edward scissorhands (dir. tim burton, 1990)

Hello, readers. Every Saturday I publish a selection from a monthly newsletter I’m writing for Storyological patrons called, CHRIS REVIEWS EVERYTHING. If you’d like to receive this newsletter, and so receive more of my reviews, visit the Storyological Patreon page to sign up. Thank you. That is all.


We begin with an Avon lady. A woman who sells the modern ideal of beauty—or, more precisely, the appearance and means of achieving that beauty. When she meets Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)–a leather-shrouded man locked away in a dark house on a tall hill with, literally, scissors for hands–she meets her greatest challenge. A person immune to the means of beauty, but deeply in touch with the meaning of it.

The Avon lady, Peg (Dianne West), takes pity on Edward and brings him home. She attempts to acclimate him to normal life. She begins by getting him to look the part. A fresh, white shirt, an old pair of trousers, snappy suspenders. She dabs his scars with concealer. At dinner, Edward struggles to use his knife and fork. The son, Kevin (Robert Oliveri), struggles not to stare. Peg tells him it’s not polite to stare. The daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder), struggles to hide her frustration and embarrassment at everything. Peg asks her husband how it went at work. There’s nothing so lonely as being surrounded by people pretending that you might be something other than what you are.

Edward Scissorhands has, for a long time, held a special place in my heart. Not for what it meant to me so much as for what it meant to someone I loved. She grew up in Florida, where the film takes place, and she saw in Edward Scissorhands, I think, a mirror of herself. A grotesque creature in love with, and shunned by, the idea of beauty. A tender, if awkwardly assembled, creature who believed themselves unable to touch anything without destroying it.

Edward is a great artist because of his awkward assembly. As a creature constructed from a hodgepodge of curious hope and industrial machinery, Edward knows what is to construct beauty from the humdrum materials of our world. Women from all over town fall in love with his ability to recognize the beauty tucked away beneath the surface of things. They see him turn hedges into art sculptures and, before long, they get him to style their hair. They hope, I suppose, that as go his skills with topiary, so go his skills with women. They hope that he might cut free the beauty trapped inside of them.

It is the mission of Tim Burton, I believe, to transform fear into tenderness. Edward is not a natural being. Like all of us, he is a constructed one. And, like all of us, he is unfinished. He wears in his body a permanent state of incompleteness. No amount of make-up will make him appear more beautiful. He already contains all the beauty he needs. We hope he understands this. We hope everyone else does even more. It is a hopeless hope. Most hopes are.

Peg brings Edward down from his dark house atop that tall hill, but she is not really interested in him so much as she’s interested in what she can make of him. She wants to force him into a role that doesn’t quite fit. She is either unwilling or incapable of engaging with Edward as he is. This is true of almost everyone in the film. No one seems capable, or willing, to grapple simultaneously with the horror and pain and tragedy and beauty and rage and love and gentleness which comprise Edward’s life and heart. See how the husband imagines that Edward can just go to the bank and get a loan. See how the son imagines Edward a kind of deadly cool monster thing worth bringing to school for show-and-tell. See how that one neighbor sees him as an exotic creature destined to unleash something warm and dark from inside of her.

Depp plays Edward as an innocent in the way a child is innocent, which is to say not all that much. He wants and feels and loves and when betrayed, when the world, or a person he cares about, fails to live up to his expectations, he goes into a rage. He lets go of all the safeguards that have kept him from destroying himself. In these rages, he confirms his worst ideas of himself. He destroys. He destroys. He destroys.

For most of the film, Edward is happy to play along with what people ask of him. He cuts their hedges and their hair and their dogs. He tries to eat with a fork. We laugh and we cringe and we cry because this doesn’t seem like the life for him or for us. But it does seem to be what we’ve built for ourselves. It seems to be all that we have.

