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"Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit has a body count."
Heathers is a 1988 High School movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Also adapted into a 2010 stage musical with a limited run. The musical has been revived as an Off-Broadway production for the spring of 2014. It has its own separate page here.The film is an extremelydarkdeconstruction of the then massively popular wave of teen movies. The protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is an unhappy member of the most popular and powerful clique at Westerberg High — the "Heathers", so named because the other three members all share the same first name. At least, until a mysterious new guy named Jason "J.D." Dean enters Veronica's life. They end up poisoning the Alpha Bitch and making it look like a suicide. Pretty soon the bodies start piling up as Veronica realizes that J.D. is a psychopath with ambitions tied into his nihilistic views of human behavior.This was one of the most cynical (albeit funny) films of the era, and a cult favorite that's famous largely for reasons completely different from what the writer wanted. The film's writer conceived the film largely as a satire of how society sensationalizes teen suicide, but fans opted instead to focus on the plotpoint of how J.D. and Veronica killed off their school's bullies as the chief draw of the film.The history of the film's release added to its cult status: the studio that produced Heathers went out of business within weeks of its release, ensuring that it only had a brief run in theaters. However, critics loved the film and it would become popular with its home video release (and countless airings on cable, granted in Bowdlerised form). That said, the film's influence can be seen in later Black Comedy high school movies, like Jawbreaker (1999) and Mean Girls (2004), the latter being considered to be a PG-13 Spiritual Successor to this film.The sadly ironic fates of two of the actors from the film has also made it uncomfortable watching these days for some fans - see Harsher in Hindsight on the YMMV tab.
Dear Tropers, this film provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: J.D.'s father Bud Dean is strongly implied to be a sociopath who doesn't care about his son. He also drove his wife to commit suicide in front of her son.
Acquired Situational Narcissism: Somewhat averted, where Veronica has, pre-movie, ditched her old friend Betty Finn to get in with the Heathers and participates in their mean girl hijinks, but a) is extremely self-aware and self-loathing about it all and b) still speaks to Betty in the cafeteria and once invites her over for a game of croquet—the film deals with the social aftermath of such a shift rather than making the moralization of it the Aesoppy point.
Adults Are Useless: The parents are shown to be self-absorbed and oblivious to their children's problems until they are dead, and the teachers are cynical towards their handling of the dead kids (for instance, the Hippie Teacher who wants to exploit the deaths for group bonding rituals).
All Are Equal in Death: Part of the really dark alternate ending that was changed after Executive Meddling. After Veronica prevents J.D. from blowing up everyone in the school, she ignites the bombs herself. All the kids, no matter their clique, appearance, or background, are then shown interacting peacefully in heaven. The trope is lampshaded in the film, when J.D. says:
Let's face it, all right! The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.
All of the Other Reindeer: Subverted and played with. Heather Chandler says to Veronica "No one at Westerberg's gonna play your reindeer games." Most of the goings-on, including Veronica's heroic save, happen without the rest of the school knowing who's behind it.
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed. In this case the bad boy is a complete psycho, murdering three of the popular kids and intending to blow up the entire school and pass it off as a group suicide. The girl who wants the bad boy soon realizes the mess she's got herself into and realizes how much better her life would have been without him.
Alpha Bitch: Heather Chandler (and later Heather Duke). Played a bit non-standardly, because the protagonist isn't her unpopular rival but a member of her Girl Posse, albeit an increasingly uncomfortable one.
Asshole Victim: Deconstructed. Heather Chandler, Kurt, and Ram are all horrible people but the film makes a point that no matter how awful they were, killing them wasn't the answer. In fact, they all become more popular in death due to the lies Veronica and JD plant on them that paint them as jerks on the outside but with tragic private lives. Similarly, after their deaths they are shown to have families who deeply cared for them.
Ashface: She's pretty banged up all ready, but when J.D. blows himself up her whole outfit is charred.
Auto Erotica : As a cover after they shoot Ram and Kurt in the woods, JD and Veronica take off their tops and make out in the back of the car.
Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Heather Duke: After Heather Chandler's death, Heather Duke quickly becomes the new queen bee. Of course, Heather Duke morphs into this role herself rather quickly. Toward the end of the film, Veronica begins to realize that if they kill Heather Duke, someone else will come take her place; possibly Veronica herself.
