Heavenly Creatures
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Heavenly Creatures

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For some filmmakers it takes them getting a number of movies on their resume before their distinctive style begins to emerge. In the case of one of the brilliant and imaginative auteurs in cinematic history, Peter Jackson, his filmmaking stylistic direction began to form exceptionally early in his career. It is not to say that Jackson developed a hard and fast methodology that pervades each successive project; his style is better define as a level of excellence that adapts itself seamlessly to the themes, intent and type of story being told by Jackson. He is a natural storyteller like those that have enthralled people long before recorded history. Jackson is capable of chameleon like changes that cloak his work within the genre specific elements necessary to relate not only the details of a story but the emotional state of those involved. He varies his means of expression from the otherworldly grandeur of his crowning glory, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy to the epitome of comic horror in ‘The Frighteners’. If there is one factor that remains consistent throughout his body of work is how easy he makes it seem to take a world or fantasy and pure imagination weaving it into a reality that he then can transport his audience to. ‘The film under consideration here, ‘Heavenly Creatures’, is one of Jackson’s earlier films which readily showcases the eclectic diversity of his talent. With this film Jackson engages one of the oldest genres around, the true crime drama. Instead of focusing on the salacious details of the crimes he weaves a tender portrayal of two young girls trying to make sense of the world and the turbulent experience of adolescence. This approach is unique in the true crime genre turning his back on the typical sensationalism surrounding such a case refusing to further exploit those involved in the crime. Jackson delves into the emotional journey of the girls and the elaborate fantasy world the constructed to hide from the burdens and turmoil of reality. Like much of Jackson’s films he redefines what you thought was a well established type of film providing a vantage point you never imagined was possible. This is also the vehicle that brought actresses Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet to international recognition with Lynskey moving on to a starring role on television’s ‘Two and a half Men’ and Winslet to award winning parts in numerous films.

In 1954 the small community of Christchurch, New Zealand was rocked to its foundation by the murder of a local woman by her daughter and her daughter’s best friend. Known as the Parker-Hulme murder after the perpetrators the case soon was sensationalized and exploited for the titillating details of the girl’s relationship that made this crime exceptionally heinous in the eye of the public. If done for American television the story would undoubtedly be an episode of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ due to the age of the murderers and the perceived sexual component of their friendship. Another well utilized theme found here is a class difference. Pauline Parker (Lynskey) is a fourteen year old girl from a working class home. She is befriended by fifteen year old Juliet Hulme (Winslet). Both were subjected to childhood hospitalizations that served to physically and emotionally isolate the girls from their peer group. This isolation created in both of them the ability to retreat into an intricately crafted and highly structured fantasy world. In short order the two were best friends exclusive to external influences sharing a mutually constructed fantasy world they called ‘The Kingdom of Borovnia’. When Juliet’s parents announce they were embarking on a trip but leaving her behind the girl has a fit of hysteria culminating with the invention of a quasi-religious place she refers to as "The Forth World’. The imaginary place becomes a shared heaven for both girls who weave religious significance to it populating it with favorite movie stars and singers as surrogate saints. Juliet’s parents frequently travel abroad leaving her behind even when she is suffering from an attack of tuberculosis and requires hospitalization. More importantly this separates her from Pauline and the girls begin an intense correspondence. Much of what Jackson uses in this film is culled from these letters and the personal diaries of the girls. The two go beyond a mutual involvement in the fantasy world, the come to act out their stories portraying them as a royal couple. These stories increasingly demonstrate violent event murderous intentions as the friends dissociate more and more from reality. Soon reality is abandoned almost completely, especially for Juliet. When Pauline begins a sexual relationship with a border Juliet becomes agitated and exceptionally jealous. Eventually their relationship becomes sexual and it is decided that Pauline is afflicted with homosexuality. According to the legal and medical climate of the time this was perceived as a mental illness and was listed as such in Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of mental disorders III. When it appears the two will be separated permanently they plot to murder Pauline’s mother.

This film might have been early in Jackson’s career but this movie helped him move on from a local wunderkind to a globally recognized leader in the directorial community. The differences in lighting and plasticene figures straight out of a Beatles song, is beautifully juxtaposed to the starkness of reality. With alterations in lighting Jackson adroitly play with the perception of the audience pulling you into the fantasy of two rather disturbed teenage girls. While not apologetic the responsibility for the murder lies squarely with them although some mitigating circumstances are offered. The issue of the lesbian aspects to their relationship is handled from their point of view with an intrinsic innocence to their mutual feelings. Both girls were entering womanhood deprived of normal socialization and proper parental influence. Their imaginary royal court supplied a form of stability that was denied them through more acceptable means. This is a beautifully photographed film that covey emotions through is imagery and depicts a vastly different look at a true crime story than you have ever encountered.

Posted 07/23/11

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