This absorbing film is a harrowing look at the tortures of adolescence.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Heavenly Creatures" is based on the stark facts of an actual criminal case that riveted New Zealand in 1954. Beyond that, this absorbing film is a harrowing look at the tortures of adolescence. New Zealand director Peter Jackson and scriptwriter Fran Walsh have made a movie so strong that it left a recent preview audience in stunned silence.

Juliet Hulme, 15, and Pauline Parker, 16, are foreigners within their own families, and neither understands that emotional isolation has a very short life. Feeling trapped at 15 seems like forever. Emotional and physical connection become their one safe haven in a lonely world. When Pauline's mother threatens their friendship, their solution is to bludgeon her to death.

Pauline is writing gloomy whinings in her diary when Juliet arrives at Christchurch High School flying her counterculture banner. Daughter of the rector of the city's establishment college, Juliet bedevils her proper teachers and wins Pauline's heart. Together they create a fantasy world to shut out the real one that is failing them. Only the "heavenly creatures" they are, Pauline says, can see the imaginary beings they create, and so they cavort in the Hulmes' garden among the unicorns and butterflies and mythic clay figures of their fantasies.

Traveling by bicycle to reach Juliet, Pauline leaves behind the cramped, shabby house of her parents for the privacy of the elegance that surrounds the Hulmes, who are too busy with academic politics to give any thought to the girls. Whenever Juliet's arrogance dissolves, the pain of youthful limbo is searing.

The physical aspect of the girls' friendship finally draws the attention of their parents, who respond with the phrasing of the '50s, "unnatural, sick, unhealthy," without understanding the contradictory needs of their daughters for independence and connection. When the Hulmes decide to move away, Pauline's hatred of her obstructionist mother turns to loathing. The girls decide to kill Honora Parker.

"The happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon," Pauline writes, "so next time I write in this diary, Mother will be dead." And so she is. The murder makes it too easy to leave the extraordinary intensity Peter Jackson has built. He has created the abysmal adolescent loneliness most of us have tried to forget, and he has done it through the eyes of the girls. If the adults are caricatures, aren't extremes the province of the very young? He has caught vividly both their imaginary world and the real one from which they are so disconnected.

As Pauline and Juliet, Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet do very well in conveying their contempt, their arrogance, and their fear. The haunting postscript to this film is the announcement that the girls were released from jail on condition that they never meet again. Under new names, Pauline works in an Australian bookstore and Juliet is a successful British writer. In today's avaricious celebrity culture, someone will surely compound the tragedy by tracking them down.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Studio: Miramax
Rating: R 1h38m

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