The Loneliness of Nonconformity

Edward Scissorhands (1990) is perhaps the quintessential fairy tale of the artist. In Edward’s quest for belonging, we can all find something of ourselves. Isolated and undeniably different, he is willing to give up his scissor-hands to be more like everyone else. He smiles with sweet, earnest boyishness at those who ask if he’d like prosthetics.

But Tim Burton never for a moment lets us believe Edward really will lose his scissor-hands, and those promised doctors remain elusive throughout the film. Because what this story unabashedly celebrates is imagination. Fantasy. Whimsy. And it is only through Edward’s “handicap” that he can bring into being that inner world of his imagination.

But, as so often happens, the differences that at first beguile and charm eventually become stale and, ultimately, frightening to the conformists. And of course, when you meet working artists, when you sit in their company, you find all the lines you were once so sure of–not five minutes earlier–blur and dissipate. It is as if all along you were looking at the world through French doors, and suddenly, they open, and you step out of the little corner where you have been living and enter a much deeper, richer, darker world.

But when you bring that much difference to bear, like Edward, it often turns out that the best place for you to live out your life is the “castle on the hill.” The people who appreciate your vision can still enjoy it. And you get to live out your life–immersed in that imagination–safely out of reach from those who would rather kill something with the power to re-cast our experience of the world, and ourselves.

It may seem that Burton ends his film where he began, but I don’t think that’s the sum of Edward Scissorhands.

I, for one, am glad Edward came down from the hill and met the larger world. In those final scenes, we see a very different young man from the one whom Peg found huddled under the rafters. He may have returned to the life before his (mis)adventure, but he now strolls the grounds and oversees his menagerie with confidence and grace. He knows what is beyond the walls now. And his decision to remain inside speaks to Burton’s faith that isolation, in the end, is better than conforming. Better loneliness than sacrificing the unique vision of the artist.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery

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