Kosher Movies: Edward Scissorhands

It was not always easy for me to relate to a person with disabilities. As the younger brother of a Down Syndrome sister, in my elementary school years I was very self-conscious whenever friends came to visit because Carol did not look normal. As I got older, I saw things differently and made it a point to relate to Carol and her friends with love and friendship. I realized that looking different did not define a person, and it was important for me to look beyond externals to understand someone’s true identity.

Edward Scissorhands tells the story of a man who looks different. He has scissors instead of hands and even frightens people. Yet we soon discover that Edward is a person of great feeling who yearns for human connection. He was created by an old inventor, who died before giving him a pair of hands, leaving Edward “unfinished” for the rest of his life.

Things change for Edward several years later when an Avon saleswoman, Peg Boggs, visits the old mansion where Edward has been residing in isolation for a very long time. Concerned about his adjustment to the normal world, she consults a psychologist for advice. When a psychologist meets him, he comprehends Edward’s challenge in adjusting to a world with other people: “The years spent in isolation have not equipped him with the tools necessary to judge right from wrong. He’s had no context. He’s been completely without guidance. It seems clear that his awareness of what we call reality is radically underdeveloped.”

Sensing that Edward is forlorn and harmless, Peg takes him into her own home where her family shows him friendship. The Bogg’s neighbors find Edward weird but interesting, and they use his scissor-cutting skills to cut their lawns, trim their vegetation, cut the hair on their pets, and to cut the hair on their own heads as well.

Over time, their fascination with Edward wanes and they see him as a strange creation that is a threat to their normal lives. Eventually almost everyone views him as a pariah and treats him with disdain, unfairly judging him a menace to their way of life. Gossip rules in Edward’s neighborhood; all his good deeds are forgotten in the communal rush to judgment. It is only the love of the Bogg’s family that remains supportive and loyal to Edward.

In an insightful book about the dangers of gossip, Lori Palatnik and Bob Burg write about the “ten pathways of positive speech.” Among the ten, they include saying only positive statements about other people, refusing to listen to gossip, slander, or other negative kinds of conversation, not repeating information, apologizing and asking for forgiveness right after making a mistake, and judging people favorably. Edward’s neighbors do not travel these pathways.

Edward Scissorhands makes some important observations about how we should treat the stranger among us, the one who looks different and may not share our way of looking at the world. The Bible is replete with admonitions to treat the stranger with kindness for we were once strangers in a foreign land. We as a people experienced alienation from the host population, loneliness, and the tyranny of narrow-minded people who could not understand the views of those who differ from them.

Moreover, Edward Scissorhands reminds us of the corrosive effects of gossip, how it can destroy people’s lives. The Talmud speaks of gossip killing three people: the person uttering it, the person about whom it is being said, and the person who listens to it. The Talmudic use of the word killing in relationship to speech drives home how destructive words can be when they are used to label people and damage their reputations.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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