Edward Scissorhands’s cinematic creator Tim Burton has constructed at once a lushly visual and drably emblematic piece that is supposed to emblazon the plight of the outcasts. It’s too bad the outcast in this film has no point of view. Burton’s Edward (Johnny Depp) is surrounded by quite a flock of pick-a-little-talk-a-little housewives who have nothing better to do than wallow in gossip and their own societal superiority. Their snide and petty attitudes are so ubiquitous and Avon lady Peg (Diane Wiest), his saving grace, so sickeningly sweet, it’s as if we’re playing Battle of the Character Types. But then, nothing about Burton’s work is subtle, and understandably so. If these women (and their husbands, mere side notes) weren’t so obnoxious in their bright J. Crew catalog outfits and Edward so bleak and diluted in his muted tones, how else would we be able to understand how society likes to single out and alienate those who differ from the majority?
The heightened and fantastical sense of reality in the world Burton has created is beautifully depicted—the streets and houses are all lined in typical cookie-cutter suburban fashion in bright pastel yellows, pinks and blues to match the polo shirts of the people who inhabit them. It just so happens that at the end of their street lies a haunted mansion, which even in sunlight screams gargoyles, bats and vampires. No one even seems to pay any attention to the place until Peg’s attempt to integrate Edward into their world, and yet it seems like this mansion has loomed in the back of their minds for quite some time. It’s like Edward’s the scary black family moving into a community of WASPs—except what Edward’s got is called a “handicap.” His hands of scissors are initially strange and intriguing, and for almost everyone, they are not a threat. The men think he’s just some kind of running gag and the women, who presumably haven’t had sex in at least eight years, are perturbingly turned on by his shearers (grooming dogs turns into grooming the housewives in an aphrodisiacal moment); how quickly they find any reason to crucify this handicapped man without blinking twice even when he’s just a victim of circumstances. They may not burn crosses outside his desolate mansion, but they certainly chase him back to where he came from—a sort of reverse white flight. Perhaps this is why Officer Allen (Dick Anthony Williams), the only black person in the whole town, seems to identify with and defend Edward so immediately; he sees a part of himself in this “freak.”
The polar opposites effect that Burton is going for would work wonderfully if there were any sense that Edward is anything more than a tortured soul. There are glimmers of personality—a humorous moment of discovery occurs when Edward explores his new bedroom and awkwardly pokes a hole in the waterbed with his razor-edged digits and it throws him into a short frenzy. Yet, Edward does not have a voice. Depp, a normally fascinating actor to watch, doesn’t do much out of the realm of blank face or faint smile. More often than not, everyone else is speaking for him, just as this story is being told from the view of would-be love interest and daughter of Peg, Kim (Winona Ryder), who saves his life by telling the mob he’s dead inside the mansion, but still leaves him up there, not even bothering to visit him ever again. Even nurturing Peg decides that integrating Edward into normal life is impossible: “He should go back, at least there he’s safe.” I guess their worlds are just too different. Integration and acceptance will only stir up unnecessary trouble.
Poor, sweet Edward Scissorhands. I am curious to know—how did you really feel when that Avon lady plucked you from your solitude and thrust you upon the pastel Pillsbury Dough-house suburbia that is conveniently right outside your door? Why do you fall so instantly for wanna-be rebel Kim? Is it terrifying when that mob of rabid, howling neighbors curse you? Considering your deafening silence and seeming incapability of uttering more than one word at a time, one would think your scissors weren’t the real “handicap”—rather, your tongue seems to be what is truly binding you to helplessness. Or did you, perhaps, accidentally snip your tongue with your massive scissors, thus leaving you unable to speak more than one colorless word at a time?