Kim’s boyfriend, at one point, wants Ed to help him break into his own house and steal many of his father’s fine and beautiful things. Kim knows this is wrong. But, she asks Ed for help anyway. It all goes wrong, of course. It was always all going to go wrong. Kim asks him why he ever agreed to do such a thing if he knew that it wasn’t going to work out. Ed has a very simple and heartbreaking answer for her. Because you asked me, he says.

This is, I think, Burton’s most delicate, and perhaps saddest, film. It is the story of a creature perpetually misunderstood and doomed to solitude. In that way, I suppose, it is–like all great art–a description of someone so individual as to contain within them the plight of everyone. Who among us isn’t doomed, in one way or another, to being perpetually misunderstood and, for the most part, entirely alone? If there is any hope here–in this film anyway–it is that Edward experiences a moment of love and connection with Kim.

Still. I’m not sure whether to think of this as hope or tragedy.

I think often of the end of the film. Of how, it turns out, Edward lives on, forever honoring the memory of that moment of love, carving its image over and over, but never finding his way back to it in real life. He is always, and forever it seems, kept separate from the reality of love. He can only ever imagine it. Maybe this is true of all of us. I like to think not, though.

Kim is the teller of this story. She is a grandmother at the beginning and end. The story belongs to her, in this way, more than it has ever belonged to Edward. For most of her life, she has been afraid to go and visit Edward. She arranged his “death” to protect him, and so, perhaps, at the start, she left Edward alone because she needed to protect him from the town. But, now, when her granddaughter asks why she doesn’t go visit Ed, Kim says that she is too old. She doesn’t want him to see her like this.

Has she forgotten, or has she never really known, what Edward was like? Out of all of them, he was the one who could see the hidden shapes inside of bushes. He could see their true form. That she refuses to go and see him, and that she imagines, or truly believes, it is because of how she looks–well, that breaks my heart. I imagine this was Burton’s intent.

I have had trouble with Burton, from time to time, as one can only have trouble with an artist, or lover, or family member, who seems to struggle with many of the same questions as you, but who seems to have made of their life some very different answers.

Where in my own work and in my life, I have worked to see everyone, including monsters, as people, in that they are made of a mess of good and evil and sin and innocence. Burton often works to see monsters as innocent of good and evil and people as monsters of both. I think, at one time, I thought this was too cruel in regards to people and too simple in regards to monsters. I have changed my mind.

Monsters are, for the most part, only symbols. They don’t really exist. And so, by definition, they exist outside of our ideas of good and evil. People do exist. And, in the way that Edward cuts beauty from the heart of the world, people cut good and evil. People aren’t the real monsters. But they are the only species of life, perhaps, capable of creating them.

Of all the monsters here, only Kim seems to have glimpsed something of the true nature of Edward’s soul—and in so doing, perhaps something of her own and of life’s true nature, as well. I like to imagine when she tells Edward, “I love you,” that it is a love that will sustain for her a new way of seeing. That she tells his story to her granddaughter means that perhaps it has. That she refuses to visit him makes me doubt. There is no answer here. I don’t know what Burton meant. I don’t know if I am right. I love this film for so many reasons. It took me a long time to come to terms with that love.

some things about ‘on the way down’

Hello, readers.

It’s been a while.

Here are some things.

Thing one:

A story of mine came out this month. It’s called “On the Way Down.”

You can read it, along with many other wonderful things, in the eleventh issue of  formercactus. They are cool. Look at this cool art, for example:


Thing two.

Here are some things about “On the Way Down.”

It can take a long time for a story to get published. People say this all the time. So much so that you probably forget sometimes that it’s true. I bring this up now because “On the Way Down” took about ten years to get published.

I wrote the first draft not long after a friend introduced me to the amazing Stuart Dybek story, “Pet Milk.” My story is not as good as that story. If you only have time to read one yearning, bittersweet short story then you should probably go read that one.

In “On the Way Down,” I wanted to capture something of the way Dybek played around with time in “Pet Milk.”

