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Film / Heavenly Creatures

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"'Tis indeed a miracle, one must feel, that two such heavenly creatures are real."

Heavenly Creatures is a 1994 drama film directed and co-written by Peter Jackson and starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in their film debuts.

Set in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the early 1950s, the story is narrated by 14-year-old Pauline Parker (Lynskey) through her diary entries.

Pauline is a bright, imaginative, but gloomy girl, traits that set her apart from her salt-of-the-earth working-class parents and run-of-the-mill schoolmates. Enter Juliet Hulme (Winslet), a New Transfer Student from England, born to a wealthy, glamorous, intellectual family – everything that Pauline dreams of for herself.

Bonding over their shared traits – childhood ailments, feelings of superiority and loneliness, an imaginary fantasy kingdom – Pauline and Juliet quickly become inseparable. Both their fantasies and their friendship sustain the girls during a tumultuous year in which Pauline's already rocky relationship with her mother steadily declines, Juliet's health issues threaten her life, and the Hulmes' marriage teeters on the brink of divorce. With their worlds falling apart around them, Pauline and Juliet begin to withdraw not only from their families, but from reality itself, retreating into fantasies in which they escape to The Fourth World, a Personalized Afterlife of "music, art, and pure enjoyment" occupied by their hand-selected "saints" and accessible to only an elite few "heavenly creatures" – such as themselves.

Alarmed by the changes that the intense friendship has wrought on their daughters, the girls' parents agree it would be best to separate them, with Pauline's mother appearing to be the ringleader behind the decision. Juliet will be sent to live with relatives in South Africa, while Pauline, unable to obtain a passport without her parents' consent, will be left behind. But on the eve of Juliet's departure, Pauline comes up with the perfect plan for the girls to stay together.

Based on a True Story. Weird trivia note: the real Juliet Hulme later achieved international fame as best-selling mystery novelist Anne Perry.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Although she is rightfully portrayed as the undeserving victim of a terrible betrayal and murder, Honorah's more unreasonable aspects are toned down for the film; in real life she pulled Pauline out of school because she thought it was giving her ideas above her station rather than because she was concerned for her.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Of the girls' fantasy realms. In real life, Pauline wrote as the ruler of her own fictional kingdom of Volumnia, while Juliet's kingdom was Borovnia. Likewise each kingdom had a tyrannical, murderous heir of the realm: Princess Marioli for Volumnia and Prince Diello for Borovnia (with Marioli being the more sadistic and dominant of the two). The film condenses this down to the single kingdom of Borovnia and makes Diello the primary baddie.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Pauline's younger sister Rosemary. Rosemary had Down's Syndrome and lived apart from the family in a state institution, as did many such children at the time. Unlike most institutionalized children, however, Rosemary was still very much a part of the family: the family travelled to see her almost every weekend and frequently took her home for extended visits.note  Likely she was Adapted Out because it would have required explaining why a young child kept disappearing and reappearing throughout the film, a narrative thread that might have distracted from the main story. Even a casual mention of "we're going to see Rosemary on Saturday" would seem like a throwaway line without more context.
    • People watching the film might not even realize that Pauline's maternal grandmother (the "Nana Parker" who told her about Honorah running off with Pauline's father) lives with the family. She's the elderly woman visible in the background during the second Christmas scene, and in the "dinner table" sequence in the Director's Cut, she offers to break a wishbone with Pauline. While technically present, the film makes it seem she's only visiting for the holiday, not the part of daily life she really was.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Pauline seems to be relatively well-liked at her school and cordial with her family when the film begins, but withdraws as her friendship with Juliet intensifies.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: The movie involves two girls escaping from the harsh reality they live in by creating an imaginary kingdom - this trope comes into effect when one of the girls starts showing signs of insanity and becomes more and more obsessed with the imaginary world to the extent of everything else. Even her parents' lives. But the girls are also obsessed with being together in reality. This is a pretty significant divergence from the events the movie was based on, as such claims were part of an Insanity Defense that was pretty quickly rejected (more like demolished, accompanied by ridicule from the prosecution. The girls' own statements and writings proved that they knew exactly what they were doing and that it was morally and legally wrong, just felt it was justified under the circumstances).
