Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Screenplay by Caroline Thompson. Story by Caroline Thompson and Tim Burton.
If there were ever two performances that marked a director and an actor through and through, it’s Edward Scissorhands. For director Tim Burton, the film encompassed all that Burton felt about society when he was a child. And for actor Johnny Depp, it was the ticket he needed to escape the shackles of teen idol status.
The following analysis (focused on just over one script page) will illustrate elements of character, plot, theme, and genre. I will start on page 9 of the screenplay, with the introduction of Edward Scissorhands to Peg.
And even though this scene may not be the most memorable minute of Edward Scissorhands, it not only introduces our protagonist to Peg and the eventual outside world, but it also nails genre and tone as well as establish the theme of the film, while setting up the dramatic premise that propels the story forward.
(Peg, an Avon representative, has turned up on the doorstep of Edward Scissorhands castle, and is looking for the owner).
The subject of her pursuit, little more than the outline of a man in the dimness presses himself against the far wall.
When Edward is introduced, it’s important to define the ethos of that character straight away, without revealing too much. What Tim Burton does from the outset is paint contrasts between Edward’s polite and innocent personality and the grotesque image, which generates fear. Skulking in the darkness he “presses” himself against the wall, which could mean a creature gearing up for an attack. However, he is the one being ‘pursued’. We do not know what is around the corner, so clearly there is tension to the scene.
His breath snatches. He seems jumpy, his movements erratic, unpredictable, and therefore dangerous.
Film is often plagued by juxtaposition, people or character traits or events which somehow don’t quite fit, and the first real description of Edward takes fear and threat to describe him as some kind of scared animal. A man scared of his own shadow yet capable of causing real harm. Just what does he have to fear?
Light glances off his hands, off metal, long, sharp, lethal, perhaps a knife. He’s deep in the shadows again before we can really see, and Peg doesn’t see at all.
From a character perspective, ‘lethal’ is a word that jumps out on the page. It conjures up an image that is threatening, backed up by the fact that it may be a knife. The paragraph also serves a second purpose in injecting some tension into the scene: he may have a knife, and Peg may be about to walk into her own death. One way of giving the audience suspense is to show them the danger: a knife, a witness, the wife arriving home early, without giving the main character this priceless piece of information.
She is barely winded. Slowly, gently, so as not to alarm him further, she approaches.
PEG: You don’t have to hide from me. I won’t hurt you. I’m sorry to barge in like this, but you don’t have any reason to run away – phew! This is some huge house, isn’t it? Thank heavens for those aerobic classes! – You’re not used to running, are you?
She makes her way across the attic, squinting at the figure.
PEG: Why are you hiding back there? You can’t possibly be afraid of me. I’m an Avon sales representative. I’m as harmless as cherry pie.
The man in the shadows stirs and is caught more distinctly by the shaft of dust-filled sunlight that shines through one of the grimy windows. He does indeed seem to be holding something – shears a full foot long. They belong, of course, to Edward Scissorhands.
While Tim Burton draws heavily from German expressionism, the tone of his piece is decidedly fantasy. This, along with the genre of the piece is achieved through a combination of three things: character, location, and description. Already, we know that this is a scared creature by the description of a man hiding in the shadows, and is perhaps more of a danger to himself. The dark and grimy attic full of dust is a fairly standard place you would expect to encounter a monster, especially if you happen to be a child. Finally, Edward is revealed to us. He is a man with shears for hands, which although dangerous as the script points to, it does not jump out on the page as threatening, shears are garden implements after all. He is also called Edward Scissorhands, which feels comic rather than horrifying.
It’s at this point the scene shifts by presenting the premise of the film: a warm-hearted monster is introduced to a suburban-gated community. The themes within
At the sight of the blades, it’s Peg’s turn to gasp. Her coaxing turns into hysterical babble. She backs quickly away.
Peg’s reaction is predictable: she recoils in absolute horror at the man she sees in front of him. Use of the word “blades,” a violent weapon, gives us the image that Peg has in her head. By the time she has caught up with the audience, it’s far too late. She could very easily be about to die.
PEG: I can see now that I’ve disturbed you. How stupid of me. Don’t be angry. I wouldn’t hurt you, so it wouldn’t be fair for you to hurt me. I’m going now. You’ll be alone again. You can pretend I was never here. Just stay where you are. I’ll be gone in a jiffy.
This helps introduce us to our theme of Edward Scissorhands: man vs. society. Edward is the classic misunderstood character who is different to the social norms, summed up by Pam’s horrified reaction. He is foreign and awkward, which speaks to the maladjusted teenager that finds him or herself isolated from the usual school crowd (including having Edward’s antagonist as the loud obnoxious jock). At the same time, it satirises the suburban neighbourhood community.
Edward tips his head forward inquiringly. It too is now in the light.
EDWARD (timid): You’re leaving?
And Peg’s expectations are suddenly ripped up in front of her. Edward is not a monster; he’s a wallflower. Fearful yet interested in the new guest in his house, his actions and words come across as lonely. Peg’s demeanour is a mixture of insistence and kindness, a mothering figure who is kind, a bit timid, but always polite, the type of person Edward would certainly thrive with.