Friday, January 11, 2008

Edward Scissorhands

In the scene at the heart of Edward Scissorhands (1990) a girl named Kim (Winona Ryder) dances in the nighttime air as the ice shavings created by Edward's carving of ice sculptures waft down around her. There's a magical quality to the scene that transcends everything else in the film. Years later Kim's dancing remains in Edward's mind as he carves his ice sculptures on top of the mountain and brings snow to the town below.

This is my favorite Tim Burton film. Although I enjoyed Nightmare before Christmas and Corpse Bride (2005) and Beetle Juice (1988) I could never be quite comfortable with these films celebrating death and the macabre.

The enchantments of Edward Scissorhands include the storytelling frame, where the old grandmother tells her granddaughter the tale of how Edward came down from the mountain years ago. It is of course her own story. Who knows if it's true? The acting by Alan Arkin, Diane Wiest, Johnny Depp, and Winona Rider is excellent. The blank yet feeling expression on Depp's face in his portrayal of Edward is balanced by the fragile, graceful sensitivity of Ryder.

Beneath the film's romantic, fanciful surface is a strong antipathy for women and the American middle class. (This is odd since Burton co-wrote the film with a woman, Caroline Thompson). The suburban neighborhood—with the bland pastels of the houses and the overriding sameness of everything within it--reminds me of the neighborhood in the Showtime series Weeds, of Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes," and of similar portrayals of suburbia in such films as The Truman Show (1998) and Pleasantville (1998) and The Stepford Wives (1974, 2004). Yet the satire here is darker, the criticism sharper. The women of the neighborhood, all of them suffering neurotic unhappiness with their lives, at first join together in welcoming Edward to their midst. They nearly smother him. But they easily change to a threatening mob later in the film. Their husbands are faceless nonentities. Conformity is an imperative. As different as Edward is, the inhabitants of the neighborhood are willing to accept him only until it becomes clear that he can never be what they want him to be--he can't conform, can't assimilate, can't be other than what he is. The characters played by Dianne Wiest and Adam Arkin are welcome exceptions to this nightmare blandness.

I was interested to read that Tim Burton based Edward to some extent on himself and his feelings of exclusion during childhood and later. I had always thought that he and Edward bore more than a faint resemblance to each other.

1 comment:

Eamon said...

'I could never be quite comfortable with these films celebrating death and the macabre' - I agree