Mise-en-Scene and Edward Scissorhands
Edward Scissorhands, a film directed by Tim Burton, tells the story of a machine-turned-man pulled from his isolated mansion into the world of suburbia. Despite having large “scissors” for hands, the town initially accepts Edward’s unique anatomy. However, they soon try to make him conform to their way of living. Edward awkwardly tries to fit in, but to no avail. Eventually, he escapes back to his mansion, perhaps even lonelier than before he left it. Although the storyline is highly interesting and unique, it is the mise-en-scene that really enhances the story, especially the set design, costumes, lighting, screen shots, and more.
Perhaps the most prominent element of mise-en-scene in this film was the set design. The contrast of colors between the suburban neighborhood and Edward’s mansion immediately hints at the vast differences between the two worlds that are about to collide: Edward’s isolated and reclusive life vs. suburbia’s gossip-filled, flamboyant and extroverted atmosphere. To achieve this difference on a symbolic level, the suburban neighborhood was portrayed with vivid colors: the grass was a rich green, and the houses were bright pastels. Even the weather in this town seemed vivid. This symbolized the seemingly “ideal” and happy life supposedly found in this type of community. In contrast, Edward’s mansion was portrayed in bland shades of gray, and its dirty, cobweb-filled style reflected Edward’s mysterious and isolated life. This contrast was further dramatized by the camera shots: the mansion was often depicted far away on a hill, whereas the small town was shown much closer.
The costume and makeup in the film also matched the symbolism of the set design. Edward’s costume and makeup reflected his character’s personality. His costume consisted of a black leather jumpsuit and very pale makeup, which matched his quiet and isolated nature. Special emphasis was given to his eye makeup. Artists accentuated his eyes to create a dark, somber look on his face. His eye sockets were created to appear very deep, which made him appear mysterious and lonely—even potentially dangerous. In addition, his face was covered in scars, which was the result of living with his razor-sharp fingers. These scars also reflected Edward’s wounded personality, which was the result of living in isolation after losing his “creator,” portrayed by actor Vincent Price.
The other characters’ clothing also reflected their personality and significance. Peg’s initial outfit was a very conservative, soft-colored dress, along with conservative makeup and hairstyle. This reflected her innocent, loving, and motherly nature. In contrast, Joyce—the neighborhood gossip and adulteress—wore clothing that depicted a much more “loose” personality. Her wardrobe consisted of tight and colorful clothing, high heels, and vivid red hair and makeup. Jim, Kim’s boyfriend, wore athletic clothes and a leather jacket, which pointed to his preppy yet rugged and rebellious personality.
Furthermore, many of the characters’ clothing and makeup evolved as their personalities changed. As Edward began to open up to his new surroundings, he started wearing regular clothing (slacks and a button-up shirt). Peg’s hairstyle and dress became much less conservative throughout the movie, and by the end of the film she had a very short, nontraditional hairstyle. Kim, Peg’s daughter, eventually dressed in attire that matched the colors of Edward’s clothing (soft, bland colors instead of the vivid pastels like the surrounding residents), especially after breaking up with her boyfriend.
Aside from the costumes and makeup, the lighting in this film also reflected the character’s mood or personality. When Peg first found Edward, viewers could only see his silhouette in the shadows of the mansion’s attic due to backlighting. Dark, low-key lighting was used throughout shots of the mansion, and the only significant light source the viewer can see was the light coming through the random windows or the hole in the roof. However, after Edward left the mansion and warmed up to the suburban community, the lighting changed into bright and colorful scenes. In the most dramatic scenes in the film—Edward breaking into the house, running away at the end, and killing Kim’s ex-boyfriend—the lighting again shifted back into low-key, very dark lighting. This change in lighting established the entire mood of each dramatic scene.
Besides the clever use of lighting, this film also used many symmetrical and up-close camera shots to help the viewer relate to Edward’s emotions and struggles. One example of this was when Edward was eating at the dinner table with his new “family.” One shot would show the entire family gathered around the table in a symmetrical fashion, and then it would switch back to a close-up shot of Edward’s reaction. An up-close shot would also show his facial expressions as he struggled to get a few peas onto his bladed fingers. Then, the camera would switch to a point-of-view shot (from Edward’s perspective) as he frustratingly tried to balance the peas on his blades as he brought them to his mouth.
Other uses of up-close, point-of-view, and symmetrical shots were used throughout this film. In another scene, Edward tried to frantically open the door, but was unable to do so. This scene was emphasized by switching to an up-close, point-of-view shot of Edward’s scissored hands and their inability to grasp the knob. Even the longer street shots of the suburban neighborhood utilized symmetry for a more balanced scene.
In conclusion, Edward Scissorhands was an incredibly unique tale of an “invented” man from a dark, murky mansion who was totally alone and isolated in the world. Despite his lonely background, Edward had a good heart and a generous, loving nature. He genuinely wanted to help people. In contrast, the individuals from the seemingly perfect, colorful suburbs engaged in ruthless gossip, rampant infidelity, theft, and other immoral behavior. These individuals tried to change Edward to their ways of living, supposing that they could help him become “normal.” However, Edward never quite fit in. In truth, he was much more “normal” than the residents of the suburban community, and unfortunately, the film ended much like it began: with Edward living alone in total isolation. Despite having an already compelling storyline, the mise-en-scene literally brought this film to life, and the creative costume selections and makeup, the vivid colors and lighting, and the symmetrical, close-up camera shots told this story in an unforgettable way.