When I tell people that I am a film major, one of the most frequently asked question is ‘what is your favorite film?’ The list of my favorite films changes from time to time, but at the very top of it always is Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorshands. To me, it is almost heartbreaking when someone so confidently says that Edward Scissorshands is a horror film. Well, it could be called a monster film, but surely not a horror film. A horror film generally makes use of the abnormality as a source of fear, but the abnormality in Edward Scissorshands is not necessarily something to fear. In fact, the film twists the meaning of ‘being different’ and tackle the concept itself: what is being ‘abnormal?’ How do we define it?
The fact that Edward is different from the people in the town is directly brought into play right away with his entrance to the story, but it is hinted from the very beginning of the film. The opening sequence of the film shows a series of images immersed in dark pale blue. These images which later are revealed to be components of Edward’s castle, are mostly eerie gothic figures such as a gargoyle statue and strange machines, or some things that are not actually eerie in their nature such as homemade cookies and human hands which appear distorted in the low-key lighting which emphasize the shadows and darkness greatly. After the opening sequence, we jump briefly into the warmly lit room of Kim who has now has become an old woman telling a story about Edward to her grand-daughter, but the overall atmosphere of the setting of the film at the moment is taken over by the dark, pale quality which stretches out from the previous images of the castle and returns to and ends at a shot of a window inside the hardly-lit castle, by which a man with pale skin, black hair and black cloth stands.
Therefore when the next shot immediately cuts to the sunlit town with houses painted in bright pastel colors standing on green lawn, a huge gap is automatically created between the world of darkness in which Edward stands, and the world of the town. Since the town is the environment where people are typically familiar with and since the town looks simply peaceful on the outside- the birds chirp and the people are leisurely doing simple tasks such as mowing the lawn, watering the grass, or fixing a roof- it may seem like a place that stays under the realm of ‘normal’. However, even though most of the story takes place in the town, the town is not necessarily described as a default normal setting of the film. As the townspeople are introduced more closely to the audience through the eyes of Peg, it is very much clearly suggested that the people of this town are not as normal as expected. A housewife who tries to seduce a plumber, a girl who tries every cosmetic on but actually does not even think of buying one, and a woman who is too absorbed in religion, all are not the kind of people who are categorized as ‘normal’ in our society. Such characters of the town therefore betray the seemingly happy and peaceful life of the town, and through them the film poses a question on the authenticity of the town as a normal setting. The fact that the dark, eerie world of Edward and his castle was in play from the very beginning of the film prior to the introduction of the town also casts a doubt about ‘what is the film’s true default setting?’
The main character, Edward heats up this debate about the concept of ‘being different’. When Peg first encounters him, Edward walks out of the shadow from the furthest corner of the attic, with his black outfit and hair completely merged into the shadow and only his blades from his scissorshands visible in a streak of light. In this very moment, his figure is very monstrous and horrific, but when Edward’s frightened face comes into the light and his fragile voice speaks two words, ‘Don’t go,’ his innocence and vulnerability that lies inside his terrifying appearance are revealed, just like his beautiful garden that lies inside the eerie exterior of the castle. With these two different setting, a seemingly ‘normal’ town with its people not very pleasant and a seemingly ‘abnormal’ castle with its owner not very terrifying or harmful, the film completely blurs the boundaries between the normal world and the abnormal world and tackles on the concept of abnormality itself.
Nonetheless, the film does not settle for blurring the concept of abnormality. It drives it further and asks what this abnormality means in the society we are living, and how the society treats the abnormality, or someone who is abnormal. Actually at first, the townspeople take Edward’s abnormality in, in a quite sensible way. They do not judge Edward by his appearance or by the fact that his hands are scissors from the first place. They first approach him with a careful curiosity, and then as they find out that Edward has remarkable ability with using his scissorshands, they all become greatly fond of him and treat him warm-heartedly as their good neighbor and friend. Upon this moment, Edward’s peculiarity is a gift and an object of admiration, which tells that the film is not simply complaining about ‘why can’t people admit someone who is different?’
The real issue that the film wants to talk about unveils when the problem starts to spur out as Edward gets blamed for trespassing instead of Jim. As soon as the news is heard, the people in the town begin to whisper about how Edward can be a possible danger to the neighborhood. They do not care for the real evidence, for Edward’s difference automatically becomes an evidence for them to believe that he is the evil one. At this point, Edward’s peculiarity immediately falls to the ground and becomes an object to be feared and to be destroyed. Nothing has changed inside Edward, but the altered point of view on him suddenly drags him down and all his actions are considered to be of evil intention. When Edward accidentally cuts Kim’s palm startled by Jim’s shout towards him, Jim accuses him of such action saying ‘now you’ve done it,’ implying that he is finally beginning to reveal his evil nature. Such blind accusation towards Edward accumulates and finally explodes within him. In the next shot, Edward walks down the neighborhood in extreme anger. He violently cuts all his clothes off in pieces which he has put on in order to be a part of the ‘normal’ people. As the torn pieces of clothes fall from him, Edward’s black, hard and rough armor-like outfit appears again. The townspeople who treated him as if he is a monster finally have brought his monstrosity to the surface. A great irony is created here as the pretty garden statues of the neighborhood are featured in the background all of which are the evidence of Edward’s favor for the people. Eventually, the townspeople have trampled his good nature down and raised his inner violence instead.
Finally, at the end of the film when Edward actually kills Jim by his own will, Edward eventually becomes a true monster to the townspeople. The change in the attitude of the townspeople not only made Edward possess the monstrous qualities such as anger, hatred, and violence, but at the same time also forced him to define himself as a dangerous monster which can even hurt his beloved one regardless of his intention. As soon as he realizes this, he says ‘goodbye’ to his most beloved, Kim, and for the rest of his lifetime, stays in his castle, completely isolating himself from the rest of the people. Through this heartbreaking story one who is ‘different’ had to go through, the film suggests that being different still is an object of great threat not because abnormality itself is dangerous, but because people so easily dismiss abnormality as monstrous.