Friday, August 2, 2013

Scissors For Hands

Of all the imaginatively weird movies that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have collaborated on, Edward Scissorhands may be the most outlandish.  Like most of the director’s other creations, it has a strongly developed and enticing atmosphere and tells a story primarily through visual mood, eschewing the conventional, plot-driven framework of most films and falling more under the denomination of poetry than of prose.  Unlike most other Tim Burton films, it’s also a moving and melancholy work of art that effectively bridges the gap between multiple genres, acting at once as fantasy, romance, satire, horror, and a veiled retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Played by Johnny Depp in a performance that seems oddly similar to his character in Benny and Joon, Edward faces a severe dilemma as a kindhearted artificial man who nevertheless harms most everything he touches: by virtue of his father’s untimely passing, he resembles any ordinary person but for the self-inflicted scars on his face and his sharply intimidating hands, constructed entirely out of massive scissor-blades.  Having been confined to the lonely and isolated halls of his castle for all his life, Edward encounters a brave new world when the outgoing and motherly Mrs. Boggs adopts him as a third child and introduces him to the culture of suburbia.  The neighbors initially welcome Edward into their community and take delight at the unique services he can execute with his hands, from his visionary haircuts to his magnificent grass hedge sculpting.  A select few, however, view the newcomer as a demonic abomination whose deformities are not a blessing but a curse.  Among these are a religious right-wing cook and Mrs. Bogg’s teenage daughter Kim, portrayed by Winona Ryder, who’s terrified at first by his freakish appearance but then develops a sincere respect and love for him when he reveals his affection for her.  Their flowering relationship elicits the envy and animosity of Kim’s former boyfriend, a brutish, destructive fellow who treats Edward like an animal and inevitably brings out the animal concealed within him.  The movie probes audiences to ponder which is more frightening: the monster himself or those who revile the monster’s differences in order to build themselves up at his expense.

Because of its largely symbolic tone, Edward Scissorhands can be read and interpreted through many lenses, some of which work better than others.  On its weakest level, it’s a story about the persecution of a misunderstood and irrationally demonized minority by a religious elite consumed by hatred and intolerance.  If this movie had been set in the Obama Age, critics would laud it as a homosexual parable comparable to X2 or Happy Feet, with Edward posing as Matthew Shepard and the Christian nutcase embodying the Westboro Baptist Church, a minuscule cult which nonetheless represents the entire ‘religious right’ as far as the enlightened, tolerant ‘freethinkers’ in the media are concerned.  On its strongest level, it’s a cautionary fable concerning the conflict between individualism and conformity, the latter of which so often extinguishes or exiles the former out of jealousy, fear, and utopianism.  Satirical at its core, the film exploits suburban and evangelical stereotypes to humorous effect, depicting a close-knit community of clean-tongued (“Darn this stuff!”) but nosy gossipers and group-thinkers who rush to form simplistic judgements based solely on what their senses immediately betray to them.  Like Pride and Prejudice, the story carries a strong message about the potential for our eyes and preliminary judgements to deceive and blind us to someone’s true character or the reality of a situation.  Yet Edward Scissorhands is a romantic drama in its purest form, conveying the touching and tragic tale of a man who’s pierced by love but unable to express that love through any medium but his art.  When Kim asks Edward to hold her amidst the literal and metaphorical chill of one winter night, he answers sorrowfully, “I can’t.”  Not only does the condition imposed by his maker preclude him from peaceably mingling with humanity, but it even separates him from his lover, his only friend in a dark and cruel world that spurns him just for his outer image.  Where Frankenstein was just as interested in the creator and his motives as in the creation, Edward Scissorhands focuses only on the plight of the monster and the monstrosities committed against him by a race that’s even more horrific than he.

Visually remarkable, well acted, memorably scored, and sometimes profound, Edward Scissorhands has wisdom and emotional impact in greater abundance than the usual stylish but empty entertainment composed by Tim Burton.  This story, simultaneously sad, hopeful, and darkly beautiful, is the rare kind of movie that will make one want to dance in the snow.

Grade rating: A- (where Alice in Wonderland is B, Batman is C, and that Michael Jackson-Roald Dahl thing is D)

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