Suburban Gothic: BDSM and the Other in Edward Scissorhands

johnny_depp_edward_scissorhands-1

Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton’s 1990 holiday fairy tale about an android getting a taste of the suburban life, is a story about difference. But it’s also a story about being into kinky boots, dog collars and black leather.*

This is not so much to say that Edward is a sadomasochist—Edward is basically an overgrown baby and about as gentle—but his creator certainly designed him to look like one, and that’s to say nothing of the weapons the film calls his hands.  Which is why it’s no surprise when the local Jesus freak runs at him screaming for the others to “trample down the perversion of nature.”  BDSM, and those who appear to be into it, might appear dark and dangerous, but it presents no real threat and sometimes it’s just how people are made.  It’s all fun and games as long as someone’s getting hurt.

What’s really important and exciting about Edward is just that he’s different, and what’s terrible about him is just that he’s different.  When Peg brings him down from the mountain, it’s clear that he is the only exciting thing to happen to these insulated women in years.  The town’s adults move in lockstep through their monotonous days and his goth, grayscale getup is a harsh contrast to the Eastery pastel colors of the town.  Anything to spice things up.

One such desperate housewife, Joyce, seems to be particularly excited by this development.  When the Jesus freak warns against the “perversion of nature” evident in Edward, Joyce is not discouraged but exclaims, “perversion of nature… isn’t that exciting!”  Soon she starts to elaborate on her fantasies—“Just imagine what a single snip could do!”—and when he finally lays his cutlery on her, she literally orgasms.  So it’s no shocker when she finally reveals the black leather bodice she’s been hiding underneath her pastel sweaters.  It seems old Fiskars-fingers isn’t the only one who might be into hips and whips.

And this is why it’s all the more appalling when the whole town turns on Edward in the film’s final act.  He’s called untrustworthy, a robber and a Satanist, when really it’s other members of the town who are into the lying, robbing and S&M.  He just looks different.

Well, him and the black guy.  While the court psychologist and everyone else at the jail is worried only about whether Edward could be a danger to society, Officer Allen is worried about whether society could be a danger to Edward.  “It could keep me up all night worrying about you”, he says, “you watch yourself, ya hear?”  Allen knows better than anyone what it’s like to be different in this town, so he sympathizes uniquely with Edward.  In fact, he’s concerned for him.  After all, unlike Allen, Edward hasn’t learned the ins and outs of surviving as an extreme minority.  So Allen just protects Edward as much as he can.  When Allen beats the mob in chasing Edward back to the castle gates, he only pretends to have shot and killed the big, scary, dressed-in-black man. Really he’s just trying to help him get away.  Unfortunately of course the mob doesn’t take Allen’s word for it, and they stay in pursuit.  They only believe it when the blonde says it.

Paul Rudnick’s Libby Gelman-Waxner, in her review of Edward Scissorhands comments that “in real life, people are nasty to black people and gay people and people in wheelchairs, but Tim is only worried about the guys with big eyes and scissors popping out of their elbows.”  Of course actually it’s exactly the black people and the gay people and the people in wheelchairs that Burton is worried about.  Whether black or just into black leather, he’s worried about the people cast out for being created different.

*Funny from a movie whose television rights were just purchased by the Hallmark channel.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s