Shots of Fantasy: Heavenly Creatures
This post is for Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.
The second time I saw Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was on the big screen, brought by CINSSU in the winter of 2008. Peter Kuplowsky introduced it, saying that this movie never gets shown in its proper format and getting it on 35 and screening it will do the film justice. Which makes my best shot above gloriously majestic. Peter Jackson doesn’t need to go the extra mile to show the girls’ fantasy world. This shot, instead, is all about inclusion, Jackson including Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Yvonne (Melanie Lynskey), making them as small as the unicorns on the right hand side. They’re immersed into the fantasy instead of being its voyeur, legitimizing the [ETA] Fourth World’s tangibility.
It’s a self-imposed challenge that if I haven’t written about the movie on my blog, I have to rewatch it. By 7:06 PM of the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I would have seen this movie a whopping four times. On Facebook, Chris D. Mischs called it an ‘ugly’ movie. This is the first time I have heard the movie being called that, and it let me cloud my mind. But I guess it’s a marvel that it took that fourth time for me to see its flaws, like the pans or zooms ending with either Juliet or Paul of them turning around to face the camera that makes the film less naturalistic. Or when Juliet exclaims ‘That’s great!’ while finding out that Pauline can break into the latter’s dad’s safe for their fare money. Which leads us to how this movie is about two hormonal teenagers who act without hesitation, and the queer politics involving them and their crime.
I did see positive aspects of the film. Its cinematic references, despite the obvious one from The Third Man to the subtle homages to Throne of Blood and the Sound of Music. How Winslet, although imperfect in this film, can seamlessly switch from one emotion to another. Or that yes, Lynskey and Sarah Peirse look the same but I never realized how much the actress who plays Juliet’s mom looks much like Winslet herself.
My second and third viewings made me assume that Juliet is the dominant person in the relationship, the one with the nice big mansion. Paul hangs on to her every word, subscribing to Juliet’s fantasies and crushes, but she does get to hold the reins too, like when she tells Juliet that her breath smells like onions. Juliet couldn’t have suggested to kill Paul’s mom (Peirse), Paul did. There’s even the moment when Juliet hesitates in the act but Paul looks at her as if to do her part. It’s the same ambivalence when I watched it those second and third times. My focus then was on Paul’s relationship with her mom. The second time, I sided with Mom, the third with Paul.
I first saw this film when I was ten or eleven, airing on a local channel. Winslet became more recognizable worldwide because of Titanic, and for some reason I remember her movies being played a lot back in the Philippines. The opening scene just shocked me. Kate wasn’t just the girl in Titanic, she was an actress.
I can’t remember any other time I’ve felt that in between then and now. I guess that means I’m easy to impress, put a little blood and screaming and I’m captivated. I’ve noticed that except for two movies, she’s always made great entrances. Whether she adds scenes that top the first one or not, I’d still remember how her character is introduced and rely on either the pathos or enthusiasm there. And good God can the girl cry.
How did this movie slip through the cracks of the Philippine censorship board? Back then I thought that everything in Hollywood spoon-fed me was great, but movies like this gave me a new criterion for what makes a great film, a criterion that I stood by until my second year in University – the more fucked up a movie is, the better. Which is obviously reductive, since I needed the few more viewing to appreciate its cinematography, pacing, acting and all of that.
It also felt rebellious as a boy who has yet to discover his sexuality to have seen two characters who cross the line without blatantly calling themselves that. I distinctly implanted the close-up of the psychiatrist’s teeth as he diagnoses Juliet and Paul with the condemning word ‘homosexuality,’ and back then I defended them as not homosexuals because I thought their intense and pure friendship shouldn’t bear that denigrating title, which reflects my innocence or ignorance on the subject itself and that they weren’t homosexuals because they didn’t look the part.
On Ingrid Randoja’s seminar last year
because I’m so cool, she noted this as one of canonical lesbian films in the gay 90’s. This and the one with Jennifer Tilly where she and her girlfriend kills someone too. Which again subverts my recent reading that it’s one of those ‘gays who KILL’ movies. I still don’t know how to feel about a movie that packages a stereotype differently. Despite the little flaws that I see now, watching this film is like the girls seeing the Fourth World. It’s something radical and I hope it’s not too much to thank Jackson and the actors for making a movie that shook my world.