Going to the Fourth World: Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Opening scenes often make movies and Heavenly Creatures has one of the most intense ones I have seen to date.  A young Kate Winslett and Melanie Lynskey are shown running through a forest with blood stained faces screaming at the top of their lungs.  Given this introduction, it appears as though Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures shares little in common with its cherubic title.  The film is intense, emotional and full of fantastical imagery and for a brief moment, viewers are invited into the 1950's world of a ever-changing New Zealand.  It is a cinematic film in every sense of the world forcing those watching to exercise multiple senses simultaneously. 

The film follows Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey), as she becomes increasingly infatuated with a fellow schoolmate Juliet Hume (Kate Winslett).  Based on the real life Parker's own diaries it is an intimate look into how a homosexual relationship formed amidst oppressive traditionalism and rigid morality guidelines.  The two girls create a world of their own complete with full of clay sculptures, purple skies, and orange fauna.  The world they create serves as a place for them to harvest their growing love as it slowly evolves from a friendship to something far more physical.  Ultimately, however, their love conflicts with the ideals of those around them and in order to prevent its continuation both girls' parents separate them to deter their "sickness."  Uncertain of their future the girls take part in a brutal act of rebellion intending to run away and spend their lives together.  As the closing statements explain this never became the case.

The film is great for two reasons.   The first is that, in my opinion, it shows how truly fragile not only young love is, but homosexual love as well.  Both girls display an instant affection for one another, yet cannot express it under the surveillance of their schools formality.  As a result, much of their time spent together is in a world of fantasy, one in which they set their relationship within hetero-normative standards.  It reflects practices of that period which involved one person passing as the opposite sex in order to make their relationship seem heterosexual, a practice that unfortunately still occurs today.  While the girls' relationship is centered in fantasy, it reflects these behaviors regardless.  The second great thing about this film is its dedication to Parker's diary entries.  The film seems to flow between events sporadically, often portraying moments in an order that leads the viewer to question the chronological order of narrative.  Furthermore, Parker's real-world experiences often infiltrate into her fantasy realm, as shown beautifully in the opera/dance scene in the Fourth World village.  This only heightens the notion that it is a film about inner experiences, as opposed to outward observation.

Besides being an excellent film, Heavenly Creatures provides an early glimpse into the cinematic style of Peter Jackson.  His use of make-up and prosthetic work within this film display faint glimmerings of what he would do with the Lord of the Rings series and, ideally, show what we can expect from him in the future.  It is a great watch and a film well worth owning.

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