Film Techniques To Convey The Main Message In Edward Scissorhands

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Edward Scissorhands directed by Tim Burton was set in an impossibly utopian suburb in 1990. An elderly inventor builds an animated human being – the kind and benign Edward Scissorhands. However, the scientist dies right before he can finish assembling Edward, leaving him with long sharp scissor blades as an alternative to hands. He lives alone in a gothic castle until the devoted saleswoman Peg, desperate to make a sale, stumbles upon him and takes him to her home where he falls for Peg’s teen daughter. Despite Edward’s gentleness and artistic talent, his hands claim him as an alienated character in Peg’s suburban society, illustrating Burton’s feelings of isolation in his own teenage years. Burton thus creates a very personal story though presents it as a gothic fairy tale combining genres of romance, horror, fantasy and drama. The gothic visual trope of the film and generic hybridity used are typical of Burton’s style. The contrast between two very disparate worlds depicted in the film conveys two key messages: the importance of accepting our differences and the importance of leaving our prejudices to the side.

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It is clear that everything in Edward Scissorhands is all about appearances. Burton quickly establishes the disconnection between Edward and apparent ‘normality’ when in the opening scene the camera pans over Peg’s neighbourhood. Using a combination of establishing shots and long shots, the viewer can see the entire communist atmosphere of same house, same car and the gothic mansion towering over the land. Burton also uses seemingly cheerful music to fraud the viewer into assuming the suburb is simple and humble. The women are then seen gossiping about Edward’s appearance using exaggerated facial expressions, testing our generic assumption of a submissive town and turning it into non-genuine. The juxtaposition between these two disparate worlds of bright pastel colours and dark gothic visuals provide the audience a sense of geography. The notion of this scene frames the central concept of inability to accept difference.

Tim Burton’s films focus on a protagonist which is some sort of outcast from society. He draws the character to be very strange and eccentric. Burton wanted to express the conformity to fit in and that to be different isn’t to be excluded. By casting Edward with his pale, scarred face, black clothing and scissor hands, he is portrayed as a conventional monster. The audience is then quickly challenged with this stereotype through the combination of Edward’s gentle voice and close-up of his sad eyes. The generic assumption is that his gothic looks mean that his personality would break out into a loud and scary character but we are then yet to learn that Edward is innocent and gentle. This tests our feelings towards people that have come off uncanny and accentuates the theme of societal uniformity.

Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” explores his use of unique stylistic features of identifiable gothic visuals, stereotypical assumptions and the way the visuals are signified to deploy the sense of marginalised characters. He utilises a variety of film techniques including shots, camera movement, costume and sound to create a very meaningful message in teaching viewers the importance of cutting off a prejudice society and not only welcoming but encouraging differences. I guess you really can’t judge a book by its cover. 

16 December 2021

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