Edward Scissorhands, directed by Tim Burton in 1990, is a film with two major settings. One is a suburban town, which represents the ideal American lifestyle and society of the 1950s, with identical houses painted in oversaturated colours and perfectly manicured lawns. While the dark, gothic castle with overgrown vines creates a stark opposition. By contrasting these settings, and eventually unifying them, Burton is able to introduce the audience to the ideas of conformity and appearance vs. reality, and also challenge and develop their understanding of these issues.
In Edward Scissorhands, conformity is the underlying theme throughout the film, which is mainly displayed through the two contrasting settings. Suburbia initially appears to be the definition of normality, where nice families share comfortable middle-class lifestyles. The exaggerated details of Suburbia, such as the synchronised movements of working fathers and houses painted in rich solid colours, serve only as a reminder of the middle class world and indicate the conformity of the 1950s. In contrast, there is Edward’s gothic castle, which possesses all icons of a horror film and is clearly a dwelling of differences. The overgrown garden, the dark, dilapidated mansion, and the Inventor’s mixture of machine and man, suggest Edward’s mansion is destined to bring doom to all. These two settings are introduced through a series of long shots, wide shots, panoramas, close-ups, and the diegetic moaning of residents daily monotonies. However, the first scene that introduces the idea of conformity is a wide shot of Suburbia that accentuates the forthcoming convention of conformity that the audience is about to witness. Burton quickly establishes the distance between Edward and ‘normality’ when Peg Boggs views the castle through her car side mirror; this long shot also emphasises the sense of isolation and abnormality. This allows Burton to highlight how the town’s residents are all conforming to the same ridiculous societal norms of an ideal American society, and how Edward’s lifestyle is so very different from their safe cage of conformity. In addition to camera angles, Burton also demonstrates how each setting has influenced costume, and uses this to further emphasise the conformity within Suburbia. All the dwellers of Suburbia wear the similar types of clothing, the bright 50’s wardrobe boasts bright and stunning fluorescent colours teamed with oddball styles. Burton again accents Edward’s differences by dressing him in a steampunk and gothic wardrobe. By using these techniques to create such contrasting settings, Burton challenges viewers to think about whether conforming is a safe or necessary idea. Although viewers are sceptical and scared of Edward’s mansion, because of the dark colours and fear of leaving the safety of conformity, Burton is further challenging us to understand that people’s differences can lead to discovering a new way of living and expanding our minds.
The unification of both worlds begins when Peg Boggs decides to invite Edward to live with her family and join the community. Burton uses a series of extreme wide shots and tracking shots as Peg drives her pastel yellow car up the treacherous and jagged mountain, away from the safety of conformity. Burton does this not only to juxtapose the town and mansion, but also to show the two settings together in one shot; almost as if to foreshadow the future event of the unification of both worlds. When Edward is introduced to the Suburban environment/setting, he is immediately regarded as an outcast who does not follow the communities guidelines, which is true. Edward has never ventured to the town, and therefore looks nothing like the townspeople. Most noticeably Edward is different because of his scissorhands. Not only does this make him an outcast, but it makes him seem a very dangerous, yet spectacular, addition to the Suburban environment. Edward cut the townspeople’s hedges, gave their dog’s haircuts, and even offered the housewives of Suburbia haircuts too, all of with made him very popular within the community. Throughout the film these differences were shown through close-ups and many different camera angles. Edwards variations made him unique and noticeable within the town setting, which is something that Edward and his adoptive family wish to change. His family and friends want him to conform to their own lifestyles so that he can be part of the community. There are many attempts to help Edward conform to this environment, whether it’s the Boggs dressing him in new clothes, teaching him the societal rules, helping him start a business; or the community offering him doctors appointments to fix his hands, as well as making him feel welcome by inviting him to celebrations or barbecues. Edward accepts all of this welcoming help as he wants to conform himself. Each setting had trained its inhabitants to behave in a certain way, Edward having lived alone for an unknown amount of time had lead led to his naivety and lack of common sense. Whereas the townspeople had been taught to comply to a set of brainwashing, small-minded rules which is shown through the lack of originality in their outfits and living conditions. Burton uses symbolism to demonstrate the belief that everyone should conform when Peg Bogg tried to cover Edward’s scars with makeup. She says “blending is the secret”, which suggests to the audience that blending into society can help Edward conform to it. This is reflected in modern society, as people do put a lot of effort in to blending in with others around them, such as by following the same trends and behaving in the same way. However, if we want to break away from this prison of conformity, we need to embrace our own personal differences and add our own originality to our shared environments.
When the audience is introduced to an unnamed, sunny American state, we can safely assume it is a domain of conformity and unoriginality. Whereas Edward’s manor was portrayed as an unsafe, abnormal dimension of living that strayed away from the safety of conformity. Burton embraces the differences of these settings with a series of panoramic and wide angle shots. Colour is used to differentiate ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The neighbourhood that glows with pastel colours and cheerful music is presented to viewers as the perfect town. The appearance of Suburbia is that everyone is happy with their bright cookie-cutter lives, that they enjoy their monotonous days and programmed lives. The townspeople seem content and satisfied with the lack of originality that sustains their environment. This completely contrasts to the dark mansion that Edward dwells in, with menacing colours and eerie music to demonstrate to the audience the ‘evil’ associated with this environment. However, as the film progresses, Burton unleashes the truth behind each setting. When the two worlds collide, the reality behind each setting is revealed. The suburban town, once thought to be perfect and irresistible, was is now a pond of gossiping housewives all disrespecting Edward and a self-imposed prison of conformity. The truth behind Edward’s mansion was is also revealed; what was once assumed to be a domain of differences and doom, is in fact a sanctuary for individuality and home to a soft and gentle Edward. The mansion also has perfectly manicured gardens and extraordinary topiary, but these are symbolically hidden from the street view. Burton challenges our views of conformity throughout the film, by initially encouraging us to believe the perspective that blending into society can make someone’s life easier and happier. Later, the film positions viewers to think about conformity in a negative way, showing the stereotypical image of housewives gossiping and the flaws of a constructed “normality”. In today’s world, unfortunately not much has changed, there are still those who are trained to conform and make assumptions based off something’s appearance, they forget to dig deeper to discover the truth and sometimes miss out on beautiful things.
The contrast between the mansion on the hill and Suburbia allow Burton to introduce the ideas of conformity and appearance v.s reality. Demonstrated through the use of various camera angles and colours, the collision of two polar opposite settings challenges viewers to think about the truth behind conforming, and the importance of differences and embracing them. The similarities between then and now are striking, as we still try to blend in with our community and follow the same trends as everyone else. There are still people who make appearance based assumptions which can result in larger issues like racism and in extreme cases war. However, by looking past these differences, we are often rewarded with new friendships and glorious discoveries.