Movies We Love: Heavenly Creatures

Movies We Love“We have decided how sad it is for others that they cannot appreciate our genius.”

In 1954, a murder is committed by two girls who have formed a deadly friendship. The movie opens with the pair running for help while Pauline’s mother lies on a garden path, her head smashed in.

Juliet Hume and Pauline Parker became each other’s entire world almost from the time they met when Juliet moved to Christchurch, New Zealand. The two girls, both outsiders, are obsessed with singer Mario Lanza and attracted to the dangerous Third Man character played by Orson Wells.

Hollywood is their Mecca. They retreat into a fantasy called the Fourth World fueled by their stories of the mythical kingdom Borovnia. In Borovnia they are royalty, living with the figures in their imaginations. In the Fourth World their favorite movie actors are worshiped as saints.

The relationship intensifies when Juliet is sent to a hospital to recuperate from tuberculosis. They write to each other using their Borovnia identities, slipping further into their fantasies and losing touch with reality. But reality comes crashing in when Juliet returns home. The closeness of the girls is at first seen as charming, then as dangerous when the girls form a romantic relationship. To complicate things, Juliet’s parents are divorcing and she will be sent to live with an Aunt in South Africa, for her health.

Faced with separation the girls are desperate, hatching plans to run away to Hollywood. Realizing the hopelessness of the Hollywood fantasy, they fixate on Pauline’s mother who they blame for not letting Pauline live with Juliet.
Their dreams become delusions of a happy ever after where Honora dies, freeing the girls to be together.

The decision is made to kill Honora on a day trip to Victoria Park.

Why We Love It

I know, I know! Who can love a movie about two lovesick, crazy, murderous teenage girls? I guess I can when it’s brilliantly directed by Peter Jackson. The screenplay written by Jackson and Fran Walsh won an Oscar. Of course, she would work with Jackson again on The Lord of the Rings.

The two leads, then unknowns, are perfect in their roles. Melanie Lynskey, picked out of a classroom for her resemblance to the real Pauline Parker had no acting experience, yet she thoroughly inhabits the intense Pauline. She narrates the movie, reading from the real life Pauline’s diary which depicts a girl lost in a fantasy world.

Kate Winslet had worked in television when she was chosen to play Juliet Hume. She’s a perfect contrast to Lynskey’s disheveled Pauline. Cool and elegant, she’s everything Pauline wishes she could be. From Pauline’s view Juliet lives with two perfect parents, her home is large and beautiful, the Hulmes seem to have it all. Pauline wants to be one of them, leave her crowded home where her parents take in boarders, the opposite of the upper class Hulmes.

Jackson brings the girl’s fantasy world to life, their clay figures blown up to human proportions in the Borovnia sequences. The real world disappears, the girls swept into their kingdom, a place punctuated by violent executions.

Even as the world they’ve invented springs to life, harsh reality is depicted without flinching. Jackson doesn’t pull away from the brutal murder. He has to let us see the extremes the girls went to when threatened with separation.

The Moment We Fell in Love

The scene where Juliet bonds with Pauline. The very proper-appearing Juliet is fascinated by a gruesome scar on the shy Pauline’s leg. She asks to see it again, to touch it. Juliet’s glee at the sight of the scar is her first connection to the shy Pauline. Juliet tells Pauline she too has scars but inside her lungs.

She declares triumphantly to Pauline:

“All the best people have bad chests and bone diseases. It’s all frightfully romantic.

The scene continues with the two girls comparing hospital stays and separations from their parents setting up their retreat from the everyday world around them. We see the joining of two outcasts. They’ve found their soul mates on the playground. While the other girls play, these two bond over scars and illness.

Theirs is a relationship born of loneliness and pain which will become dark and explode in violence.

Final Thoughts

Up until Jackson made Heavenly Creatures he was the director of low budget splatter films. He could have ignored the complexity of the story, depicted Juliet and Pauline as simplistically evil bad seeds. But he went in the right direction showing two imaginative, intelligent, passionate girls who slipped too far into their fantasy world. Two girls, who by themselves might never have committed such a gruesome crime, but together, fueled by fantasy and desperation, committed an unthinkable act.

If you haven’t seen Heavenly Creatures by all means get a hold of it.  Jackson powerfully joins fantasy and reality to illuminate the dark true story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme.

Fall in love all over again with more Movies We Love

Robin Ruinsky has been a writer since penning her autobiography in fourth grade. Along the way she's studied theater at Syracuse University, worked with Woody Allen starring most of the time on the cutting room floor. A segue into the punk rock scene followed but writing was always the main focus. She writes for various crafty, artsy magazines about people who make craftsy, artsy collectible things. But her first love is writing fiction and film criticism which some people think are the same thing.

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