Badass Longcoat: Used before it even became that popular... and also before the shooters in Columbine dressed the same way.
Beta Bitch: Heather Duke and Veronica share that role while Heather Chandler is alive, though both resent it - Duke the 'beta' part (and happily moves onto the alpha position when Chandler dies), Veronica the whole deal (but is willing to stick to it and admits that while she hates Chandler, she 'will be kissing her [Chandler's] ass tomorrow') and only ditches it with JD's influence. Heather McNamara is way down the totem pole and not enough of a bitch to even compete.
Betty and Veronica: Played with. There are a Betty and Veronica in this movie, but they don't fill the same roles. Subverted with Veronica's suitors. There is no "good" Betty and "bad" Veronica—each is worse than the last, with JD her primary interest and the others (Brett and Kurt) being setups from the Heathers. Technically, JD plays the role of Veronica to the non-murderous but date-raping, drunken, JerkAss Bettys.
Big Fun: Poor, poor Martha Dumptruck. "Big Fun" is coincidentally also the name of the band behind the song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," which is used at several points in the film. Martha is wearing a "Big Fun" tee shirt when she attempts suicide, and JD blackmails Heather Duke into helping him circulate a petition around the high school to have Big Fun perform at the Prom, which is actually a disguised "suicide" note from the student body he plans to have found after he blows up the school.
Bilingual Bonus: J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets they intend to shoot Kurt and Ram with are German "ich lüge" bullets, which are supposedly non-fatal, so that she will go along with the shooting. "Ich lüge" means "I am lying" in German.
Bookworm: Duke. She's shown reading in several scenes and her bookishness is even adapted as the 'theme' of her (J.D. induced) 'suicide' in Veronica's dream.
Bury Your Gays: Discussed and invoked - falsely. Everyone thinks the two football players killed themselves because they were gay lovers who were convinced that they would never be accepted. Everyone, that is, except Veronica and J.D., who forged the suicide note that led everyone to believe that the two heterosexual football players were secretly gay lovers.
Captain Ersatz: Christian Slater is soooo not trying to sound like Jack Nicholson throughout the whole film.
Color-Coded Characters: Most of the primary characters wear their own color of clothing which represents their dominant emotions, though this isn't noticeable at first. Heather Chandler is red for lust and power in school; Heather McNamara is yellow for her cowardliness; Heather Duke is green for her jealousy towards Heather Chandler's power and later wears red when she gains power; Veronica and J.D. both wear black to signify that they are murderers, although Veronica's ensemble is usually black set off by some other color to symbolize that she is not as far-gone as J.D., and as she breaks away from him toward the end of the movie, she shifts to dark blue, symbolizing her partial turn away from evil. Chandler's red hair bow becomes a symbol of power, as after her death Duke claims it for herself, symbolizing her replacement of the original Heather. Veronica forcefully taking it from Duke at the end of the film shows the end of the Heathers' power.
Kind of a stealth joke, but in a scene where Veronica opens Chandler's locker out of guilt, you can see a clipping of Barbara Kruger's piece "I Shop Therefore I Am" on her locker door. Which Chandler probably taped on because she loves to shop, but the piece's true meaning is to criticize people who are just defined by what they own, not by what they think.
The country club kids ask what they'd do with $5 million if the Earth was going to be destroyed in two days, and start talking about investments and charitable donations.
When Veronica tells her parents that all teens want is to be treated like human beings and not patronized like bunny rabbits, her father indignantly responds "I don't patronize bunny rabbits!"
The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Some of these suicides are a little too on the nose. One might wonder who brings gay porn with them on a suicide pact, but it's made pretty clear that the cops didn't give a shit.
Couldn't Find a Lighter: Veronica lights her cigarette off of the explosion that just killed her ex-boyfriend J.D. Also, when Veronica burns the palm of her hand with a car's cigarette lighter (intentionally), and JD lights a cigarette from the burn-scar's residual heat. This scene is also one of a few incidents of Veronica's Self Harm (noted on the DVD commentary).
Cow Tipping: There's a scene where two Dumb Jocks try to impress Veronica and a Heather by cow tipping despite the girl's obvious displeasure at being there. When the boys succeed in pushing the beast over, it lands in a puddle and splatters the girls with mud.
