18
Dec
2012
RTBN 25 Days of Christmas: Day Eighteen
Day Eighteen: Edward Scissorhands
Sam
RTBN 25 Days of Christmas is the RTBN staff's irreverent exploration of our collective holiday pop culture traditions.

Yes, we have another Christmas movie by Tim Burton to talk about, and yes, I demanded to be the one to cover it. While The Nightmare Before Christmas may reign as the most Christmas-y of his efforts, the best movie Burton has churned out was Edward Scissorhands. A moving fairytale itself, the super-team that made came together for this film sounds like something right out of a Christmas storybook.

Once upon a time, a talented young director teamed up with an up-and-coming actor who wanted to break out of the "teen idol" mold. With the help of a horror film legend and a beautiful future-larcenist, they'd make a classic holiday tale. Of course, looking at the group through today's lens allows for a much more jaded view. The Burton-Johnny Depp-Danny Elfman combo has now started to border on self-parody. Winona Ryder is a (former) petty criminal and Vincent Price died just three years after the film's release.

Again, like in Batman Returns, the film's connection to Christmas is tenuous, and I'd argue that Burton is more interested in the evocation of winter - a time of death, solitude while still being beautiful.

Part of Edward Scissorhands' greatness is in its simplicity. It's the story of an unfinished robot whose master died before being able to give him hands. He's discovered by a door-to-door makeup saleswoman (the phenomenal Diane Weist) and in the goodness of her heart she decides to open up her home. Of course, in Burton's Stepford-like town, there is no room for someone who wears anything other than sickening pastel colors. Edward (Depp) lacks the tan skin and sunny disposition of the other denizens. Edward learns the price of being different while the woman's daughter, Kim (Ryder), finds that she can love someone who is as different as Edward (even if the world would never accept him). It's a simple story that was executed with humor and heart.

What's unbelievable about the film is that its major themes can be summed up largely in its opening title sequence. Burton takes us through an old, dark house in the middle of winter. We travel through the spooky corridors and up creaky stairs and see a gothic machine chugging along. The assumption of the audience should be that there is some seriously deranged shit going on here, but Burton immediately brings the audience to his side (and against the townies we'll soon meet) when he shows us that the machine is churning out Christmas cookies. It's a brilliant surprise. I've watched this film many times, once with my mother. This opening scene made her tear up, as she said, "It's just making cookies." There's almost a guilt heaved upon us for assuming the worst. For the rest of the movie, of course we'll be on Edward's side. Burton does an excellent job of getting us in the right mindset for meeting Edward and knowing that he is dark and creepy on the outside, doesn't keep us from recognizing the innocence under all that black leather and crazy hair.




The ending of the film is even more moving as Edward is forced to run away after accidentally cutting Kim. The story ends as Edward runs into the castle with the town chasing after him. The only person to stop the mob is a police officer. That Burton cast an African American for this part amid an all-white cast is telling (the fact that Burton's movies are almost completely devoid of diversity makes me think this was less of a coincidence). It's hard to be different in a town where everyone holds onto their same-ness. In the mansion, Edward kills Jim, an evil bully played by Anthony Michael Hall. To placate the townspeople, Kim tells everyone that both Jim and Edward fell to their deaths, while she knows he's still alive.

While everyone is both sad and at peace with the story that Edward's been killed, Kim continues telling the story of Edward's life as an old woman, knowing he's still carving ice sculptures, creating the snow that falls every winter, the snow that she loves to dance under.

So where does the holiday season come in all of this? Burton's message is a simple one, but its one of the most important lessons about humanity we can try to learn - love one another. No matter what someone looks like and how different he or she is from the norm of your world, know that someone cannot be defined by their appearance. It's a good lesson for anytime of year, but it strikes a powerful cord as the snow falls as family and friends gather for the holiday.





Tomorrow on RTBN 25 Days of Christmas:

The holidays always encourage us to strengthen our livers, and there's no time like the present, as Rachel takes on the Mad Men episode "Christmas Waltz."
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