  • Bathtub Bonding: The girls frequently bathe together and are shown chatting from opposite ends of an enormous clawfoot bathtub. (The subject they're bonding over is murder.)
  • Big Fancy House: Ilam, home of the Hulmes. It's huge, beautifully furnished and elegant with vast gardens and grounds.
  • Blood from the Mouth:
    • Juliet has tuberculosis and she starts coughing blood at school.
    • One patient at the place where Juliet is
  • The Cameo: The homeless guy Juliet hugs towards the beginning of the movie when she and Pauline are running out of the theater in joy is Peter Jackson.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The movie's first glimpse of Pauline is a shot of her hastily tugging her stocking up her thigh as she hurries to school. In the final scene, the same stocking, now loaded with a brick, is used to bludgeon her mother.
    • The ring with a pink jewel in the middle that first shows up in an Imagine Spot is what the girls use to distract Honora so they can attack her.
  • Chuunibyou: The two girls' delusions of The Fourth World and their alternate personae there can be interpreted as a particularly dark case of Chuunibyou, years before the term was coined in Japan.
  • Closet Key: The introduction of Juliet. Not only do her personality and interests perfectly compliment Pauline's, but she is also constantly shot in a romantic/idealised way, never more so than when Pauline visits her house for the first time. Whatever the true story was, the film frames it as a love story between Pauline and Juliet- and Juliet is most certainly the Closet Key.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: In-universe, murderous and violent Prince Diello resembles Orson Welles, whom Juliet vocally despises as a ugly, horrid man, and Pauline learns to fear after watching The Third Man, though he's clearly an erotic fascination for both of them: when Pauline mounts Juliet, they respectively imagine the other as Diello and Harry Lime.
  • Commonality Connection: Juliet and Pauline bond over their shared history of being sick. They are also both huge fans of the Biggles adventure series.
  • Completely Off-Topic Report: The girls are assigned to write an essay on "The Role of the Royal Family Today". Juliet writes on the royal family of Borovnia, the fantasy realm she and Pauline created. Pauline comes to her defense by pointing out the assignment never specified which royals.
  • Cure Your Gays: Pauline's therapist thinks that homosexuality, a terrible disease in his eyes, could be cured eventually.
    Doctor Bennett: Chances are she'll grow out of it. If not... well, medical science is progressing in leaps and bounds. There could be a breakthrough at any time!
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: A variation, but when Pauline's parents are Slut-Shaming her for sleeping with John (when she actually had only cuddled with him), she retaliates by sneaking over to his house and making it official, whilst imagining she's actually in Borovnia reuniting with Diello and the rest of the royal family, including Juliet.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Because the setting is the early 1950s, the Doctor and the parents talk about homosexuality like it's a horrible disease that must be cured as soon as possible.
  • Did Not Think This Through: The murder plot was just as poorly thought out as you'd expect from two teenage girls with delusions of grandeur. Their plan hinged on the (unbeknownst to them) very unlikely possibility that Honorah would die instantly from a blow to the back of the head. When this doesn't happen, they panic and kill her in such a brutal way that it's virtually impossible for the police to even consider any other hypothesis than murder. Even more egregious is the fact that Pauline wrote extensively about her plans and left the highly incriminating journal in plain sight in her room. The police waste no time in arresting and charging both of them.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: When the doctor tells Pauline's mother he has diagnosed Pauline with "homosexuality," he can barely get the word out.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: John takes this to creepy levels when he climbs into Pauline's bed, then pressures her to have sex later, and then follows her train on a bike, screaming about how much he loves her. Values Dissonance as back then this would just be considered cute teenage/young adult behaviour.
  • The Dreaded: Orson Welles... for some reason. Possibly because he had put on numerous nightmarish radio drama and stage plays, including a version of Dracula with script taken straight from the book, Orson had quite the reputation among young women in this time period. You either thought he was fascinating and sexy, or — the most hideous man alive. (Pauline is fascinated by him while Juliet can't stand looking at his photo.)
  • Enfant Terrible: Prince Diello, the young heir to the rulers or Borovnia, is very murderous.
