the credits. I then went to your site to see if you had reviewed it yet, but you have not.

    I have a guess as to what bothered you with Ryder's character. It probably can be summed up in one word - "run"? If this is it, I'm not bothered by her actions because everything she does from that point on is to protect Edward because she loves him. She comes to his defense several times in the closing of the film. Unless that's what perturbed you? Perhaps you felt she shouldn't be defending him?