I wanted to speed it up and slow it down and generally make a mess of it. This is where I began thinking about a story of a couple in a hotel room standing at a window and thinking about the different paths their lives took to get them to this moment.

This is not at all what my story ended up being about. Or, well, this is exactly what the story ended up being about, but not at all in the way that I thought it would be about it.

This is how stories go when they really go. They get away from you. A poem that ends up being about what it started being about is not a very good poem. The same is true of stories.

While working through that first idea of the story–of those people in the hotel room–I heard one of the characters telling the other character about a dream they had where they jumped off a building and ended up floating in front of a woman’s window. I thought this was neat because it would sum up the character’s emotional state—mid free-fall.

But, then, I wondered: why am I writing about someone’s dream in a story when I could just write the story as a dream? Isn’t that what stories are anyway? Shared dreams?

So, a night came when I sat down, and I wrote the dream. I wrote the story of a man who fell off a building and stopped, mid-fall, in front of a woman’s window. I let that moment of magic stretch and encompass everything I felt about time while reading “Pet Milk.”

It was the first time in my writing life that I had that feeling of a story arriving, more or less, complete. This wasn’t really the case, at all, of course–since I had been thinking about it for weeks, but this was how it felt.

I sent it to many places. And I showed it to many people. No one wanted to publish it, and this was sad. But, two people who really enjoyed it told me how to fix it so that it would be the best version of itself, and this was wonderful.

One of these people was a teacher. The other an editor at The Paris Review. Both said the same thing. Alas, I didn’t figure out what they meant, though, until ten years later.

At which point, I sat down one afternoon, and I rewrote the story.

The version I wrote that afternoon is the version you can read in formercactus.

I hope you like it.






sometimes things

Hello, readers.

Sometimes I post things. This is one of those times. Here are two things.

Thing one.

I have a new story in Bourbon Penn 15 (available now in e-book or paperbook) called SOMETIMES THINGS ARE TRUE.

If you’re a fan of ninjas, zombies, werewolves, pirates, or epiphanies in which a character stares up at the stars and realizes some truth about life, then this is the story for you. Also there’s a killer unicorn.

You can read a fairly long sample of the story here.

Here’s a fairly short sample.

“It’s not true what they say about werewolves, you know?” Lucy said to Jack. “You can’t become a werewolf by kissing. That’s just a myth. You can’t get it from sex either, unless it’s a very particular kind of sex. There are probably a few days out of the month when you’d probably rather not kiss one, or have sex, I guess. Sometimes things are true.”
“Am I even needed in this conversation?” Jack said.
“I enjoy listening to you listen,” Lucy said. “The sound of your breathing is very comforting.”

Thing two.

I’ve just sent out the February edition of CHRIS REVIEWS EVERYTHING, a monthly newsletter for Storyological patrons.

In February, I watched and reviewed: seventeen films, four television shows, three podcasts, two soundtracks, a book, a handful of short stories, Natalie Portman’s career (as inspired by her rapping on SNL), a play starring Carey Mulligan, a Bon Iver concert, a quote from John Keats, and two Instagram videos posted by Chloe Bennett, star of Marvel’s: Agents of Shield.

I include a handy, clickable list at the start of the newsletter. This is a picture of that clickable list. Don’t try to click on it. It won’t work. I promise.

Here is a snippet of the introduction I wrote for the newsletter:

I’ve written these reviews, more or less, however the fancy took me. Some of them are silly. Some serious. My favorite manage to be both. My highlights for this month include: The End of the Fxxxing World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Pride and PrejudiceLady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Chloe Bennett, and Bon Iver. These might not be your highlights. You’ll have to read them all to find out. The reviews in which I get the most personal are probably: Atonement, Phenomena, and Bon Iver.
Maybe don’t try to read it all at once. Maybe save this email in a special folder. Or print it out, even. Stick it on your writing or reading desk. Fold it up and put it in your notebook. Carry it close to your heart. That sort of thing.
It’s up to you, really. So many things are.

