What kind of shit father would build their son with scissors for hands while the boy waited for the real thing? Seriously, that just doesn’t end well. Give him teddy bears or something, so he can hug someone.
I’m going to be talking spoilers for a nearly 30-year-old movie so….I guess get over it?
In 1990 Tim Burton released his first collaboration with Johnny Depp (who would come to be the most inconsistent part of his filmography) – Edward Scissorhands. When I was a kid this scared me half to death, being too young to get the film and instead just terrified by the pale, black-leather-clad mummy that stuck Anthony Michael Hall with his scissorfinger. It was a traumatizing experience at 6 years of age, unsure what exactly I was seeing and full of frightening imagery (the worst of which was Kathy Baker’s seduction scene…shudder), and I still held onto that fear. Until I hit 14 I was still under the impression this was a horror film. One day I went to the Blockbuster (I believe I’ve mentioned that I was on a Burton kick in 2002, hitting this particular video store with frequency) and snagged this again.
This was one of the times I felt understood. There are few films that can make you feel this way, but so much of early Burton does. I was that weirdo outcast in a small community school. I had friends, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t really like me. I grew up in a small church-based community, my only friends the ones that existed in that group with me. While they enjoyed church and pool parties and study groups, I was the strange kid that loved Star Wars and read Verne. I liked Frankenstein and snuck slasher movies when the family wasn’t paying attention. The boys picked on me, the girls wouldn’t sit next to me on the bus because I was the odd guy, stuff like that (I’m totally over it and grew up with high self-esteem….kidding). I realized that, as a kid, I was also guilty of seeing only the off-putting appearance instead of the soul beneath it.
Now when I saw this guy, Edward, curled in a corner and terrified by the sweet little neighborhood woman that came to sell cosmetics, I felt something stir in me. This kid was alone, surrounded by a community of such normal people. He was scared of an individual just being nice to him. And they accept him, hoping to form him into someone like them. The neighborhood readily accept this oddity, a child of machinery, and they try to incorporate him into their community. He’s told he must find work, and he learns that his scissors can shape lawns and groom pets, even cut hair. He’s good at something, using a disability to his advantage. While the neighborhood sees him as a fun curiosity, those that took him in are genuinely interested in helping him despite not quite knowing how. He loves the family that is kind to him and does everything he can to make them happy and proud.
Too bad he’s just not meant to be part of something like that.
Through deception, trickery, and eventually violent attack he is driven from the community. But why? What happened, what went wrong? His “otherness” draws in those around him, leading a woman to try and seduce him. When he rejects her advances, she accuses him of assault. The woman he loves has a possessive, empty-headed man in her life that decides on hating this new person because of her interest in him. He is tricked into setting off a burglar alarm, taking the blame for robbery in order to make the woman he loves happy. He’s a sweet boy, but he’s also a sucker.
Burton has always had a desire to protect the different, the weird, the oddballs. It isn’t so much like what Brad Bird does, seeing the special as above the rest, but more that he wants these individuals accepted and cared for. Burton himself is an outcast, an animator with a unique style that got the shot to create live-action films, and he took this as an outlet for his own feelings of isolation. These naive, desolate people are made to feel like they can’t live in a normal setting. I know I’ve never felt that way. Hell, I’m sitting in a room full of people I know with headphones on as I type this because a sense of belonging has mostly eluded me throughout my life. I’ve stuck my neck out and gotten hurt for it, I’ve been left in the cold (occasionally literally), and I’ve been viewed as an outcast for nothing other than who I am.
And how many of you can say the same? How many of you have been set aside for being different? Whether it’s your hobbies, your lifestyles, your sexual orientation, even the color of your skin, there are so many reasons people can find to set you aside. Burton sees you, he feels what you feel, and he wants you to know that there’s a weird, pasty, scissorhanded kid inside you that matters to him. And you matter to others as well.
Edwards decides to live apart from people, given one moment to hold the woman he loves before shutting himself away from the world forever. He never again experiences human contact, but for one shining moment he is given validation for his troubles. Whether this is enough is left up to the audience to decide, but he sends her a gift every Christmas in the form of snow. Does she deserve this? No, given her treatment of him throughout the film. Kim, the daughter of the family that takes Edward in, shudders at his appearance and participates in tricking him into an arrest. Taking advantage of his care and naivety, she abuses him throughout the film and only when he tells her that he helped her merely because she asked does she understand what kind of man she’s dealing with. And because of her actions, together with others who take advantage of his gentleness or show him outright aggression, he is driven away. And yet he still cares for her, sends her something he knows she loves. Why?
I believe Burton is channeling his own feelings here. Edward is an outcast, a weird person, but he has never known how to be anything but kind. And we should carry this kind of optimism. Edward should. Attacking pain with love is something very near and dear to me, pushing away abuse by being a loving person is soothing for the soul. It heals your insides, but you’ll suffer for it. This is the weird, painful lesson of Edward Scissorhands. Burton made this film in an era that was still only learning to accept the “other,” seeing them as curios instead of people. Perhaps if this were made today it would be…well, he’s not what he used to be, but it might just have a happier ending. Today the freaks and weirdos, the different and the strange, have places of their own and are finding that they don’t have to be isolated. There’s a lot of them out there. I got weirdly personal in writing this up but given my love and connection to this film I just don’t see another way to go about it. Burton was there for me when I felt alone, a stranger that made strange things to help those in need. I’ve found family now, those who care and understand me and I see them in return. Burton saw me, helped me. He can help you, too. Edward can help you, if you let him. You can find what he never could – true acceptance. You can love those that don’t deserve it, you can put yourself out there in a world that might not understand you, and you can embrace who you are without being afraid of it. Just let it in. Let Burton in, and see the world through new eyes.