As we get aquatinted with Burton's "idilic" world, which seems to confine its characters to roam a single avenue neighborhood of lollipop colored houses, we begin to realize that things are most definitely not as they seem. This film is filled with a bouquet of strange housewives and nosy neighbors, who seemingly are never allowed access off this confined cul-de-sac (at least the women are not ever allowed to leave, the men arrive and leave promptly at the same time each day, leaving home in their candy color coordinated vehicles and driving to the land off screen). Every house has an eerie familiarity mixed with the repulsive. We meet Peg Boggs, played by the fantastic Diane Wiest, as she is walking door to door trying to sell her neighbors Avon products with a plastered on smile and veiled disappointment. After striking out with every one of her neighbors,n she gets into her car and fixes her sights on the haunted mansion high up on the mountain above their town. What she finds when she pulls up to the overgrown gate is an entrance to another world altogether. Peg, enters through the huge doorway and finds life is flourishing beyond the broken gates. She is instantly mesmerized by what she finds. As she walks around the house and makes her up to its summit, she finds a small boy sitting timidly in a dark corner of the attic and promptly decides to take him back down the mountain to become a member of her family.
Edward, played by the indelible Johnny Depp, emerges from the dark, hands first, initially frightening the audience and Peg. But after the initial shock of Edward's appearance, we instantly fall in love. Edward is both initially horrifying and sad to the audience, at once we are hesitant to trust his body, but then we come to realize that he is hesitant too. Edward is a character created by its actor. Depp speaks for Edward in the movements of his face, the subtly of his expressions, and the sheer joy he experiences the moment someone accepts him. When Edward emerges from the light we realize that he has as much to fear about the world around him as we do. We simultaneously sympathize with his social unease and unfamiliarity and empathize with his grace at trying to be a regular human being.
Edward quickly becomes the oddity turned celebrity in his small town. He is celebrated for his differences and finds himself the center of attention in a town where the rumor mill is all that's interesting. But this fame quickly dissipates when the town ladies man accuses Edward of raping her. The town picks up their pitch forks and their idyllic world goes up in flames.
As the town begins to take it's revenge on the boy they can't define a sub plot has also been brewing. Kim, played by Winona Ryder, is Peg's daughter. She finds herself initially frightened of Edward and his strangeness but over the course of the film finds her love for him catching her off guard. Her boyfriend Jim, played by Anthony Michael Hall, who she loves for his aggressiveness becomes abrasive the more she interacts with Edward and his sweet awkwardness. Kim, finds herself at odds with the life she had created for herself and the one that Edward opened her eyes too. She realizes that Edward would always be more of a man to her than Jim could ever be.
Burton's creation and success of this film I believe lies in his familiarity with this story. Burton has always believed that Edward was the screen incarnate of himself. Burton grew up in a similar monochromatic suburban neighborhood in Burbank, CA that could not contain the dreams and make believe that little Tim Burton sought out to create. His vision of the world was larger than the perfectly manicured lawns and close minded natures of suburbia's residents. Burton would always see himself as an outsider looking in. This film was a way for him to express the dystopia he always found in his real life and create a character who ultimately cannot assimilate to the world around him, but in the case with both Burton and Edward, we wouldn't want them too. Burton's stylistically exaggerated world of color and form allow us access to a world outside of the one in which we live. His collaborators, Danny Elman, composer; Colleen Atwood, costume designer; Ann Harris, Rich Henricks and Paul Sonski, set designers; Tom Duffield, art director; Bo Welch, production designer; and Stan Winston, special effects producer all work seamlessly to create the world in which Burton's characters reign. Most of these amazing artists will continue to work with Burton on his subsequent films, which help to cement his visual style and production flair. Burton creates a true fantasy world that we, as the audience, want to crawl into and discover something we didn't know was possible. Burton takes us out of our reality and places us within his dreams.
More on Burton's style, collaboration, narrative structure, and films in posts all throughout June (I would like to have a new post up every Friday of the month). I also hope to go to the Burton Retrospective Exhibit at LACMA to gain some more information about his career, life, obsessions, and unique works of visual and cinematic art.