Crucified Hero Shot: Subverted in the film's climax: It's done by the villain, J.D., as he's about to blow himself up. And then he has to break the pose to slap the stuck timer on his bomb vest to get it to continue before resuming the pose.
Date Rape Averted : No less than three times! The first time, Veronica tells off her "suitor" at the college party while Heather Chandler is coerced into oral with another creepy guy. The second time, Kurt is so drunk Veronica fights him off; again, Heather is not so lucky. What's Played for Laughs as a Funny Background Event is Heather McNamara being raped on the cow pasture. And the third time, J.D. grabs Veronica and kisses her hard. She fights him off. Once Veronica dumps J.D., he continually forcefully kisses her, causing her to continually fight him off.
Deadly Prank: J.D. and Veronica try to prank Heather Chandler by breaking into her house and concocting a drink made up of orange juice and milk and convincing her to drink it. J.D. pours a glass of drain cleaner as well, and Veronica accidentally switches it. J.D. notices, but decides not to tell her, and Heather Chandler promptly dies when she ingests it. Veronica and J.D. are shocked, and make it look like a suicide. Subverted both in the sense that J.D. later reveals that he completely intended this outcome, and tries to kill more teenagers by claiming to Veronica that they're "pranks," and insofar as it is suggested that Veronica also really intended to kill Heather Chandler but refused to admit it.
Deadpan Snarker: Veronica, Heather Duke, Heather Chandler, and J.D., mainly.
Death by Irony: J.D. is responsible for killing several other teenagers throughout the film, and sets the murders up to look like suicides. After failing to blow up the school, he commits suicide by blowing himself up with his own bomb.
Demolitions Expert: Played with with Bud Dean. He expresses a bit too much glee at inventing new ways to blow up major buildings and outright delights at destroying places that had special memories to people, implying a Mad Bomber mindset, but he channels his urges into a lucrative demolition business. He accidentally killed his wife when she walked into one of the buildings to kill herself, but he doesn't incidate any remorse. J.D. steals some of his father's bombs to blow up his school.
"Do It Yourself" Theme Tune : The song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" is performed by pop band Big Fun, which is made up of members of the production crew.
Driven to Suicide: Darkly subverted, in that all the deaths by "suicide" are actually murders, and all the attempted suicides either fail or are revealed to be faked.
Faking the Dead: Near the end of the movie, Veronica pretends to hang herself to find out from J.D. what his ultimate plan is. She then tries to stop it, with his assumption that she's dead providing a cover at first.
The only real and successful suicide is ironically committed by the person who faked the other suicides. In the end, J.D. willingly blows himself up, alone, after his plan to take the school with him is thwarted.
Dude, Not Funny!: An in-universe example when Veronica's boyfriend J.D. cracks a joke at the funeral of two of their victims that they made look like a double-suicide and the little sister of one of the boys killed turns to look at them while crying. It's at that point, Veronica begins to realize how messed up she's becoming under J.D.'s influence.
Exact Words: Kurt and Ram attempt to humiliate a geeky boy who stepped on their shoes by putting him in a full nelson and not releasing him until he admits he's gay. The problem comes with the phrasing they use...
Kurt: Say you like to suck big dicks. Say it! Say it! Geeky boy: Okay, okay. <beat> You like to suck big dicks.
Eye Open: The close-up on Veronica's wide eye as she wakes from her nightmare.
Fake-Out Make-Out: At one point, Veronica and Jason elude a police officer by not just kissing, but also by disrobing and getting into a car. Notably, they do attract attention — just not for the shooting. Over radio, another officer asks whether or not the two are naked.
Fallen Princess: The movie revolves around the sole non-Heather member of a clique of girls named Heather, who, with the help of an attractive but weird loner, decides to get back at them for their bullying ways with pranks which quickly turn into a killing spree.
Played straight, only with the old friend being a minor character. It turns out that Heather D., who is becoming the new head of the school's food chain, was once best friends with the unpopular, unattractive, and obese Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock. Heather D. is so ashamed of this that when she finds out J.D. has photographs of the two of them playing together, she pays him to get rid of them.
Averted with Veronica and her best friend Betty. They are still friends but don't get to hang out as often due to Veronica being seized by the popular crowd. They reunite by the end when Veronica severs ties with the Heathers (Whom she didn't really like to begin with).
