Edward Scissor Hands (1990) by Tim Burton, is a romantic fantasy film centred upon a character, Edward (Johnny Depp), an uncommonly gentleman who is in fact an unfinished creation equipped with scissors for hands. Edward is taken in a by a suburban family (the Boggs) and quickly falls in love with the daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). To begin with Edward’s love for Kim is unrequited however as the film progresses we see Kim slowly fall for Edward and their love becomes mutual.
Regrettably with Edward being a slightly different and more unusual character, it makes it hard for the two to love each other in solace.
A sequence in the film that accurately communicates the difficult relationship between the two is when Edward and Kim share an intimate moment alone while the Boggs family is out searching for Edward. This scenario we witness is different from the typical romance depicted in today’s society and we, as the audience are able to see the awkward love shared between the two characters.
I will analyse this sequence through its mise-en-scene, cinematography, narrative, sound, and music and discuss how these concepts help reveal the key ideas of appearance vs. reality as well as Edwards wish to conform to society, focusing particularly on Edward and Kim’s problematic love for one another.
This sequence begins just after Kim’s boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) verbally attacks Edward calling him a freak and telling him to leave. Edward leaves the Boggs house angrily wandering the neighbourhood until he finds himself sitting alone on the side of the street.
A combination of mise-en-scene concepts, lighting and costume are used to portray the director’s intentions. It is late at night and the lighting of this scene is dark and brooding, creating an atmosphere that works well with the feelings of despair and loneliness that Edward is experiencing. Edwards’s costume, which comprises of a full black attire fits well with the setting also as it exactly reflects his mood, this is because we can associate the colour black with sadness and solitude.
It seems natural for Edward to be alone as at the beginning of the film we are shown his home, a decrepit gothic castle, situated on the top of the hill far from the rest of the town. Edwards home is cold, dark and uninviting and he lives by himself alluding to the fact that he fits comfortably into this environment where he sits on the pavement also alone. A wide-angle camera shot is used to emphasise Edwards’s loneliness, as we are able to see his surroundings, which reveals only him against the background of an American suburban house, it’s not long before a dog comes and sits next to Edward. Seeing that his fur has over grown his eyes, Edward snips it away so the dog is able to see.
Having hands as scissors makes it hard for Edward to do everyday activities such as dressing and using eating utensils. He is constantly impaired and he himself considers his hands as a defect or abnormality. (Sampson). In this scene where he is reflected in a lonely and gloomy space, he easily fits with the setting, making his scissor hands appear less of a physical disability. His actions towards the dog come across as a normal habit for him and we can understand this because he is by himself and not being compared to the other people of the suburban town who are depicted as normal.
This brings about the idea of conformity to society, which is a powerful idea uncovered in the film. The townsfolk who although adored Edward at the beginning of the film now somewhat resent him, and this shot that shows Edward alone, simply emphasises his obvious unfitting place in the suburban society. Edward smiles at his work; happy he is able to be in some way useful. However his happiness is cut short when two bright white lights are seen coming round the corner. A swift and quick succession of music begins to play, a repetition, which mimics close to that of a heart beat as the police car approaches round the corner. The sound accurately communicates a certain amount of fear, which we know Edward is experiencing since the police are searching for him and the viewer is able to empathise with Edward. Seeing the vehicle and recognising its significance Edward quickly rises and briskly leaves the pavement and the dog.
This shot quickly transitions to Edward arriving outside the Boggs’s house, and we see him looking into the window. The inside of the house is displayed as warm and inviting, with soft lighting. It reflects the life of the Boggs, which is happy, warm and full of love. It contrasts greatly with the outside environment, which is dark, low-spirited and similar to that of Edwards’s life. With him being on the outside of the house we can understand that this mirrors his exact position in society. He constantly feels out of place in this new suburban civilisation that the Boggs family has brought him into. He looks into the house through the window, he puts a hand against the wall. We as the viewers can read this as almost a longing grasp at the life he wishes he could permanently belong to. This again hints at the idea of conforming to society as it portrays Edwards’s desperation to be accepted.
Edward unlocks the door with his scissors and walks into what he thinks is an empty house before Kim comes from behind him and puts a hand on his shoulder. Repetitive over the shoulder shots are used to illustrate the two talking to one another and shows where they are in relation to each other. Kim is exposed in a long white dress and illuminated against the background of small brightly lit lanterns and Christmas lights. Her attire suggests innocence and purity, depicting that of an angel. This is how Edward sees Kim in comparison to himself. This image of Kim as an angel is further emphasised when we think back to the ice sculpture that Edward created on the night of the Christmas party, which too was also an angel. The warm lighting behind Kim further explains her as someone with a happy life full of love. Edward in contrast is presented against a dark background, alluding to his difficult and lonely life, which brings many struggles. Still in his black attire, when contrasted with Kim’s white dress, simply emphasises how different their two worlds are and the difficulty of combining the two. This is further made obvious when Kim asks Edward to hold her. Her voice is full of longing and we straightaway can see the obvious love that she holds for Edward. The fact that she at first asks Edward rather than taking her own initiation suggests she is aware of the danger Edwards hands pose but she is not afraid of him.
