This is achieved by establishing two conflicting worlds inhabited by people who are the opposite of each other. The theme of the two worlds is at its most both prominent here and at the end of the film when the suburban world trespasses into the ‘forbidden’ world of the mansion. The town, as we see early on, looks superficially pretty and neat with each boxy bungalow sitting in a featureless garden almost identical to the next. Nothing stands out as individual and the only dwelling that differs from the rest is the mansion, which is shunned by all. As Peg visits each house the audience sees different social inadequacies through the behaviour of each housewife.
The director uses these to subtly show us what is wrong with society; we are slovenly, immoral, uncaring and even fanatical. The mansion, on the other hand, looks scary and imposing from the outside and looms over suburbia like a threatening storm, but as the audience is introduced to Edward, they see that he is not a monster or a killer but a childlike boy in need of love. These inside-outside opposites embody the other main ethical message of the story, that conformity is not always good and being different doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ person.
The opening scenes also establish important information including the introduction of two of the three principal characters; establishment of many of the moods, tones and genres used later in the film; and establishment of the location and period. Location and period are almost immaterial because even though it is set in 1960s suburban America, the message is still relevant today. For instance, it would still be as powerful and relevant if it were set in present day London.
One thing that the location and time period chosen give the film is a stronger sense of comedy, because the 60s was an era of garish colours and fashions that often bordered on the farcical. For example, later in the film, when Edward cuts all the women’s hair, he creates such outlandish styles that the audience would laugh at them, but the housewives all think that they’re the height of fashion and they all want a similar haircut. The drive to conform is also illustrated when Edward does a topiary of Peg’s family so the whole neighbourhood wants one too. Soon there is nothing special about topiary either.
The genres introduced in the opening scenes are diverse, encompassing horror, fantasy, fairytale and comedy. The more profound genres of tragedy and romance emerge and develop later, when guilt, sympathy and sadness are used to drive home Tim Burton’s point. The non-conformist use of contrasting genres such as horror and comedy, fantasy and romance helps to put across the message by making sure the film is so surreal that the audience does not believe it but spends more time thinking about the moral.
The ways that the different characters are introduced are closely associated with location and are very influential in establishing our instinctive attitude towards them. The locations defined in the opening scenes create a relationship between the characters in the story. At first we get an eerie feeling from the surreal montage of images with no characters to relate to, and when we see a long shot of the mansion it seems dark and forbidding.
The reverse zoom to the cosy grandmother’s cottage and the transition from blue and white into colour give the feeling of travelling in perception from the surreal and scary to the comfort of familiarity. The interior of the cottage feels warm and inviting because of the crackling fire and the intimate family relationship. Here Kim is introduced as a grandmother, with her granddaughter dwarfed by the immense bed. The audience instantly feels positively towards them because of their environment and the obvious love between them. Kim’s introduction of Edward’s plight ensures that the audience is sympathetic towards him when he appears later.
The audience is personified by Kim’s granddaughter as she is told the bedtime story. Their role is to be taught an ethical lesson not to judge by appearances or reject difference by being shown an allegory of their society and being made to judge it. From the cottage window the mansion on the hill looms over the town, setting the relationship between it and suburbia. The aerial shot over the suburbs feels distant because the audience only catch fleeting glimpses of the houses and they see the setting without being part of it. The loneliness of the mansion is portrayed by the shot we see of Edward silently gazing out over suburbia.
Only the pallid, neglected, childlike part of him is shown, raising the level of sympathy even more The sudden cut to a bright daytime street scene in the suburbs previously flown over at night properly establishes the town and gives the feeling of looking at normality. The next time the camera approaches the mansion is through Peg in a real car rather than a surreal flight. This gives a sense of revisiting a familiar place. The night shots introduce the three main parts of the film, swooping between each one, and the sudden cut to daytime suburbia signals the beginning of the tale.
Because she is the first person the camera follows in the tale, the audience feels attached to Peg and empathises with her. Peg is a misfit amongst the town women, who are all morally flawed. When she finds Edward all alone and vulnerable, her desire to love and be loved makes her want to take him in and care for him. Peg is naive and has a simplistic outlook. Her way of walking and her gentle childish voice make her seem quite vulnerable, especially when she is walking through the mansion, a tiny spot of jolly pastel lilac in amidst a huge expanse of grey and blue. The horror genre is offset by Peg’s chirpy one-liners. Her vulnerability seems to prepare us for a confrontation between a victim Peg and a menacing Edward, but in fact the relationship is inverted, with Peg having the upper hand. It is symbolic that her reaction to Edward’s scars is to offer him make up because cosmetics are all about hiding blemishes with illusion, just like the deceptive neatness of the town.