I’ll be posting samples from this newsletter every Saturday. Here’s a review of Lady Bird I posted a bit ago.

I’m having a lot of fun with this newsletter. I hope you do, too. Emma seems happy with it. ^-^

Happy Wednesday, readers.


look at those faces just look at those faces

Hello, readers.

Yesterday happened to be Thanksgiving. I say happened to be because when you are an American in London sometimes certain holidays seem to happen without much involvement from you. Almost as if you were not at all essential to the process. Imagine that.

Here are some things I am excited about.

Thing one.

tillie walden, whose name I have only ever seen written out in lowercase and whose gentle and ambitious hand I have been admiring, of late, in such comics as The City Inside and On a Beam of Sunshine, is really quite amazing and you should go look at all the things.

Thing two.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here is one of my favorite films. It happens to be about Thanksgiving. It is called Home for the Holidays and it was directed by Jodie Foster and I want to hug it to death.

Thing three.

Yesterday I thought about how Thanksgiving used to mean television marathons. Like that one Buffy marathon that one year called Slaysgiving, or some such. There was, I think, also an X-Files marathon, once, of all the mythology episodes. Remember when programming was not just for museums, and concert halls, but for television? Do they program television anymore, or do the machines do it? I don’t know. I don’t live there anymore.

Thing four

These photos by Randall Slavin of 90s icons in The Hollywood Reporter are beautiful. There is something unremarkably remarkable about them. Almost as if movie stars were just people. like everyone else, trying to find their way to something real in an increasingly unreal world. Or maybe that’s just me. Also. Look at those faces. Just look at them.

Also, also. Don’t worry, readers. I was just kidding. There’s no such thing as an unreal world. This is all really happening.

That is all.

Happy holidays, reader. And, of course, by holidays I mean whichever holidays are closest whenever it is that you might be reading this.



one that might best be described as askance

Hello, readers.

This is Wednesday. Which you probably already knew. This is Wednesday in American Gods,

and this is Wednesday Addams from The Addams family.

You can see they share a similar view on things. One that might best be described as askance.

I’m uncertain as to why I so often start these things with some comment on the day of the week.

Thing one

It turns out that Wal-Mart lets people sleep in their parking lot. Not all Wal-Marts are so open to this activity. But many of them are. And this article has many pictures of this activity which are at once terribly ordinary and fantastically beautiful.

”Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge”

Thing two

At a website called The Root, there is this: ”A Guide to Fantasy and Science Fiction Made for Black People, by Black People.”

Among many other wonderful things, there are many wonderful short films for to watch and ponder.

Thing three

”How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met.”

I think this one probably explains itself. But, you know, you should still read it. It contains the phrases “shadow profiles” and “networked privacy.” I think those are the kind of phrases we need to know about.


Happy Wednesday, readers.




only this time it’s true

Hello, readers.

Welcome to Tuesday. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Here are some things of note.

Thing one.

The Paris Review, that redoubtable publication neither based in Paris nor particularly known for their reviews, has launched a podcast.

It does not seem to be a podcast, in the way of the New Yorker Radio Hour, that is all that interested in contextualizing its stories, so much as it seems interested in letting, as editor Loren Stein says, “the writing speak for itself.”

Its first episode includes, among other things, bits of an interview they did with Maya Angelou and a reading by Wallace Shawn of the Denis Johnson story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”.

I loved it.

Thing two.

Michael Palin has been writing a diary, on and off, since 1969. Here is something he wrote on July 21st, 1969.

At 3.00 this morning I woke Helen, and we both watched as the first live television pictures from the moon showed us a rather indistinct piece of ladder, then a large book, and finally, at 3.56, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the lunar surface. He said the ground beneath his feet (I almost wrote ‘the earth beneath his feet’) was composed mainly of dust—for a moment one felt he was in danger of falling into a kind of quicksand—but soon he was reassuringly prancing about and telling us that the one-sixth gravity conditions were less hazardous than in simulation.

