Edward Scissorhands (dir. Tim Burton, 1990) tells the story of Edward, a boy found living alone in a dark mansion on the top of a mountain. Edward is the creation of an elderly inventor who dies before he can replace Edward’s scissorhands with conventional hands. The motherly Peg takes Edward under her wing and invites him into her home to live as part of her family. The world into which Edward is placed is a model of pastel-coloured conformity. Initially, he is welcomed by the rest of the community as an entertaining oddity but is brutally rejected when things go wrong.
This resource provides discussion questions and activities for exploring Edward Scissorhands with your students.
The inspiration for Edward Scissorhands goes back to Tim Burton’s childhood in suburban Burbank. When he was growing up he found the tendency for the people around him to live life on the surface unsettling and alienating. Because everyone was so concerned about how things looked on the surface, it was very difficult for anyone to be different. Burton’s struggle to deal with this world of conformity was the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands. He says of this character:
The idea actually came from a drawing I did a long time ago. It was just an image that I liked. It came subconsciously and was linked to a character who wants to touch but can’t, who was both creative and destructive. … It was the feeling that your image and how people perceive you are at odds with what is inside you.
- Think about this idea that other people often don’t know what is going on inside you, and cannot see the person you feel you really are. What is the effect of this? Why does it matter?
- Is it always a good idea to let others know what you are thinking and how you are feeling? Explain.
- What are some of the things we can do to communicate effectively with others?
- How important is it that we make the effort to really ‘see’ who other people are?
Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s most autobiographical film but most of his films feature characters who are outsiders. Burton uses filmmaking as a means of communicating all the feelings that used to be hidden inside him.
- What other Tim Burton films have you seen? Are there any similarities between those films and Edward Scissorhands? It could related to themes, visuals, character, anything
- Want to know more about Burton and his filmography? Watch this short video essay on his career.
Difference and conformity
- Describe the way the townspeople in Edward Scissorhands respond to him.
- Why do they welcome him at first and then turn against him?
- What does this tell us about them and the community they live in?
- How does Edward respond to the people in the community?
- How and why does he struggle to understand his new environment? Explain with examples from the film.
- Consider the still from the film below and Tim Burton’s statement: ‘I just remember that feeling that what people call “normal” is not normal and what people call abnormal isn’t normal.’ List the ways that Burton presents the 'normal' world of suburbia, as being abnormal, or a little bit off.
- Identify moments in the film where characters are forced to conform and go along with the majority. What are the negative consequences of these moments?
Director Tim Burton has always been fascinated by the idea of what makes someone truly human, and this is one of the central themes of Edward Scissorhands.
- In what ways is Edward more human than most of the people he encounters?
- Which characters in Edward Scissorhands are the most destructive and monstrous? Explain.
- What are the values that the film advocates?
Creativity and Imagination
Burton's film champions creativity and imagination, and Edward's creativity has a profound effect on certain people in the town.
Not only is Edward the unique product of his scientist creator’s vision and imagination, he also benefits from the love and care lavished on him by this surrogate father.
- How do we know they have a special relationship?
- Why are Edward’s memories so important?
- How does Edward reflect and express the creativity and vision of his father?
- How is the positive effects of Edward's creativity communicated in the film
- In what ways is Peg different from the other people in the town?
- Describe what we learn about her when she is first introduced.
- Why is Peg the only townsperson to actually even notice that Edward’s house is looming over the town?
- How does Peg respond to Edward and what does this tell us about her?
- Describe Kim’s character
- How does she change and why?
- Choose a scene where we see Kim learning more about herself and the world she lives in as a result of meeting Edward. Describe what happens and explain Edward’s role.
Watch the clip below, how are the positive effects of Edward's creativity communicated here, and how does this scene relate to how Kim changes throughout the film?
Have a look at the image gallery below of stills from the film.
- Describe the two worlds depicted in Edward Scissorhands. How do lighting, colour and shape influence our understanding of each of these worlds? Explain.
- How do the characters’ costumes emphasise the contrast between the 2 worlds explored in the film?
- Explain how the contrast between these two worlds adds to our understanding of the story and the themes being communicated.
- What does each of these places represent? How are these two worlds connected through the characters of Edward and Kim?
When Tim Burton described the suburb in which he grew up, he said that there was ‘no sense of history, no sense of culture, no sense of passion for anything’. How does this description apply to the town in Edward Scissorhands?
Films can often be classified into groups or genres based on the recognisable story elements they share (e.g. horror, comedy, romcom). These story elements are known as genre conventions. Often films use elements from a number of different genres.
Watch the scene where Peg visits Edward’s house. There's a helpful scene-analysis video on YouTube.
- List as many elements that you see and hear that have been borrowed from the horror genre
- How does this scene build up our expectations about what is going to happen and then surprises us?
The film also borrows familiar elements from teen dramas.
- How is Edward Scissorhands also a ‘teen film’? Explain, identifying the elements drawn from this genre.
- How do some of the younger characters fit stereotypes from teen films? Jocks, geeks, and so on.
When Tim Burton was criticised that Jim’s death at the end of the film made the film too dark, he suggested it was a ‘revenge fantasy’ in response to the behavior of the ‘jocks’ at his high school.
- What do you think of the portrayal of Jim and the other high school students? Do you think that Jim’s death is the most appropriate way of ending the story or would there have been other, possibly better, alternatives?
One of the key conventions (a familiar element) of the teen film is that the main character learns more about who they are and grows as a person.
- Usually it's the protagonist who is changed forever by the end of a story. Do you think Edward has changed or has he stayed the same by the film's end?
- Which other character in Edward Scissorhands goes through this process of gaining self-knowledge?
The special effects and make-up artist, Stan Winston, who worked on Edward Scissorhands was only able to understand what Burton was trying to achieve when he realised the film was a fairy tale. Up until that point, he had been trying to use logic to understand the story.
- List the fairy tale elements in Edward Scissorhands. They can be specific to a fairytale, or fairytales in general
Fairy tales are used to teach life lessons and values. Fairy Tales are also about magic and transformation.
- What does Edward Scissorhands teach us?
- Explain what is magical about Edward Scissorhands.
In Edward Scissorhands the opening and closing scenes provide a frame for the main story. It also gives us important information about the kind of story we are watching. Rewatch the closing minutes of the film in the clip below.
- Provide a single sentence description of the beginning and end of the film and focus on the story and visual elements that seem fairytale-like
- What do they tell us about the kind of story being told in Edward Scissorhands? (‘Well a long time ago…’)
- Describe the way that Edward transforms the world below his house. How is this communicated visually, particularly at the end of the film?
Films are often plotted out around the key moments of tension, and relief of tension.
- List five or more of the most dramatic moments in the order they happened.
- List five or more other moments that were memorable because they were humurous or elicited other emotions from us, such as sympathy, empathy, joy, wonder.
- When and how do we find out about who Edward is and where he has come from? Why do you think this information is scattered through the film, rather than shown at the very start? What is the effect of this?
- How does this way of telling Edward’s story reinforce Burton’s message about the limitations of trying to understand an individual through the way s/he presents him/herself to the world?