    Deborah: Although only ten, Diello has so far killed fifty-seven people and shows no desire to stop. It worries me, Charles!
  • English Rose: Juliet is a pretty, intelligent girl from England, born to a rich, glamorous, intellectual family. She has striking eyes, blond hair, peachy-pale complexion, bee-stung lips and visually fits the archetype very well. She's attached to her parents, is seen playing with her little brother and has an intense friendship with Pauline. She's occasionally too spirited and sometimes downright rude to teachers, which might be excused because she's a teenager, but later events subvert this trope entirely: English Rose can't be a murderer.
  • Faux Documentary: The "Visit Christchurch!" film that begins the movie. It looks and sounds like your typical 50's documentary.
  • Feet-First Introduction: We are first introduced to the girls with a shot of their running feet as they flee the murder. When the movie proper begins, our first view of Pauline is her feet as she hops a fence to get to school on time. The camera continues to focus on her hurrying feet, obscuring her face until she's on her way to assembly.
  • For Your Own Good: Juliet is repeatedly told "it's for the good of your health" and sees it as an excuse for her parents abandoning her. She does a towering rant on this subject when Honorah uses the phrase. When her parents tell her they're not only leaving Christchurch for England but that she isn't going with them, that they're going to ditch her in South Africa with an aunt, they give her the "for the good of your health" bullshit again and she lets out a frustrated, gut-wrenching scream.
    Juliet: They sent me off to the Bahamas for the good of my health. They sent me to the Bay of bloody Islands for the good of my health!
  • Henpecked Husband: Dr. Hulme, rector at Canterbury College and a distinguished professor, is submissive to his wife Hilda. She even moves her lover into their house.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Averted, surprisingly. Kate Winslet does in fact bear a striking resemblence to the young Juliet Hulme, while Melanie Lynskey actually scales her attractiveness down to play Pauline.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Pauline believes Dr. Hulme is working with the girls against Pauline's mother's plan to separate them, when he's the one who introduced the idea of keeping the girls apart.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Gina, a gypsy girl from Borovnia. (In addition, many former schoolmates of the real Pauline described her as "gypsy-like," with black hair and flashing eyes. Small wonder Pauline chose Gina as her alter-ego.)
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a blood-spattered Pauline and Juliet screaming at passersby for help, then flashes back to two years previous to show the events leading up to this moment.
  • I Have Many Names:
    • Pauline Rieper, AKA Paul (for short), Charles (role-playing), Gina (another role-play character and briefly her preferred name), Yvonne (middle name/family nickname), Pauline Parker, after it's discovered that her parents never married, and Hilary Nathan, after being released from prison. (Additionally, Pauline renames her lover from boring ol' John to Nicholas after yet another role-playing character who loves the fictional Gina.)
    • Juliet Hulme, AKA Deborah ("Debórah," her role-playing name), Giulietta (Italian for "Juliet" and Pauline's romantic name for Juliet in her diary), Antoinette in French class (though In Real Life, she briefly insisted on being called this by her family), and Anne, as the alias she used after she was released from prison.
  • Imagine Spot: The girls imagine very violent things happening to a sanctimonious priest, a smarmy child psychologist, and their parents. Other Imagine Spots have them visiting Borovnia, and they have a spiritual vision of the Fourth World (their version of heaven).
  • Intimate Hairbrushing: When Pauline is on a trip with Juliet and the Hulmes, Hilda brushes Pauline's hair who really enjoys the attention. Shortly after Hilda lovingly (though in a jest) calls Pauline her foster daughter. It's meant as a compliment to the girls' strong bond.
  • In a World…: Read and played with in the trailer, narrated by none other than Don LaFontaine.
  • Irony:
    • The girls concoct the scheme because they are desperate not to be separated—only for them to be arrested immediately, sent to different prisons, and "it was a condition of their release that they never meet again".note 
    • When asked by police if his daughter kept a diary, Herbert Rieper directed them to where the diary was kept, unlocked and in plain sight on Pauline's desk. He stated that neither he nor his wife would ever read their child's diary as they considered that an unforgivable breach of privacy—a very honorable sentiment, particularly for parents in conservative Christchurch in the 1950s. Had they been a little less noble and a little more nosy, Honorah's death might have been prevented.
