Happy 25th birthday, Edward Scissorhands!

Tim Burton has made more accomplished, more artistically sophisticated films. But if I had to sketch the anatomy of Burton’s work, Edward Scissorhands would be its big beating heart.

What could be more timely than to watch Edward Scissorhands with the family? It’s the story of someone from Somewhere Else who wanders, wounded and needy, into surburban America. But he looks dangerous. And, in fact, if he’s ill-treated, he just might become dangerous. But thank God for a generous, big-hearted, middle-class suburban American woman who finds room for him and shows him love.

Ah, but then there are those fearful, narrow-minded, hostile, self-interested neighbors who interpret anything different as dangerous, without realizing that their very hostility is what makes danger likely to become a reality. Nevertheless, believing they know all they need to know, they rush him toward… what? A public stoning? A crucifixion? A deportation? A “carpet-bombing”? Insert your timely and relevant Other-hating violence here.

Christ-allegory interpretations are inescapable with Edward Scissorhands, but in spite of his relative innocence and kindness, Edward also represents anything that makes each one of us feel, at one time or another, that we don’t belong, that we’re incomplete, that we’re falling short of what we were meant to be.

Forget all about Johnny Depp’s ham-it-up performances and try to remember when he was just a charming and promising young actor. His Edward was something we had never seen before. Dianne Wiest gives my favorite performance of her career here (and yes, I’m including Bullets Over Broadway); she’s the movie’s strongest asset. Nevertheless, Alan Arkin creates my favorite character in the film; I never see a string of Christmas lights without thinking of him and his staple gun on the roof.

Here, Burton’s imagination seemed to flow straight from his heart, not just from his mad-scientist mind. For all of the monsters he’s unleashed, his take on American ignorance and paranoia may still be the scariest thing he’s ever brought to life on the screen.

(Having said that, I do have to wonder: Doesn’t the scourge of the Twilight series seem like an unwanted consequence of Edward Scissorhands?)

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