Tim Burton's 'Edward Scissorhands' can be seen as a social commentary on the destruction of individuality in modern culture. The film is entirely contrived, with Burton employing the characters and careful scene design as devices with which to symbolise the meanings and messages he is attempting to portray throughout the film.
The film is set in 1950's American suburbia, where the modern American dream was becoming a reality through the introduction of the mass produced home, and the utopian vision of the future this created. In reality however, Burton utilises this setting to address the horrifically deadening effect mass consumerism has on society and individual creativity. An example of this is the repetitive cars, and homes, as although differing in colours, every person is still buying and using the same mass produced product, resulting in mass produced lives. Eric Drown reflects "at the end of the film the suburb becomes the place of horror, the place where difference is rejected as alien because of small-mindedness, bigotry and misunderstanding... the suburb’s odd (but coordinated) palette and its extreme orderliness seem less affectionate details of once upon a time and more sinister signs of similarity, suggesting perhaps that the fears of critics in the 1950's that suburban housing developments would encourage a “creeping consumer conformity” were not too far off the mark". (Drown, 2014)
Edward is presented as the original, the 'unique' through Burton starkly juxtaposing him to his surroundings, the first instance of this being the huge, looming, dark castle he resides in, towering above the pastel suburbia. This oddity is never addressed, furthering the separation of Edwards world and the suburban 'reality'. Russell Potter notes this in his essay 'Edward Schizohands: The Postmodern Gothic Body'; "In her recent study, "Belonging in America: Reading Between the Lines", Constance Perin argues that one thing that suburbia U.S.A. has always done, and done well, is to stare at, ostracize, alienate, and expel those (re)marked as different". (Potter, 1992).
The film is the physical manifestation of the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover", in this instance, Edward and his home playing the part of the book. The running idea is that from the outside things can look very different and therefore scary; the dark, looming house, Edwards dramatic clothes and wild hair, and his pale and scarred skin, all trademark "villain" traits. However, if one takes the time to look into the oddity/ get to know it, it becomes clear is not so horrific as once thought, a prime example of this is that from the outside the castle looks terrifying - dark and foreboding, with a thick, dead forest, but inside the walls the garden is beautiful and whimsical. As an extension of this, the castle can be seen as an objectification of Edward, the outside appearance being dark and scary, however on the inside, Edward's personality and mind, is full of whimsy, creativity and love.
This sweetness to his character is seen throughout the film with his initial actions done out of love and affection, for example his first bush sculpture in the Boggs' yard of the family together, and his naivety and tolerance of Pegs ridiculous efforts with Avon products, and later his unflinching love for Kim. Burton uses this as a comment on the downfall of society - that society's constant need for improvement and development is actually having a negative effect. This is reflected in 'Tim Burton: The Monster and the Crowd: A Post-Jungian Perspective' by Helena Bassil-Morozow, where she states "Metonymically speaking, Edward is his hands: his character and behaviour are determined by the fact that he is "not finished". (Bassil-Morozow, 2010). This shows an oxymoronic quiality to Edwards character, as although Edward is manufactured, literally built by inventor, he is the only one truly living as himself.
The townspeople help to further the manifestation of the popular saying as, despite looking 'normal' to society, can be seen to embody the negative aspects of human nature, the seven deadly sins. En mass the townspeople partake in gluttony, greed, sloth and envy, through their constant vying to be the best, have the best and know the most. Examples of this include when Peg first brought Edward home, the women had nothing better to do than gossip non stop and then force themselves upon the Boggs family. Later, once Edwards artistic skill has been realised they quickly take advantage of his creativity, giving nothing in return, clamouring first for topiary shaping, dog grooming, haircuts. Here Burton is showing the greed of modern society, constantly want the next best thing, but also wanting it for free, and never being satisfied with just being. This is more clear once Edwards salon is an option, as now they will have to pay in return for his services. This, combined with the lies told by Joyce, embodying lust wrath and pride, and Edwards arrest thanks to the cruelty of Jim, quickly fuel rumours and negativity towards Edward. The townspeople quickly follow suit with no hard evidence, following like sheep, ostracising the outcast, shunning individuality as soon as it does not benefit them, literally driving him away, only being satisfied once they believe he is dead, and on top of all that, seemingly being un-phased by the fact their blind hatred has caused the death of a man who had only even been nice to them.
The oxymoronic qualities of Edwards character and place in society are furthered from the quote from Jim (film still) "You can't touch anything without destroying it." This statement is not at all true for Edward, as although literally handicapped with destructive tools as hands, the only time he ever does anything destructive, without provocation from others, it is towards himself. Never once does he injure anyone or thing else out of his own malice. The same cannot be said for other people however, prime examples of this being Joyce, who because she didn't get what she wanted from Edward, ruined his name, and Jim because of his jealousy, embodying wrath, envy and pride, of Kims love for Edward. This once again puts across the message of not to judge a book by its cover, as although these two people look 'normal' and like any other inhabitant of the suburbia, they are actually horrible people.
Bassil-Morozow, H. (2010). Tim Burton. London: Routledge.
Drown, E. (2014). Edward Scissorhands and the Discourse of Normalcy. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/110-seconds-from-now/gentle-disruptions-b060098b5dc1#.400gi21d4
Perin, C. (1988). Belonging in America. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.
Potter, R. (1992). EDWARD SCHIZOHANDS: THE POSTMODERN GOTHIC BODY. [online] Pmc.iath.virginia.edu. Available at: http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/text-only/issue.592/potter.592
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