Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Many things scared me as a child, but rarely did anything frighten me on the nightmare-inducing level of a Tim Burton film. Yes, yes, now I realize he's probably brilliant and his muse Johnny Depp is a dreamboat and Burton can juggle all sorts of complex symbolism and irony, but at the time it was much more like, "Wait, a guy has scissors...for hands? A little kid pulls a shrunken head out of his Christmas present? And God help me if I ever accidentally utter 'Beetlejuice' thrice." Hell, he even scared me a little bit with Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
Maybe I was a bit deficient in the imagination department, but these movies scared me to no end. In some ways, I suppose that speaks to their power; Burton's movies are certainly affective. That lingering feeling of creepiness and uneasiness speaks largely to his dark prowess as a filmmaker. Many of these movies that terrified me in my younger years I now recognize as deep and interesting and original. Okay, and a little scary. I'm sorry. Scissors for hands? That's frightening stuff. No two snips about it.
Overall, the film is poignant and touching, which is probably what scared me so much about it in the first place. As a kid, we don't want movies to make us feel. We want them to make us smile as little woodland creatures sing us songs before diving into a wooded thicket. Nuance and subtlety are not exactly the way to a child's heart. I don't know about you, but I was big into happily ever afters, which doesn't tend to happen a lot if a film is trying to make a statement in the way that Edward Scissorhands was.
With this film began the torrid love affair between Depp and Burton that continues to frighten and intrigue us in the present day. Prior to his role in Scissorhands, Depp was something of a teen idol, the likes of whose pinups may have been torn from J17 or Bop! Magazine and plastered the walls of smitten late-80s teenage girls. Depp's roles in TV's 21 Jump Street and the 50's-themed musical Cry-Baby had elevated him to teen hearthrob status, a title that left Depp less than satisfied with his career choices. Determined not to be packaged and sold as a teen stud, his fledgling professional relationship with Burton allowed him to break out of this boxed-in career path. Oh, and frighten some young fans with the cunning use of stage makeup and scissor hands.
How's that trailer for dramatic? I'm a big fan of Danny Elfman themes, but this is really just the heartstring pulliest. You can just tell it's going to be so sad. And a little disconcerting.
Before delving into the movie, here's a handy Arsenio Hall interview with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton regarding Edward Scissorhands. Yes, yes, it's informative, but mainly I've included it because it would undoubtedly win any contest for three best 90s hairstyles ever. Just watch the way Johnny's hair moves. It's very antennae-esque. Sort of frightening, sort of intriguing, oddly attractive. Like Johnny, in the film. You can begin to see why the role was so well-tailored to his personal character.
Edward Scissorhands is ultimately a tragic comedy, as its both heart-wrenching and sort of giggle-inducing. Edward is not actually a man, but an unfinished project of an enterprising inventor, as we learn from our grandmotherly narrator. Following his inventor's death, Edward continues to live in his sprawling mansion unnoticed until the unexpected intrusion of Peg the Avon lady. Peg insists on taking him home with her. And who wouldn't? He's a deathly pale, scar-faced, scissor-handed freak. He definitely sounds like someone I would want around my loved ones in their natural habitat. Well played, Peg. Well played indeed.
Edward had a natural penchant for all sorts of fun clippery, particularly in the areas of foliage manipulation and perm reduction. He is clearly ill at ease while integrated in society, and is largely perplexed by the norms and mores that rule society. He dodges the seduction attempts of a lonely housewife, only to be smacked with rape charges. He helps Peg's daughter's boyfriend in his criminal misdoings and is picked up by the police. The officers, however, declare Edward to be void of a moral compass but believe him to be ultimately good. Those rape accusations weren't winning him any friends, though, and his neighborhood star falls nearly as quickly as it had risen.
After Edward accidentally injures Peg's daughter Kim, her no-good boyfriend Jim is out for revenge. The scene escalates and there are all sorts of misunderstandings that reiterate the townspeople's growing distaste for Edward. In what is turning out to be a fight to the death, Edward kills Jim. Kim and some of his other defenders manage to imply that the two killed each other, but Edward was still alive and doing his snow-making thing. And for your spoiler alert (p.s., you've been alerted), we find out the old woman from the beginning is Kim and she's loved Edward all along, though their ultimately doomed relationship was not conducive to them maintaining their romance. I know, I know. It's sad. I'll give you some time.
We all have those movies that we saw as children that we thought we understood until we saw them as adults and realize we hadn't a clue what was going on. Edward Scissorhands is one of those movies. For anyone who saw the movie at a young age, it was confusing and mildly terrifying. I was vaguely aware that it was supposed to be sad, but I was too worried about the inevitable insomnia-provoking nightmares that were sure to result from hearing that incessant snip-snip-snip sound.
Ultimately, Edward Scissorhands is touching, resonant, and gutsy with its out-on-a-limb themes and metaphors. Okay, so none of us were quick to plaster our walls with Edward Scissorhands pinups*, but it certainly paved the way for both Johnny Depp's and Tim Burton's resultant cinematic successes. Maybe it didn't have the happy ending some of us selfishly demand of movies, but it did have heart. Oh, and scissors. Big, giant scissors.
*Most of us waited until he became a pirate to reinstate his hearthrob status