The reclusive titular character Edward from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) has a very personal connection to the director’s life.
Tim Burton has been known as Hollywood’s oddball who creates eerily fun films, but the gothic fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1990) offers a more personal story inspired by Burton’s own life. Burton grew up around Hollywood in the suburbs of Burbank, CA. He was solitary growing up, taking refuge in his drawing; Burton related to the outcast monsters from films like Frankstensein, which influenced his trademark aesthetic. His talent as an artist was noticed and received a scholarship to CalArts, though Burton left to become an animator for Disney before launching into a career as a director.
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Edward Scissorhands features all the elements Burton is known for. The beloved fantasy romance explores a young outcasted man, Edward (Johnny Depp), whose gothic physical characteristics offer a stark contrast to his gentle heart and the colorful community he lives in. Those around him are off-put by Edward’s fierce exterior and weapon-like hands until they meet the kind-hearted man inside. Edward had spent nearly all of his life alone in a castle and still felt lonely because of his differences once thrown into suburbia.
One may see Edward Scissorhands as just another dark yet colorful fantasy, but it’s really a metaphor for Burton feeling like an outcast growing up. Edward Scissorhands was inspired by a drawing Burton made as a teenager of a lanky man with scissors for hands. He later crafted the story with frequent Burton movie collaborator Caroline Thompson, who both based Edward Scissorhands‘ premise, sentiment and themes on Burton’s life. They used Burton’s experiences growing up as a dark individual in suburban California as the basis for the story’s setting but expanded on the basic ideas by adding fantastic and gothic elements.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Burton was perceived by others as odd growing up and isolated himself because he felt he didn’t fit in with his surroundings. Burton’s movie made it obvious how starkly different Edward was from stereotypical suburbia by contrasting his all-black goth outfits with the rainbow-like perfection of his neighborhood. The aspects Burton disliked about suburbia are satirized to contrast Edward’s kindness, namely bullying jocks such as Kim’s (Winona Ryder) boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). In the “Burton on Burton” book, Burton even referred to the scene where Kim leaves Jim for Edward, and Jim is subsequently killed as a “high school fantasy.”
Edward Scissorhands is a celebration of what makes us unique and how our exterior shouldn’t be the basis for judgment. Similar to Edward using his blades to make beautiful hedges and ice sculptors, Burton was a gifted artist using his hands to make incredible drawings. Burton remarked in an interview with David Breskin that he went through a “strong teenage feeling of not being able to touch or communicate,” which is symbolized in Edward’s physical inability to touch others without cutting them or speak beyond a few utterances. Ultimately, the movie’s theme of acceptance for outcasts and the strange has been cherished by those who similarly have felt alone or ostracized by their differences. The message of inclusion for the disability community in Edward Scissorhands has also been praised since its premiere. A compelling anecdote one walks away with from Edward Scissorhands is how people wrongly treat those who don’t fit the norm and that our genuine kindness when connecting is more important.
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