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The Inspiration for Edward Scissorhands

This impeccably crafted creation was constructed by the incomparable mind of Tim Burton with, of course, his long-time confidante & colleague Danny Elfman who cultivates the music for the film. The original concept for the story started solely with just the idea of Edward himself – nothing else had been added to it for years. It began with a sketch that Burton had drawn himself when he was a teenager, of a young man with scissors for hands. “Edward began as a cry from the heart, a drawing from his teenage years that expressed the inner torment he felt at being unable to communicate with those around him.” Burton further comments that the idea “came subconsciously and was linked to a character who wants to touch but can’t, who was both creative and destructive. It had to do with relationships, the feeling that your image and how people perceive you are at odds with what’s inside you.”

There are the two original sketches from Tim Burton’s hand, the Edward that the idea and the film started with, and then the attempted civilized Edward. This warring between the real self and the one that is projected onto the self from others desires to see those at odds, normalized became a recurring theme. Burton’s characters are often outsiders, misunderstood and misperceived, misfits “encumbered by some degree of duality, operating on the fringes of their own particular society.” In many ways, Burton embodies that contradiction himself.

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Burton met Johnny Depp for the first time in a coffee shop in Los Angeles. Depp had been sent the script by an agent and had become intensely captivated by the script and title character. Deep immediately felt a strong relation to Edward – as at that time Depp had only been in tv and young heartthrob roles (like CryBaby and 21 Jump Street) which he despised as there was never any substance to the roles or scripts. But here was a chance to play a role he identified with and had become enamored by. Upon walking into the coffee shop where he was to meet Burton for the first time, not knowing what Burton looked like – his attention was caught by a man with the most unruly hair who was waving his hands around in the air “almost uncontrollably, nervously tapping on the table, with stilted speech; eyes wide and curious.” Eyes that had seen much but would still devour all. “This hypersensitive man was Edward Scissorhands.”

On the other side of this interaction, Burton said that he immediately knew that Depp would be perfect for the role since he was searching for the character in his eyes. “I like people’s eyes a lot, and Johnny had these really expressive eyes that were perfect for a character who doesn’t really speak.” Edward’s character was actually one of the inspirations for the character of Eleven in Netflix’s Stranger Things. For the strong emotional connection, viewers have towards Edward it is somewhat surprising to learn that he actually only says 169 words throughout the entire film. Edward possessing extremely expressive eyes was one of the main prerequisites for the character.

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The cultivation of the aesthetics of the film was again pulled largely from Burton’s mind and his own personal past experiences and emotions. Growing up in a suburb of Burbank in the 50s, in the shadow of the Warner Bros lot, a young Burton “sought out solace from the bright and sunny outside world in the dark of the movie theatre, connecting psychologically to those images” on the big screen. Monsters have always fascinated him, ever since he was a child, always identifying and being far more intrigued by them in the children’s books he read and later on, the films he would watch. Burton likes “telling the tales of the weird and wonderful creatures that we’re told stories about from childhood.” But his approach towards telling the tales of these monsters differs hugely from how other directors or writers approach monsters. The monster movies resonated with him much deeper and he always felt that they were misperceived and that they usually had “much more heartfelt souls than the human characters around them.”

The setting of Edward Scissorhands is in no small way a commentary on what it felt like to be an adolescent Tim growing up in an area that was devoid of culture. It was an environment from which he felt alienated at a very early age, commenting that there was a certain kind of vagueness, a blankness. Growing up in suburbia was like growing up in a place where there’s no sense of history, culture, or passion for anything. This was something that he wanted to portray in the film. Though the set may seem too fantastical, most of the story is meant to be seen through Edwards’s eyes, so you’re seeing a somewhat warped version of what the reality likely is. Any kind of color seen in contrast to where Edwards life had been lived, would seem overt. Having left the dark castle and been thrust into this hyper-pastel shell of the suburbs would be an extreme change. Even the art inside the home was the kind of generic duplicates that you would expect to see in mediocre chain hotels. This perception is key to understanding the intent of the film; a fight against everything that is homogenized and mass-produced.

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The story begins as a narrated children’s tale, with an old woman telling her granddaughter a night-time tale. “The film can also be seen as Burton’s version of Beauty & the Beast, a Fairy-tale bookended by a prologue and an epilogue featuring Winona Ryder as an old woman telling her granddaughter the story of Edward.”

When Peg finds Edward we see his isolation and alienation from the rest of the world. Burton seems to like the use of attics – they present themselves as solitary. “There’s a sense of isolation in the attic. Symbolically I associate it with isolation, but it’s also a reaction against the suburban home in some ways – it was always a desire to be up, out or away, & in an environment that was not white like being inside a shoebox.” We can see the original sketch Burton had made and then the end result in the motion picture.

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There are many aspects and themes within cinema that are now inextricably Burtonesque. His love of Misfits and outcast characters, the strong kinship with the protagonist’s pet dog, his affection for Doorways, his take on suburbia, the gothic Victorian aesthetic, recurring actors, but most interesting and most relevant to this article’s topic is that each of his characters has a defining symbolic object, a talisman if you will. For Edwards, this object is quite obvious, his hands. His Scissorhands are symbolic they can appear menacing or destructive as many weapons can, but they’re also tools for creation. These hands make quite a compelling argument for the concept/tension between the idea of something being an object/ a tool or a weapon. An item by itself is neither good nor bad inherently, it just is. It simply exists. How it is utilized is the ultimate definer. When given the chance, Edward flourishes, creating enchanting topiary, extravagant haircuts for humans and canines alike, and of course, the much-revered ice sculpture.

Burton’s work speaks metaphors and inverts society’s assumptions, Edward’s house looks different and strange to the rest of the neighborhood, but his castle with its wondrous gardens and unique architecture is far more interesting than the pastel model-homes road where everything looks the same. One of Burton’s most well-used and most interesting symbols are doorways. Throughout many of his films, there is an emphasis placed on doorways, physically or aesthetically – there is a pronounced affection for them. Doors are endlessly metaphorical and symbolic. When Peg first arrives at the castle it looks dark and foreboding but once she pushes her way through the vines covering the entrance, she is in a wonderland of magically crafted topiaries. This is easily broken-down as an external manifestation of Edward’s duality between his external appearance and his soft, creative, and kind core.

As the film was constructed so that your viewing of it is as if it’s through Edward’s own eyes, with the stark contrast of the hyper-pastel world juxtaposed with his prior lodgings. Burton’s doorways seem to grant us viewers entrance into the mind and perspective of the character. One who undoubtedly sees the world quite differently to others.

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