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The main characters in director Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands are important to the plot precisely because, without these characters, there wouldn’t be a plot. Let’s start with the title character, Edward, the young, handsome creation of an inventor portrayed by the late Vincent Price – a man whose reputation in the film industry was built on the numerous roles he played in low-budget horror films, some adapted (loosely adapted) from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Edward is played in the film by Johnny Depp, like the character he portrays, young and handsome. Edward Scissorhands was one of Depp’s first leading roles in film and he was chosen for the part for his physical attributes, but also for his ability to portray emotional vulnerable characters, which Edward certainly is. Depp, who would become Burton’s favorite actor, casting him in many subsequent productions, captures the essence of the title character beautifully. Edward is the proverbial fish out of water, which in the teenage years is usually not an advantage. Having been created by an inventor and kept in a sheltered existence, he is suddenly forced to exist in “normal society” when the inventor dies – an event that precludes the creation of proper hands for Edward. Edward must find his way among humans who, not unexpectedly, present a wide range of personalities and temperaments, from kind and loving to hostile and threatening. Depp is able to portray this lost, innocent character with both humor and pathos. Edward is the film’s central character, without whom there would obviously be no plot, and Johnny Depp provides a touching, effective performance, without which the film could have been a disappointment.
Another main character essential to the plot is Kim the beautiful teenaged girl portrayed by Winona Ryder, a fine choice for the role. Kim exudes compassion and virtue – the perfect foil to the character of Jim, played by Anthony Michael Hall, who represents evil in Burton’s film. While Jim grows jealous of Kim’s growing infatuation with and protectiveness of Edward, his childish and vindictive personality poses an existential threat to Edward. Ryder was well-cast in the role of Kim. She is beautiful and, like Depp, able to portray sensitivity and emotional vulnerability. Her growing love for Edward contrasts with her growing loathing of Jim, as the former represents innocence and benevolence while the latter exists solely to present an element of conflict in the film and a reason for the unrequited love between Edward and Kim. The casting of Anthony Michael Hall as Jim was interesting, because Hall had developed a reputation for portraying nerdy, physically weak high school students who existed at the margins of high school social hierarchies. That Hall grew into a larger, stronger figure able to exude an element of menace enabled him to portray Jim as the jerk he obviously is. That said, the character of Jim could have been portrayed by any number of actors. It is Ryder’s depiction of Kim’s loneliness and need for love that provides the film much of its soul, and the fact that this relationship can never be truly consummated given Edwards enormous and very sharp shears in place of hands (Kim: “Hold me.”; Edward: “I can’t.”) lends Edward Scissorhands its sense of foreboding.
Other characters, such as Kim’s parents, Peggy and Bill, are the quintessential suburban rubes (Peg encountering Edward: “Why are hiding back there? You don’t have to hide from me – I’m Peg Boggs, your local Avon representatives and I’m as harmless as cherry pie.”), ignorant and opportunistic. Bill, needless to say is a bowling champion. Kim’s brother Kevin is the archetype precocious, always-joking brother, in one scene, bringing Edward to show-and-tell and noting, with respect to Edward’s unusual appendages, “One chop to a guy’s neck, and it’s all over.”
Other characters, like Joyce, contribute to the sense of a community just short of being dysfunctional, providing humorous moments, usually stemming from their unimpressive intellects, while contributing to stereotypes that help place the character of Edward at the center of a growing societal disruption. The main characters, Edward and Kim, provide the film’s soul; the other characters exist primarily to contribute plot elements like fear (Jim), sexual longing (Joyce), simplistic observations (Bill), and childish imaginings (Kevin).
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