Freudian Excuse: J.D. had a really bad childhood, being the son of a sociopath who drove J.D.'s mother to suicide by walking into an exploding building in front of him. This goes a long way towards explaining his own budding sociopathy.
Genre Deconstruction: The film is a rather bitter deconstruction of the popular John Hughes style teen movies at the time. The bad boy the heroine lusts after is actually a disturbed psycho who lures the heroine into his scheme to murder the popular kids and he even tries to blow up the school and pass it off as a group suicide. She isn't happy to be part of the popular kids and it's actually that which makes her want to murder them. Also the Girl Posse aren't the cookie cutter bad guys with one of them being bulimic and sick of being a butt monkey while another genuinely contemplates suicide. Even Heather Chandler, the Alpha Bitch, is shown being objectified and used by the jerk at the frat party and her self-loathing afterwards.
George Washington Slept Here: Big Bud Dean, J.D.'s father, laments that his construction company is having conflicts with a local organization:
Big Bud Dean: Some damn tribe of withered old bitches doesn't want us to terminate that fleabag hotel. All because Glen Miller and his band once took a shit there.
Gilligan Cut: Veronica really hopes her date doesn't take her Cow Tipping. This was acknowledged on the DVD commentary track with a remark along the lines of "And this is our 'Gilligan's Island' cut here.."
Girl Posse: The film is named after the girl posse in the film, of which three out of four girls all have the given name "Heather". H. Chandler is the Alpha Bitch, H. Duke is jealous of Chandler's power, H. McNamara is a meek follower, and Veronica is the newcomer who actually hates being part of the group and did it solely to become In with the In Crowd.
Goodbye, Cruel World!: J.D. and Veronica forge these in faking the suicides of various popular high-school students.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: The three main Heathers only wear their own colors and the protagonist, Veronica, wears black and blue to show her outsider status inside their clique. Heather Chandler wears red, showing her leadership status. Her red hair bow shifting to Heather Duke shows the latter's replacement of the former. And Veronica snatching it back from her is used to symbolize the end of the Heathers. The homicidal J.D. is clad entirely in black, showing him as the villain.
Hidden Depths: Played straight and subverted. Played straight in that, after being coerced into performing fellatio on a college student at a party, Heather Chandler rinses her mouth and spits on her reflection in a mirror. It's the only scene in which the audience sees her completely alone, and says a great deal about her perception of herself and her self-loathing, which is unseen in any other scene where she is flanked by her subordinates and/or doling out abuse to those she considers her social inferiors. Subverted with the same character, as well as Kurt and Ram after their respective (fake) suicides: other students in the school, including those who were verbally bullied by Heather and physically bullied by Kurt and Ram, come to believe that the dead students weren't as shallow as their abuses would imply.
Peter: Heather and I used to go out, but she said I was boring... but now I realize I really wasn't boring at all, it's just that she was dissatisfied with her life.
Stoner Girl: Sorry to hear about your friend. Thought she was your usual air-head bitch... Guess I was wrong.
High-Class Glass: Subverted. Veronica wears a monocle whenever she writes in her diary, but it's not to show off her wealth or class, but rather that she's kind of an oddball.
Mood Whiplash: An in-universe example. Veronica and JD are giggling at Kurt and Ram's funeral ("How would he react to a limp wrist with a pulse?"). A young member of the family turns around and she's crying. Veronica shows her first sign of deep remorse.
Mugging the Monster: In J.D.'s first scene, the resident school jocks Kurt and Ram decide that it would be a good idea to try to bully J.D., not knowing that they're dealing with a murderous psycho. He grabs his revolver and fires at them in front of the whole cafeteria, only for it to be revealed later that he was using blanks, but Kurt and Ram were still scared shitless.
Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Much of the humor comes from the utterly preposterous reactions to the suicides, ranging from sudden adulation of the deceased to rejoicing to shameless cash-ins to ultimately glorifying suicide itself—but reserving it for the popular kids.
New Media Are Evil: Adults are quick to blame MTV and video games for the cause of the suicides.
Heather: "Think l'll drink it just because yοu call me chicken? ... Just give me the cup, jerk!"
