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What 'Edward Scissorhands' Teaches Us About Disability Inclusion and Exclusion

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Long before Bran Stark, greenseer, became King of Westeros, Edward Scissorhands left and returned to the gothic castle where he was created. Every time I watch Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s timeless masterpiece, “Edward Scissorhands,” it leaves me (and the seemingly sleepy town where the film takes place) speechless. This tale of inclusion and exclusion, of love and hate, is experienced by watching Edward (Johnny Depp) try to navigate life with a disability.

Edward lives in isolation. He exists in a desolate, unkempt castle. Though Edward was carefully constructed with a brain and a heart, his inventor/father died of a heart attack before giving him hands, and he was left with scissors for hands. Edward was made to feel unfinished and incomplete, but his resilience and his craft kept him alive. His talents encompass many forms of artistry: colorful landscape art, ice sculptures and a collage to hang on the fireplace. The composition includes stories of transformation — a boy without eyes learns to read with his hands, for example. We also see a picture of a mother holding her child. Edward yearns for maternal love, something he’s never experienced.

Peg Boggs enters the castle. She, an Avon representative and mother of two, pushes open the massive door to climb the winding staircase, reaches the top and finds Edward cowering in a corner. After urging him to come out, she shows him he has no reason to fear her. Peg is warm, compassionate and gentle. Prepared to show Edward he can have a wonderful life, complete with a family, a home and a caring community, she invites him to live with her family, in the town situated near the castle. She wants to cure him of loneliness and help conceal his scars. Her maternal instincts are complemented by the paternal instincts of his fathers.

Edward’s first father, his creator, teaches him the value of etiquette, poetry and humor. His second father, Peg’s husband Bill, tries to help him start a business, saying, “There’s nothing to worry about; with your talent and reputation, it’s going to be a snap.” But without established credit, a work history, savings, personal investments, a car or a social security number, Edward was turned away by the bank when he requested a loan. Edward tries to succeed and fit in, but he finds himself trapped by numerous barriers and challenges.

Throughout the film, we see Edward struggle due to his disability. He struggles to eat, sleep and get dressed. He can’t help but cut himself. And everyone is watching him. People marvel at what he can and can’t do.

Peg and Bill’s children, Kim and Kevin, grow accustomed to Edward’s presence, but they don’t accept him as part of the family. Before Edward meets Kim, he sees photos of her and is immediately infatuated. Kim is in a relationship with Jim, who comes from a wealthy family and a home that is run like a police state. Many people in town, including Kim’s mom, are envious of Jim’s parents and their wealth. However, as someone with tremendous power and privilege, Jim managed to manipulate and poison his community. He was the first (and also the last) to frame Edward as a danger to society. No one could stop him. Not Kim. Not the police. Not a higher power. And no one could protect Edward.

The evolution of Edward and Kim’s love story is surpassed only by the evolution of Kim’s character. Kim transforms herself from someone who watches atrocities happen into someone who asks questions, stands up and pushes back. She sees the town turn on Edward. By the end of the film, Edward had been framed as a would-be burglar and rapist — someone who cuts people deliberately and defaces private property. Only Kim, Peg and Officer Allen are willing to recognize the town is too dangerous for Edward. They want him to get out.

At first, everyone was intrigued by Edward. Peg’s neighbors bombarded her, insisting she host a barbecue to introduce him to the neighborhood. The women fetishized Edward as they spoon-fed him dishes they’d prepared, and they gossiped about his scissor hands and what they could do (and undo). The men invited Edward to play cards with them, as long as he agreed not to “cut.” Edward smiled and nodded his way through these strange situations.

Edward’s skills were both valued and undervalued. Neighbors solicited his services, and since Edward didn’t charge them, they paid him in cookies and lemonade. They seemed to trust him. After all, he groomed their dogs and cut their hair. To them, he seemed almost magical. He created a T-Rex from hedges using only his hands. He transformed boring bobs into heavenly hairdos. He decorated a small, suburban town in Florida and made it snow.

No one understood Edward’s struggles. At his most frustrated, Edward stormed through town, shed his outer layer of clothing and maimed the ballerina garden sculpture he created with one strike. He deflated a neighbor’s tire. His fair-weather friends called the police, fearing he was a threat to their safety. But Edward merely wanted to show them his everyday struggles. He didn’t know how to make them stop vilifying him.

Burton shows us that Kim is the one who will see Edward. During the film’s opening scene, the camera frames Kim telling her granddaughter a bedtime story. Kim gazes out the window at Edward’s castle, his sanctuary. It’s snowing outside, so she suspects Edward is still alive, since it never snowed before he came to town. She begins the story as a third-person narrative and then reminisces about the day she danced in the snow. It was the day the Boggs family planned to host a Christmas party, the last day she would see Edward. They embraced and she told him she loves him. Edward chiseled an angel from ice, and while she was dancing to the sounds of free-floating snowflakes, she tried to live in his world.

Image via YouTube.

Originally published: February 3, 2020
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