Edward Scissorhands (1990)

When I was a child, I was fascinated by Tim Burton's 1990 gothic-romance Edward Scissorhands, starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. And why wouldn't I be? I mean, a man with SCISSORS for hands? That's freakin' awesome! Well, that's the way I thought about it as a child at least. But I always remember liking the film and being deeply moved by it, though I could not have told you why at the time. Now, twenty-three years later and with no good new releases lately, I decided to re-watch Edward Scissorhands to see if it held up as well now as it had when I was young.

Of course we are all familiar with the story: a sincere but mediocre Avon saleswoman makes a cold call at the creepy house at the edge of town and finds Edward, an artificial man pieced together from scratch by a now-deceased inventor. Edward is in almost every respect like a normal human being, save that by a cruel twist of fate, his creator died before completing him, leaving him with massive pairs of scissors in place of hands. The Avon lady brings Edward back to live in her rigidly conformist neighborhood, where Edward becomes the gossip of the street. Though the neighborhood briefly accepts Edward when they see how useful his scissorhands can be for trimming hedges, dogs, and hair, they have no interest in him as a person and rapidly turn on him, even clamoring for his death. The only one who understands Edward is Kim, the Avon lady's daughter, played by Winona Ryder. Though Kim will gradually come to accept Edward for who he is and even love him, for their love to endure Kim must help Edward escape the world her mother has unwittingly initiated him into.

Upon rewatching this movie, I have to admit that I was just as enthralled by it as I was as a boy, although I now know why it touches such a deep chord. Edward is created complete, save for his hands, which keep him from ever fulling incorporating into the world at large. The deficient hands are an image of the incompleteness of man, or our own original sin which mars our ability to truly choose the good. Like us, Edward is motivated by a good will, but whenever he wills to do good, the fact that his hands are three foot long blades means that he often messes up and hurts those he is trying to help; he destroys the waterbed of his host family, and when trying to stop a boy from getting hit by a drunk driver, he inadvertently cuts the boy's face with his blades. This is what we all experience as part of our human condition - the will to do good, but the unfortunate fact that our imperfections often hurt others and bring about harm, even as we are trying to do good.

Edward's rejection by the neighborhood is another very interesting element. Edward has a very visible physical defect, while the denizens of the neighborhood appear materially well off and morally upstanding. When the movie begins, Edward is the freak and the residents of the neighborhood are normal. By the end of the movie, we have come to realize that Edward may have a serious disability, but his recognition of this fact gives him a true humility, which Kim recognizes and comes to love. The neighborhood folks, on the other hand, become more and more gossiping and paranoid throughout the film. They have no visible physical disabilities, but their moral failings are tremendous, only unlike Edward, they remain blinded from them and thus become more wicked and arrogant as the film commences. Like What About Bob? the demarcation between who is "normal" and who is abnormal gets switched as the movie progresses.

Edward ultimately must flee this environment to preserve his life and his innocence. Interestingly enough, though he will flee from the neighborhood and return to his solitary life in the mansion at the edge of town, he never gets rid of his scissorhands. He begins the movie with scissorhands, and ends the movie with scissorhands, though by the end of the film, he has apparently figured out how the turn what many would see as a handicap into a grace, using his hands to create beautiful carvings and sculpture motivated by the burning love for Kim. Love has transformed his weakness into a gift.

Similarly, we never are free from the effects of original sin so long as we are in the flesh. Even if we flee the world, we retain the effects of original sin and are still subject to the weakness that is common in all flesh. Yet, by the grace of God, we can overcome these effects of sin and order our lives towards the good, awaiting the day when we will be finally perfected.

Did Edward Scissorhands live up to what I remembered? Yes and more so. The whole film is basically an exegesis on John 9:41: "If you were blind, you would have no sin. But since you say "we see", your sin remains." I give Edward Scissorhands a 2.5, but it only falls short of a 3 on a very technical point regarding one scene in which the neighborhood hussie tries to seduce Edward. It is not that a seduction scene automatically drops the rating, but it is that this seduction scene is a little bit too seedy for my taste, even though Edward does reject it and run away.

If it has been awhile since you've seen this film, go out and give it a watch with Christian anthropology in mind. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Review by Boniface