The Johnny Depp Archive

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist, Vincent Price

Directed by: Tim Burton

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Vincent Price as the Inventor

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Edward Scissorhands, and as the TV programmers in their wisdom didn't find space for it in their bursting schedule of repeats and D-list celeb reality telly, and a certain someone saw fit to tape over my videoed copy, this year I had to hire it on DVD (ooh the technology!).

Why? Because Christmas needs some magic, and Edward Scissorhands is a truly magical movie. For starters, it stars not only the divine Mr Depp, but also the legendary Vincent Price in his last ever role - and what a way to go. His fine, dignified, gentlemanly performance as the inventor who creates a man with a cookie for a heart and scissors for hands brings a fitting close to a career that spanned over forty years and included such masterpieces as House of Usher and Witchfinder General (and the intro to Alice Cooper's 'The Black Widow' of course).

Vincent Price loved working with Johnny Depp on the film (as did fellow legend Christopher Lee in Sleepy Hollow, incidentally) finding him 'enchanting' (yes, I watched the DVD extras - a little thin on the ground admittedly but still interesting). And enchanting is certainly a good word to describe Depp's portrayal of the unworldly, other-worldly creature Edward. But I think the masterstroke of the performance lies not so much in the character's wide-eyed innocence and well-meaning amorality, which quickly lead us to realise that Edward is too good for the new, small-minded, suburban world he's come to inhabit, but in the dark underside concealed beneath. Edward doesn't think with his head, he thinks with his heart: his responses to situations are immediate and unmeditated, and when he's upset he's pretty damn scary.

Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands

At heart, however, Edward is a truly good person. Yet he himself knows that he will never be able to love in a real human way - and not just because he has scissors instead of hands. Watch the infamous 'Hold me/I can't' scene and see the paralysing fear in his eyes as Kim (Winona Ryder) gets too close: just like Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up, Edward is afraid of adult emotions - and with good reason, seeing as he isn't actually human. As Price points out, it's very hard to play a character who isn't human (and he should know) but Johnny Depp pulls it off perfectly.

It has often been noted that in Edward Scissorhands, Burton has created a modern fairy tale. The purpose of fairy tales of old (Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk etc) is to prove to the reader or listener, usually a child, that small, seemingly powerless people can, through courage, wit or good-heartedness, triumph over stronger, dark and frightening powers. The stories allow children to experience vicariously the archetypal journey from victim and outsider to conquering hero or heroine, which can in turn be seen to represent the journey from child to adult.

Edward Scissorhands perhaps best fits the Beauty and the Beast model, whereby the heroine must come to see the inner beauty of the lonely, outcast Beast before he can be redeemed and return to normal society. But Burton's film, like Shrek after it, is a modern fairy tale, and these days we like to see a twist to the tale. So in Shrek, rather than the ugly troll becoming a beautiful maiden and living happily ever after, the beautiful maiden becomes an ugly troll, and lives perhaps even more happily.

Edward Scissorhands in his topiary garden

In Edward Scissorhands, however, there can be no acceptance into society for the misfit hero. Brought up alone, abandoned and unfinished, Edward is never going to fit into 'normal' society (although Burton's depiction of 'normal' suburbia, populated by bigots, gossips, religious fanatics and nymphomaniacs, is pretty terrifying in itself). Instead, his triumph lies in his power to stay himself, to remain unspoilt and to survive, and the only way he can do this is to return to his castle and live there alone, creating beautiful sculptures. It may bring a tear to the eye, but for Edward, this is a happy ending, and therein lies the moral of this film, that it's okay to be different. You don't have to fit in. Not everybody finds happiness down the same road. And that's a good enough moral for me.

But if all that sounds like a load of old toss, forget looking for morals and instead just sit back and enjoy the wonderful sets, great performances (Winona Ryder is perhaps a little bit annoying, but Dianne Weist is, as ever, a star, for once getting to play a happily married matriarch instead of her usual neurotic single mother) and beautiful, beautiful music. Remember kids, Edward Scissorhands isn't just for Christmas, it's for life.

  • Share on Tumblr