No Celebrities Were Harmed: No one knows why Christian Slater decided to play J.D. as a teenage Jack Nicholson (probably because Nicholson is famous for playing psychos...), but he did do Nicholson quite well (well enough that one viewer was convinced the two actors were related). Christian Slater has said that it was because he is a big fan of Jack Nicholson and also that that was just the way he talked at the time.
Non-Nude Bathing: Veronica does this in the girls' shower upon hearing that Heather Chandler's death is being venerated.
Precision F-Strike: Weirdly subverted, due to Executive Meddling, according to the DVD commentary. In the alley scene, when Heather calls out Veronica ("You stupid fuck!" "You goddamn bitch!"), they were supposed to use the word "cunt," as "fuck" had already been used several times. But censors thought this was too much (!).
Rage Against the Reflection: In a variation of this, after performing oral sex on a Jerk Jock, one of the titular characters takes a drink of water and spits it at her reflection in the mirror. The self-loathing in that scene certainly explains why the character is so rotten to everyone else.
Serial Killer: J.D. kills off other high school students that he doesn't like. Later, he aspires to become a mass-murderer when he tries to blow up the whole school.
Shout-Out: According to the DVD commentary, the first lunchroom scene is an homage to Full Metal Jacket in its lighting and framing. The writer originally wanted Kubrick to direct "the ultimate high school movie."
Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn are a playing on both Betty and Veronica and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, symbolizing how close they used to be.
J.D. has a lot of this. He's obviously named after J.D. Salinger for obvious reasons. His surname is Dean, as a reference to James Dean. His given name recalls another Jason notorious for killing stupid teenagers. And of course, J.D. really is a J.D.note Juvenile delinquent Heather McNamara refers to him as "Billy the Kid."
Shower of Angst: The day after Veronica kills Heather #1 and makes it look like a suicide, she hears other girls in the locker room buzzing about how her death has raised her status even higher. Veronica staggers, still clothed, into the shower. It may look to the others that she's stunned by the news, but it's more because her plan backfired.
The Sociopath: J.D is a tragic example. He's initially seen as charming, but he's also reckless and has poor impulse control, manipulates and lies to people around him, doesn't consider other people's feelings beyond what they mean to him personally, and has a constant need for stimulation and gets off on the murders he commits. It's emphasized that his horrible life partly made him what he is, though, and ultimately in his own twisted sense of morality he believes that he's doing people a favor.
Staged Shooting: Subverted when J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets in the guns he's provided for a "prank" are fake-but-realistic-looking tranquilizer darts; but which turn out to be very real and very deadly. This is played strictly for laughs.
J.D. creates a package to leave at the scene of the football players' "suicide," which includes a bottle of mineral water. Later, that bottle (along with the note) convinces the policemen that the two were, in fact, gay.
Veronica writes the word "myriad" in Heather Chandler's fake suicide note, pointing out that she had gotten the word wrong on a previous English test. When the teachers are discussing the 'suicide', one of them says how impressed she was that Heather used the word in her suicide note.
Strip Poker: J.D. and Veronica play strip croquet off-screen.
Suicide Pact: Subverted. What looks like a suicide pact between two gay lovers who were also the stars of the high school's football team is actually a case of murder. Later, J.D. tries to blow up the whole school and frame it as a mass suicide pact.
Pretend I did blow up the school - all the schools. Now that you're dead, what are you going to do with your life?
Wire Dilemma: J.D.'s bomb can be switched off by pressing one of three buttons, all of which are red. He refuses to tell Veronica, but somehow turns it off himself by sticking his knife into it.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: J.D. tries to blow up the whole school and kill everyone inside in a staged mass suicide. He thinks he's doing them a favor by sending them to Heaven, which he thinks would be a more peaceful place without social strife.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: J.D. For starters, his father is a sociopathic bastard who doesn't care for him (when asked if he even likes his father he responds with "I haven't given the matter much thought"), and his mother killed herself in front of her son's eyes to get away from her husband. His entire life has been spent moving around from town to town and school to school wherever his father's demolition job took him, where it is implied he saw the same scenario of clique groups bullying other students at every high school he's attended. He starts out by murdering Jerk Jocks and Alpha Bitches and making their deaths appear as suicides (also implied as something he's done before), but he ultimately resorts to trying to blow up the entire school. He explains his intentions are such because he believes nobody loves him, and that "the only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven", somehow seeing the school as a representation of society itself.