Monday, March 12, 2012

Heavenly Creatures

By s. Monday, March 12, 2012 , , , , , , ,
75/100 (99 min, 1994)
Plot: Two girls have an intense fantasy life; their parents, concerned the fantasy is too intense, separate them, and the girls take revenge.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet and Sarah Peirse

"It is because we are MAD. We are both stark raving MAD!"

"We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you."
— Sylvia Plath (Ariel: The Restored Edition)

"Heavenly Creatures" directed by now famous creator of "Lord of the Rings" trilogy Peter Jackson and a feature film debut of now one of the biggest stars in the world Kate Winslet is a disturbing and complex movie based on the real events, which led to the crime that shook entire nation due to the circumstances surrounding it and the brutality of the act.

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme met in school during the 1950s. Pauline was a shy good girl,  Juliet on the other hand was eccentric and bold newcomer in the school. Despite being so different, the girls instantly became best friends and invented fantasy world in which they would live, spending every moment together. More and more estranged from their respective families, the two girls realised that they are extremely different from most other people - at one point it was just them against the world, they took no interest in other people, boys and their parents. The girl's relatives, concerned about the powerful and possibly inappropriate bond between them decided to separate them. That led to a shocking crime both of the girls committed in order to stay together, that in the end will be the reason for their lifelong separation.
The attention to details the filmmakers shown in other to recreate the actual events is mesmerizing. Almost all locations used for filming were the genuine locations where the events occurred. According to Peter Jackson, when they got to the location of the murder on the dirt path, it was eerily quiet; the birds stopped singing, and it didn't seem right. So they moved along a couple of hundred yards. The final scene in which the crime takes place is insanely disturbing and eerie, especially because of the way it is filmed and the fact it is inter cut with the fantasy scene in which Pauline and Juliet are separated again, screaming in agony.

All of the journal voice-overs are direct from real diary entries made by Pauline Parker. The characters in the stories (if not the stories themselves) and make-believe world are also authentic.Parker and Hulme were both interviewed by the filmmakers and the girls who played them - Lynskey and Winslet would be so deep in the character that on the set of the movie they would still act as if the camera was recording them giving their performances.
The film is constant mix of the ordinary life the girls live and their fantasies featuring disturbing clay people and princesses, castles and evil monsters. The more the girls bond, the more the fantasy blends into their life till they can't distinguish what is real and what is imaginary. Pauline, who was more grounded in the real world than Juliet consciously chooses to stay in the fantasy world, enchanted by her new friend. Her actions become more and more insane and lead to her estrangement from her worried parents. Juliet, on the other hand, who was always living in her own world is flattered by the affection Pauline has for her and doesn't try to stop her, finally having a perfect companion for all of her imaginary adventures.

Ironically, the fact that the movie presents girls' fantasy and their madness in such a bizarre and I imagine accurate way makes it very hard to watch. At times it's as confusing as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" - we are taken directly into their minds, seeing their fantasies and imagination, which makes it almost impossible to realize what was happening in real world at the same time. We see the world through girls' eyes and sometimes that makes the movie a bit "style over substance" experience, when instead of getting the answer to "why" and "for what reason" we only see "how". We see the girls going down the rabbit hole, but we never know what made Juliet the way she was, why her parents never reacted to their daughter's insane behaviour and why nobody at girls school took any action against their proceedings which must have interfered with their classes.
The film is gorgeously shot and the flow between reality and fantasy is so smooth it's almost impossible to distinguish. The clay people appearing out of nowhere and doing what Juliet's mind commands them to do look so bizarre and out of place, yet completely blending in the grim colors of the girl's surroundings it's a very neat trick and something which I imagine was very hard to pull off. The camera work is great especially in the scenes where we follow the girls during their adventures, when it suddenly moves from ordinary world straight into their imagination and shows us all the bizarre things that inhabit it.

Lynskey and Winslet, both teenagers when the movie was made deliver outstanding work. They completely embody their characters. Lynskey is heartbreaking as someone who slowly falls into her fantasy universe, chasing the person she admires, completely detaching herself from the life she once known. Winslet is sensual, beautiful and at times creepy as Juliet, who manipulates Pauline without even knowing it. They are both horribly lonely - there are many scenes in the movie when we see how weird the girls feel living the normal lives, lives of other people. That feeling of not fitting in and the overwhelming sadness they already had inside them prior to meeting each other only amplifies when the girls become friends and are abruptly separated.
Jackson does terrific job at showing how what the girls did, though unimaginable was the only way their story could have ended. By the end of their story two of them were so far gone into their insanity, that the only possible conclusion to it, since no one around them could break them apart was something drastic to happen. Because we spend the whole movie watching the girls going insane their actions in the end are more frightening than shocking - we already know something horrible is going to happen, but seeing it unveil on screen is horrifying, because we know that there are people out there going insane just as they did, capable of the most unimaginable things.

Despite the girls being very close, even eerily and sensually close at various points of the film, they both admitted later on in life that they weren't lesbians. But curiously it is the homophobia of people surrounding them that lead to the chain of events that ended in tragedy. The parents decided to separate Juliet and Pauline not because they spent so much time together and not even because their grades were becoming worse. It was when it was suggested that the girls may be more than just friends when the parents decided it was the time to take drastic steps.
To understand the depth of the girls's lunacy it is helpful to know what happened next - the girls returned to the same place they drunk tea with their victim just few minutes before they committed their crime. They didn't even think of covering their tracks or the fact they can get caught. Soon they were apprehended and their trail was the source of big attention, since they were both teenage girls. They were both convicted - had they been adults, they would get the death penalty, but since they were so young, they were released after merely 5 years spent in prison.

The crime they both committed had very profound effect on their lives - Juliet Hulme assumed the name Anne Perry and continues to write mystery novels. She came forward and revealed her real identity in during the making of the film.  In 1997, Pauline Parker was finally traced to a rundown cottage on a farm near Strood, Kent, England, where she currently runs a children's riding school. Since assuming the name of Hilary Nathan, she has become a devout Catholic and devoted her life to handicapped children.

For me the most tragic thing was how unnecessary and senseless what the girl did was. Each crime is senseless but the girls got absolutely nothing out of what they did. They were released from prison so early on condition - never to see each other again. They killed in order to stay together. The effect of the crime was they were torn apart.


  1. Again this is one of those films that I keep meaning to see but never get around to it.

    thanks for the great review Sati, I REALLY want to give it a go now.

    1. You really should! It is definetly worth watching and young Winslet was already showing so much potential, she is much more fun in her earlier roles, for some reason.

  2. Great review. The part that always gets me is the one who became a murder mystery writer later in life. If anything, I think coming forward helped her notoriety, not hurt it.

    1. Thanks!

      Yeah, I think the only reason why she admited who she is was to gain something out of it.

  3. I am on the same page with Scott, I have been meaning to see this for a long time, but haven't got around to it, yet! It is on my list and hopefully I will watch it soon! Great review, it sounds wonderful!

    1. Thanks, you really should see it! Amazing flick if you like all of those teenage-friendship gone bad stories :)

  4. I love this film so much! I haven't seen it in years though, I'm really going to have to invest in the blu-ray. Winslet is as beautiful and great as always. Peter Jackson really did a great job with this one.

    1. Yes, it's really one of her best performances.

  5. I love this film and it is one of the reasons why I fell in love with Kate Winslet.

    1. She is truly enchanting in this one, no wonder it started off her career.