  • Kubrick Stare: Pauline, ever the gloomy girl, keeps giving people (and the camera) the stink eye. She glowers at her parents, teachers, classmates or her doctor.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Dark-haired, shorter, curvier, dramatically pale Pauline in contrast to taller, slimmer, peachy-pale skinned blonde Juliet. Justified, as the actresses were chosen in part for their physical resemblance to their real-life counterparts.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Both girls gradually come to embrace the idea that they are "mad" as they become more and more infatuated with each other—and their infatuation eventually drives them to murder.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Juliet and Pauline accept the idea that they are "mad" as they become more and more infatuated with each other—and their infatuation and fear of being separated eventually drives them to murder. The common belief of the time was that homosexuality was a form of mental illness and a sign of low morals, thus being in love would mean that the girls were literally both "crazy" and "evil." Both sets of parents certainly take this belief to heart, and their interference unwittingly leads to tragedy.
  • Mad Love: Juliet and Pauline become madly in love and are devastated when they learn they are going to be separated. It manifests in their fantasy world: It even has its own banner that explodes in blood!
  • Made of Plasticine: The Borovnians. Literally. The girls create their characters from clay in their reality, and they look like that in their fantasy world as well. Those plasticine suits must have been hell to wear. There's a note in the credits: Special thanks to the brave Borovnian extras.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Juliet for Pauline, at least initially. (At times Juliet seems clinically manic, gushing effusively about her fantasies, posing dramatically, and possessed of boundless energy.)
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Pauline thinks that murdering her mother will solve her and Juliet's problem and that without her mother's interference, she will be able to stay with Juliet.
    Pauline (journal entry): Anger against Mother boiled up inside me, as it is she who is one of the main obstacles in my path. Suddenly, means of ridding myself of this obstacle occurred to me.
  • Ms. Imagination: Both Pauline and Juliet by quite a bit.
  • New Year's Resolution: Pauline starts 1953 with a resolution to be "more lenient" with others. By 1954, her resolution has darkened to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be dead."
  • Nice Guy: In real life, Mr "Bloody Bill" Perry turned out to be this. He married Hilda, was very kind to Juliet, and soon adopted her, giving her his surname.
  • One-Gender School: The girls attend Christchurch Girls High School, one of the oldest all-girls schools in New Zealand. It remains girls-only to this day.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: When Mrs. Rieper chews out Pauline about sleeping with John and calls her a "cheap little tart", Pauline angrily retorts that she's no better, as Honorah ran away with Pauline's father (who abandoned the wife and children he already had) when she was only a little older than Pauline herself. Even more scandalous for the 50s, Mrs. Rieper actually never married Mr. Rieper.
  • Parents as People:
    • Despite being seen as a villain keeping her from Juliet, Pauline's mother really does seem to care about what is best for her daughter, but just doesn't know how to handle her. Pauline didn't make it easy for her.
    • In the Director's Cut, stoic Dr. Hulme is shown curling up in an armchair and weeping like a child as he hears his wife and her lover laughing together in bed.
  • Parental Neglect: Juliet's parents left her alone in hospital for five years when she was first sick. Then in the film, when she's diagnosed with tuberculosis on her lungs, her parents simply leave her behind to go on a business trip (her father has a conference while her mother is accompanying him). Honorah had believed they'd cancelled the trip and is clearly bewildered by their decision.
  • Parental Obliviousness:
    • Pauline's father thinks the major concern is that the girls don't spend enough time out of doors in the fresh air—ironic, considering what actually happens when they finally go for a walk in the park.
    • Both sets of parents are concerned that their daughters might be lesbians but they fail to see what is really wrong: it doesn't occur to them that they are so desperate that they begin plotting murder.
    • Mrs. Hulme repeatedly insists that "it's all perfectly innocent" when her husband expresses concerns that the girls might be engaging in inappropriate behavior. (Views of lesbians and teen sexuality in the 1950s notwithstanding, a fifteen-year-old girl taking nude photos of herself with the intention of mailing them to Hollywood film producers really is a matter for parental intervention.)