To begin with he tries, bringing his scissor hands up around her head, the desperation for him to hold her is obvious as his scissors twitch around Kim trying to find a way to embrace her. At the same time we see that as Kim gets closer, Edward has a paralysing fear in his eyes. This same fear is
reciprocated in his eyes when Peg (Dianne Wiest), Kim’s mother, first applies makeup to his face after she brings Edward back to their family home. It is here that we are able to identify with the idea of appearance vs. reality.
Edward is revealed as a monster simply by the costume he wears and having scissors as hands. His appearance shows a lack of humanity however the reality of Edward is in fact that he posses many characteristics associated with any normal human being. Although Edward wants to accept Pegg’s warmth and affection, he is afraid because it is not something he has grown up with. He has lived alone basically his whole life and the thought of being appreciated by someone is something he fears although at the same time craves. His scissors actively impair him from being close to a person romantically, which is why it is hard not to assume Edward is a monster.
We can understand that Edward is afraid of adult emotions such as love, due to his solitary upbringing, and so finds it hard to demonstrate these feelings. This is perhaps lessened when we think back to the ice sculptures Edward creates as mentioned earlier, and can understand that these are perhaps an attempt to show his unfathomable fondness for Kim. Although he cannot connect with Kim on an emotional level, he can still make his affection known to her through an outward display of it. In turn because Edward cannot touch Kim directly without hurting her but he can “touch” her through the snow that falls upon her. (Sampson) This just shows how Edward does not and never will fit into normal society, no mater how hard he try’s they will not accept him.
The audience can sympathise with the fact that his appearance communicates the opposite of his true compassionate nature. Although he is not fully human he does posses most characteristics. In saying this, Edwards exclusion from society means that Edward and Kim’s worlds are just to opposite to unify. Seeing the evident danger and impossibility of him safely embracing Kim in his arms Edward eventually replies, “I cant.”
Edward walks away from Kim, obviously dis heartened at the impossibility of the two ever being able to love one another like a normal couple. He stands at the window and looks out into the darkness. It is obvious that Edward is milling over the fact that there love will never work and by his looking out the window into the familiar darkness, he knows that their worlds are too separate and out there is where he belongs. A melodic and gradual ascending piece of music plays in the background; it has a sad tone to it allowing the viewer to empathise with the impeded love the two share. The ascent of the piece comes to a climax when Kim makes her way over to Edward, unfolds his arms and lays herself upon his chest. It is this moment here that the viewer builds hope for the possibility of the two working out. By Kim finding a way for Edward to hold her we can appreciate that they have found a way to love.
This scene just emphasises the reality of Edwards’s character and his ability to love. The music piece climaxes with a tone that produces a sense of liberation and joy. A zoom is used to move into a close up of Edwards face as his head rests on top of Kim’s and we can see that finally he feels some sort of peace. The two hold one another and the viewer is able to feel a sense of optimism that they will be able to be together. Not only this but the close up allows us to see the many scars on Edwards face. We can understand that this scarring could represent the emotional scarring of Edwards several failed attempts to meet the expectations of the social society. (Sampson) Because he is such an outcast it is a lot more difficult to manipulate social situations, meaning he struggles to conform and this is the crux of why Kim and him are unable to work as we hoped.
Through the collaboration of mise-en-scene and all the film conventions I have described that were used in this sequence, the viewer is easily able to understand the difficult yet reciprocated love between Edward and Kim. From the start of the sequence where we see Edward sitting alone on the pavement we can sympathise with his guiltless nature explored as he only wishes to be a normal human.
We see him help the dog out by trimming his hair and this further shows that Edward means no harm by anyone. Edwards return to Kim’s house demonstrates the infatuation he holds for Kim and his desperate attempt to see her. We witness Kim ask Edward to hold her and see his difficult yet extremely desired attempt to express his love to her through embracing. He fails to do this and the sequence ends with Kim taking it upon herself to fold herself into Edwards’s arms. From this very short yet significantly important sequence the viewer is able to see the difficult love shared between the two characters. The sequence exposes the obvious social barriers that prevent the two from loving in peace and the viewers find themselves empathising for Edwards’s desperate attempts to fit into society and be with his true love Kim Boggs. We witness Edwards’s compassionate and caring side that lies behind his gothic appearance, allowing the viewer to read into the idea of appearance vs. reality.
Sampson, Cory. Tim Burton Collective. 12 September 2013 <http://www.timburtoncollective.com/edwardpsycho.html>.
Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Tim Burton. 20th Century Fox, 1990.