#127 Heavenly Creatures

(1994, Peter Jackson)

“The next time I write in this diary Mother will be dead”

In 1954, two teenage girls from New Zealand killed one of their mothers. In an obsessive friendship that bordered on a lesbian relationship, the two girls were desperate to remove all obstacles to them continuing their friendship, and that included the mother who believed they were mentally ill (as was the impression of homosexuality in those days) and wanted them separated.

This is the true story of Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson of Lord Of The Rings fame. Completely different to his more well-known epic Tolkien adventures that came later, the movie is a slightly surreal drama that tries to make a killer sympathetic.

The first thing to note about Heavenly Creatures is that the acting is a little hard to determine as good or bad at first. Both Pauline Parker (Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Winslet) come across as slightly bratty and overacted, but as the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that both actresses knew exactly what they were doing, even in such early roles for the both of them. Winslet especially is fantastic. Initially, her acting seems over the top and theatrical, until you realise this is how Juliet presents herself to the world, as evidenced by the subtle vulnerabilities Winslet gets across while the girl is in hospital with tuberculosis.

This odd feeling of never knowing if the movie is good or bad carries on to the plot: everything feels melodramatic, the smallest things are blown way out of proportion and seem almost unrealistic, until you realise the entire movie was patched together from a mentally ill teenage girl’s diary, and then it all makes sense. The melodrama is exactly how overblown the teenage mind would perceive the events of the movie, especially a mind as awkward as Pauline’s.

But despite it being obvious that the girls aren’t quite “normal”, they are made sympathetic throughout, a pretty impressive feat considering that the whole movie is building up to the inevitable murder they end up committing. Both girls come across as incredibly lonely and confused, and their friendship, while obsessive, does come across as something that genuinely affects them both and is something that they both need. It is very sad to see the possibility of them being separated, and the ending is tragic for them as well as their victim. It’s impressive that Jackson pulled this off so effortlessly.

One thing that can be a little off-putting with this movie is the fantasy sequences. The girls, in their desperation to escape their reality, jointly created a place known as The Fourth World, a place where art is celebrated and the restrictive Christian lifestyle is forbidden. They placed themselves in roles in a made-up fantasy story, to the point of imagining themselves living those roles in a land populated by living clay models.

These sequences tend to be very surreal, and sometimes can feel a little confusing and a little off-putting. The effects are good, if a little shaky and slightly dated, but they pop in so suddenly it can throw you out of the story a little. However, as awkward as they feel at times, it’s hard to imagine a movie that sits inside the girls’ heads so much without these intense fantasy sequences, as that was part of what was going on in their heads at the time.

It’s a very strange film though, and sometimes it’s hard to know what to think of it. The drama is intense and very interesting to watch, but those fantasy sequences do get in the way at times. It’s certainly different to Lord Of The Rings, showing that Jackson can handle different types of films. Worth a watch if the story sounds intriguing, I’d say.

Starring Melanie Lynskey & Kate Winslet
Written by Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh
Produced by Jim Booth & Peter Jackson
Music score by Peter Dasent
Cinematography by Allun Bollinger
Edited by Jamie Selkirk

Favourite Scene: When Juliet gets tuberculosis, Kate Winslet’s performance is perfect.
Scene That Bugged Me: All those scenes on the ship. Fantasy scenes? The future? A reference to Kate Winslet’s later career success three years later? What?!

Watch it if: You like movies about possibly lesbian murderers
Avoid it if: You expect it to be three hours long, have two equally long sequels and have more orcs

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Posted on October 16, 2012, in 1990s, Drama, Fantasy, New Zealand and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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