  • Real-Person Cameo: One of the photos in Pauline's room is the real Juliet Hulme.
  • Screaming Birth: Juliet enacts one as Empress Deborah giving birth to Prince Diello (a cushion). Pauline is on hand as Emperor Charles assisting the delivery.
    Charles: Deborah... we have a son — and heir.
    Deborah: I shall call him — Diello!
  • Shout-Out: The photo of Orson Welles that floats away on the river is a homage to a scene from The Third Man.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The entire film was shot on location in Christchurch, NZ. They even filmed where the actual murder took place. According to IMDb, it became eerily quiet when they started shooting, so they moved up a few paces until things felt comfortable. That's the actual tea shop in the park; when filming was completed, the tea shop was torn down so that it wouldn't become a Graceland.
    • Even the actual 1950's Christchurch Girls' High School was used, despite the school itself moving from the City Centre to Riccarton in 1986 and the building having become an art gallery. The building was later torn down after being damaged beyond repair in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
    • Exterior shots of Ilam, the Hulmes' home, were filmed at the actual Ilam, including the scenes of Juliet singing on the balcony and greeting Pauline from the bridge. Ilam, once the Christchurch University Dean's residence, is now an events venue, but the exteriors and gardens have not changed much since the time of the murders.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Pauline shuts up her mother who accuses her of having loose morals.
    Honorah: You're nothing but a cheap little tart!
    Pauline: Well I must take after you, then! (Honorah slaps her.) You ran off with Dad when you were only seventeen! Nana Parker told me!
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: While only peripherally involved in the story, short, stout, Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette Pauline has a tall, blond, glamorous-looking sister.
  • Sock It to Them: The movie ends with a murder committed with a brick in a nylon stocking.
  • Standard Fantasy Setting: Borovnia.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Pauline and Juliet are fourteen and fifteen at the beginning of the film, sixteen and seventeen by the end. Together they plan and carry out a murder.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Honorah's death. She's beaten with a brick stuffed in a stocking. Violent as it is, the film actually tones it down.
  • Title Drop: Pauline's poem has the phrase "heavenly creatures".
    "'Tis indeed a miracle, one must feel,
    That two such heavenly creatures are real."
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Juliet's mother, as mentioned by director Peter Jackson. He believes it's possible that Mrs. Hulmes told Juliet that Pauline could come with her to South Africa, but that she would need Mrs. Rieper's permission. Jackson believes Mrs. Hulmes knew that Mrs. Rieper would never consent, and so made the offer in order to not come out like the bad guy. Unfortunately, this led to Pauline seeing her mother as the only obstacle to a happy life with Juliet...
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • In the film, Juliet is framed as the rich, popular blonde beauty and Pauline the dumpy, friendless outsider. In real life, however, Pauline was described as glamorous by classmates: a "proud beauty" "like a gypsy" with "flashing eyes that would just strike you dead." Far from being ostracized or withdrawn, Pauline was a clever, well-liked Tomboy who only became an outsider when she dropped all her old mates in favor of Juliet. In contrast, Juliet was considered a snooty Brit with a "perpetual cold" who exaggerated her symptoms for attention, and who was described as sickly and sallow, with a constant dour expression.note 
    • Juliet's teachers fawned over her and overlooked a great deal of her disrespect and arrogance simply because she was English, wealthy, and the daughter of the college dean, as opposed to the film where teachers frequently call out her rude behavior.
    • The "Letter from Old Stew" scene is more bunkum. Pauline was not failing English, but doing well in school and didn't want to leave. Honorah pulled her out because she felt the school was causing her to have pretensions/ambitions above her lowly working-class station. The letter, when it came, questioned Honorah's decision, and was signed not just by Miss Stewart but by Hilda Hulme, Juliet's mother, who was on the school board. Had Jackson stuck to the facts here, it would have gone a long way toward establishing Honorah's real character and Pauline's motive. Since he wanted to make Honorah nicer than she really was, the incident was rewritten to portray her as just a concerned mum.
    • According to Juliet Helm, now named Anne Perry, although the relationship between the girls was obsessive, the two were never lesbian.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Juliet's brother Jonty disappears about halfway through the film. His absence is never explained or remarked upon.note