Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Film review

Fig. 1 Edward Scissorhands (1990)
 official movie poster

Edward Scissorhands (1990) is a fantasy romance film that is set in the suburbs of 1950-70's America. The film discusses what it means to be an outsider, but most importantly it criticises humanity, portraying them as cruel and prejudiced as they struggle to overcome their fear of the unknown. Edward Scissorhands was directed by Tim Burton and was one of his most personal films as 'it reflects his own childhood and isolation.' (Animation Begins, 2012)

It is very likely that Burton was influenced by German Expressionism when making his set design and characters. German Expressionism was a movement that began in the 1920's, during the reign of the Weimar Republic. 'Clearly the movement was meant to be opposite from realism, with set designs that were often very unrealistic and themes that dealt with insanity, betrayal, and other topics that were unlike the adventure and romantic movies of the time.' (Cott2, 2013) The inventor's castle in which Edward resides in has a strong German Expressionist appearance, 'the windows, beams, and pillars are all crooked or broken which not only shows the 'distorted shapes and set' theme that German Expressionist films often had, but this set is also accompanied by chiaroscuro lighting, often used in German Expressionist films' (Cott2, 2013) like Des Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920). Burton was actually influenced by this film when creating Edward Scissorhands as it was one of the first German Expressionist films ever made. Both films use dark, distorted buildings and Gothic set design. 'Also, both Edward and Cesare share a similar physical appearance; tall with very dark features and a pale complexion.' (Cott2, 2013) However, in an interview by Burton's ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter, she states that 'Edward is actually another version of Burton himself, as they both have a pale complexion and dark, sunken eyes.' (Animation Begins, 2012)

1950-70's America was a era of great change, particularly due to the development of the suburbs in 1950 which led to great prosperity and better opportunities being available to families. Most white, middle-class Americans migrated to the suburbs in hopes for a better, more quieter life away from the city. This mass migration later became known as the the 'white-flight'. 'The white families that moved into the suburbs were the perfect picture of conformity - living in row upon row of identical 'Levittown' houses, with little individuality and distinction.' (Aboukhadijeh, 2014)

Fig. 2 A still from Edward Scissorhands showing American
suburban houses

This is clearly evident in Edward Scissorhands, Fig 2. Here we see pastel coloured suburban houses, built together, emphasising the close knit community in the neighbourhood. 1950's-70's America was also a time of great American consumerism with the introduction of the television which became a very successful advertising platform to promote the various goods produced by the 'mass market'. 'By the end of 1950, ninety percent of Americans owned a television, and nearly all owned a radio. Television and radio acted as tools for marketers to dictate the values of American society in order to help sell their products.' (Aboukhadijeh, 2014)  In addition, television programs such as The Donna Reed Show' and Father Knows Best frequently portrayed the traditional, idealised, suburban family which usually took the form of two parents and two children. The Boggs family are exactly this, when Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) first invites Edward (Johnny Depp) to her home, she shows him a picture of her family, which consists of her husband (Alan Arkin), her son Kevin (Robert Oliveri) and her daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder). This suggests that American families strongly followed this ideal family life that was expected from society. 

The term 'teenager' was first introduced in 1950 following the arrival of popular music icons such as Elvis Presley and actor James Dean. This term was frequently associated with juvenile delinquency. Young people were unwilling to adhere to the acceptable lifestyle choices of their parents which usually meant having a steady job, a home, and a family. 'America's youth rebelled and attempted to escape from a traditionalist society.' (SarahJay, 2008) This notion is shown through the characters of Kim and her boyfriend, Jim who are first seen at night, coming out from the back of a van belonging to Jim's friend, and later on Jim is shown drinking bottles of alcohol and complaining about his father, who has refused to loan Jim a large sum of money. This leads to Jim's cruel plan of getting Edward to break into his home and stealing the money for him, which leads to Edward's arrest and humiliation.

Edward Scissorhands received great positive critical acclaim, Film4 considered it as 'visually, stylistically and emotionally stunning' (Film4, 2008) and Josh Larsen approved of it saying 'Edward Scissorhands is perhaps the cinema's most enchanting parable about the misunderstood and alienated artist' (Larsen, 2008). Today, this film remains an unforgettable, modern masterpiece about what it means to be innocent and good in a world fuelled by cruelty and violence.


Text sources

(2013) German Expressionism’s Influence on Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. At: https://storify.com/cott2/german-expressionism-s-influence-on-tim-burton-s-e (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Aboukhadijeh, F. (2014) The ‘50s and ‘60s: Decades of prosperity and protest (DBQ) - AP U.S. History sample essays - study notes. At: https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/sample-essays/the-50s-and-60s-decades-of-prosperity/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Animation Begins (2012) The Influences and the Gothic style of Tim Burton. At: https://animationbegins.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/the-influences-and-the-gothic-style-of-tim-burton/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Film4 (2008) 'Edward Scissorhands - A Film Review' At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/edward_scissorhands/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Jay, S. (2008) 'Tim Burton and 1950s America' At: https://sarahjay.wordpress.com/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Larsen, J. (2008) Edward Scissorhands. At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/edward_scissorhands/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Illustration list

Fig. 1 (1990) [Poster] Edward Scissorhands official movie poster. At: http://www.impawards.com/1990/edward_scissorhands_ver1.html (Accessed on 10.11.15)

Fig. 2 (2013) A still from Edward Scissorhands showing American suburban houses. At: https://www.pinterest.com/tesskornfeld/edward-scissorhands/ (Accessed on 10.11.15)


  1. This is an engaging, thoughtful and nicely contextualised review, Sky! I'll be fascinated to read about what you made of today's film, Black Narcissus...

  2. Great review, Sky! Keep them coming :)

  3. Thank you, both of you! :)