tek's rating:

Edward Scissorhands (PG-13)
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This came out in 1990. I first saw it sometime in the 90s, either on TV or VHS. And I'm writing my review after seeing it for the second time, in 2014, on DVD. I know I always liked it, but there are only two scenes in the movie that I specifically remembered at all. And it's one of those things that I wasn't sure where to put my review. "Weird" seemed the most likely bet, but it's also sort of a fantasy (or more aptly, a darkish fairy tale), and very artistic, and dramatic, and darkly comic, and certainly romantic. All of which I feel adds up to "quirky." I should also mention this is from director Tim Burton's heyday, and one of his most beloved films, by many of his fans. And of course it features some great music by Danny Elfman. And it's the first Burton film to star Johnny Depp, who would later appear in many of Burton's subsequent films.

It seems to be set around the time it was released, but it's obviously intended to evoke 1950s suburbia (though I doubt any real time or place was ever quite so pastel as the community in the movie). It begins, however, sometime in the future, on a snowy night, when an old woman is putting her granddaughter to bed. The girl wants to know where the snow comes from. (It might seem an odd question, until you learn much later that the town they live in is in too warm a climate for snow.) And incidentally, by the end of the grandmother's story, you'll probably think it's weird that she would tell such a dark story to a little girl. But nothing in the movie is particularly probable, and hey... old school fairy tales were always much darker than they're usually made out to be, in modern times.

Anyway, the grandmother's story begins with a woman named Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) going door to door, trying to sell Avon. She has no success, so she finally decides to try her luck at the creepy old mansion on the hill. When she gets there, she finds the courtyard filled with amazing topiaries. She knocks on the door, but gets no response. So, for no apparent reason, she decides to enter the mansion, which is obviously abandoned, falling apart, filled with cobwebs and such. Yes, definitely creepier on the inside than the outside, but she doesn't let that stop her. She detects the presence of someone in the house, but he seems to be hiding from her. Undeterred, she keeps following and calling out to him. Finally, he timidly emerges from the shadows, and we see that he has wild hair, a deathly pale face with lots of scars, he's dressed all in black leather (or latex or whatever, anyway it's a creepy outfit- or maybe it's actually what he has in lieu of skin, I'm not sure). And creepiest of all, he has large, sharp scissor blades for hands (kind of Freddy Krueger-like). Naturally, Peg is momentarily startled by his appearance, but unnaturally, it is only momentary. Normally if you see someone who looks like that, you run screaming in terror. But instead, she's obviously concerned about him, learns his name is Edward and he's all alone, and invites him to come stay with her family.

That includes her husband, Bill (Alan Arkin), their young son, Kevin, and teenage daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder). But it's a little while before we see Bill and Kevin, and longer before we see Kim (except in photographs). The neighbors are all busybodies, who are eager to meet Edward. Shockingly, almost all of them quickly take a liking to him, especially Joyce (Kathy Baker), a desperate housewife who's always on the prowl. The only one who doesn't like Edward is Esmeralda (O-Lan Jones), who thinks he's a demon. Anyway, Kevin immediately thinks Edward is cool, and Bill is a very mellow, go-with-the-flow kinda guy that takes Edward's presence in his home remarkably in stride. Meanwhile, Kim is off on a camping trip with some friends. While she's away, Edward is staying in her bedroom. So of course she comes home from her trip early, and finds this totally scary freak in her bed, which is one of the scenes I remembered. She is pretty much the only person in the movie who has a normal reaction the first time she sees Edward: she freaks the hell out.

Her parents soon calm her down, and Edward moves to a different room. But it takes awhile for Kim to get used to him. Meanwhile, Edward is becoming very popular in the community not just because he's such a novelty, but also because his scissor hands allow him to make amazing topiaries in everyone's yards, just as he had in his own yard. And he starts grooming pets, then giving people haircuts. And he eventually appears on TV. He really is a very nice guy, but of course shy and awkward, and doesn't really understand everything. And of course there are lots of things he can't do, because he doesn't have real hands; and it's easy for him to accidentally hurt people, so he has to be careful. Um... and I should also mention there are some flashbacks that include an inventor played by Vincent Price, who had lived in the creepy old mansion, and had created Edward. But he died before he could give him proper hands. (You might think, if you're going to create a person, why give them scissor hands before real ones? Well, there's a reason for that, so it does make about as much sense as anything can, in a movie like this. But I don't want to explain it.)

Anyway, Kim has an asshole boyfriend named Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), who takes an instant dislike to Edward. Obviously the plot requires that the townsfolk will eventually turn against Edward, because there'd be no movie otherwise. For the most part, it happens because of Jim's actions. But I don't really want to give any of that away. I will say that if Jim weren't such a jerk to Edward, Kim probably never would have really started liking Edward as much as she did. So maybe it's not entirely a bad thing that he's a jerk. Oh, and how all this ties into the little girl's question about snow is actually pretty cool, so I won't spoil that, either. The end of the story is the darkest part; most of the movie was weird but in such a sunshiny way that... it was just such a stark contrast to Edward's appearance. But, yeah, it does get dark, and tragic. And finally we get back to the framing device of the old woman and the little girl, and the movie ends on a very sweet and kind of magical note.

So... hmmm. There's really lots of things in the movie that don't make sense. I mean, there are the incredibly obvious things, and then the things that you might have to stop and think for a moment before you realize they don't make sense. But it's a fairy tale, after all, so it's best to ignore such things. I love the movie for its weirdness and its darkness and its humor and its heart and its magic, and even occasionally for being so whimsically nonsensical. (For example, it's hard to imagine a more amusingly, bizarrely paradoxical moment in all of cinema than when Peg first opens the creepy old mansion door and sunnily chirps, "Avon calling!") And of course Edward is a sort of metaphor for anyone who is different being unjustly feared or hated. The movie is an interesting twist on such a familiar theme, considering in most such stories, different individuals are hated from the very start. I think here, there is an implication that people's acceptance of Edward in the beginning comes from the wrong place, for the wrong reasons, but I still think it's an improvement over people's attitudes in the past. And yet, of course, people are still too willing to jump to erroneous conclusions about such individuals. (Although I also think it would be a mistake for people to be so P.C. that they completely dismiss the possibility that such an individual could be dangerous.) Anyway, all that is interesting to ponder, but the movie can become less enjoyable, less magical if you overthink it....


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