To bed at 5.00, with the image in my mind of men in spacesuits doing kangaroo hops and long, loping walks on the moon, in front of a strange spidery object, just like the images in my mind after reading Dan Dare in the old Eagle comics—only this time it’s true. A lot of science fiction is suddenly science fact.

I received Michael Palin’s diaries from 1969 to 1979 as a gift. I think it’s going to be an amazing gift.

Thing three.

Manohla Dargis wrote an article in the New York Times called “Louis C.K. and Hollywood’s Canon of Creeps.” It is an article of great clarity and rage in which, among other things, she points us back to her earlier review of Louis C.K.’s film I Love You, Daddy, and then reviews her review of that film, and then, in the end, reviews the act of reviewing films. It’s brilliant.

I was 18 when I saw “Manhattan” and I despised it because I knew that its reveries were built on a lie that few adults, including film critics, seemed willing to acknowledge. Perhaps that’s partly why I appreciated “I Love You, Daddy” the first time I saw it. Louis C.K. seemed to be pointing at Mr. Allen with a queasy homage that was getting at the truth of “Manhattan” even as “I Love You, Daddy” circled — and circled — its own creator’s complicity in female exploitation.

When I watched “I Love You, Daddy” a second time, the jokes no longer landed; its shocks felt uglier, cruder. But for once a filmmaker seemed to be admitting to the misogyny that we know is always there and has often been denied or simply waved off, at times in the name of art.

Thing four

Storyological is back.

In our latest episode, LANTERNY FILM TYPE MACHINES, we talk about stories by Jean Rhys and Camilla Grudova. You might know Jean Rhys from her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. You might know Camilla Grudova from her recent win at the Shirley Jackson Awards.

In either case, I hope you enjoy this episode.

Happy listening, readers.


all good art is about something deeper than it admits

Hello, readers.

From time to time, I go back and read old reviews of the films that I love. It reminds me of why I loved those films, and it teaches me how to see those films in new ways.

Also, I love reviews, both reading them and writing them. There’s a sort of alchemy in the way the best reviewers learn to conjure both the spirit and the truth of their subjects.

Here are some of my favorite reviews.

Stephanie Zacharek, reviewing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The essence of romanticism, said the German writer E.T.A. Hoffman, is “infinite longing.” With the marvelous “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” J.K. Rowling’s work has finally gotten the romantic filmmaker it deserves.

Roger Ebert reviewing Shawshank Redemption. The last paragraph is a revelation.

Darabont constructs the film to observe the story, not to punch it up or upstage it. Upstaging, in fact, is unknown in this film; the actors are content to stay within their roles, the story moves in an orderly way, and the film itself reflects the slow passage of the decades. “When they put you in that cell,” Red says, “when those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.” Watching the film again, I admired it even more than the first time I saw it. Affection for good films often grows with familiarity, as it does with music. Some have said life is a prison, we are Red, Andy is our redeemer. All good art is about something deeper than it admits.

Anthony Lane, god bless him, reviewing in the same review both Brokeback Mountain and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“Brokeback Mountain,” which began as an Annie Proulx story in these pages, comes fully alive as the chance for happiness dies. Its beauty wells from its sorrow, because the love between Ennis and Jack is most credible not in the making but in the thwarting.

And, if there is Deep Magic, as Lewis called it, in his tale, it resides not in the springlike coming of Aslan but in the dreamlike, compacted poetry of Lewis’s initial inspiration—the sight of a faun, in the snow, bearing parcels and an umbrella. That is kept mercifully intact in Adamson’s movie, its potency enriched by the shy, unstrenuous rapport of his two best performers: Georgie Henley, as Lucy, and James McAvoy, as Mr. Tumnus the faun. The dark joke is that Mr. Tumnus invites Lucy to tea only because he must turn his guest over to the enemy. Thus does Lucy, over toast and honey, learn the lesson known to the heroine of every horror flick: Don’t answer the faun.


Happy Wednesday, readers.