Monday, 9 December 2013

Heavenly Creatures (1994) - ★★★★★

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Clive Merrison, Diana Kent, Simon O'Connor, Jed Brophy, Bill Perry

“You cannot know nor yet try to guess, the sweet soothingness of their caress. The outstanding genius of this pair, is understood by few, they are so rare. It is a miracle, one must feel, that two most heavenly creatures are real.” Those lines will always stick in my mind, for they describe a most captivating relationship, and come from what I consider one of the finest films ever made.

Set in 1952, this is based on the true story of Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey), and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet), two 14-year-old girls who share a deep and intimate connection with one another. They escape into their imaginations for fun, but also to get away from the world that tries so hard to bring down their relationship. A fateful event made them infamous across New Zealand. 

The introduction to this film is just astounding. Peter Jackson tells us about the setting through using an old tourism video about the city of Christchurch in the 1950s. After that, we see some ridiculously awesome cinematography by Alun Bollinger, who uses numerous camera angles to illustrate the people, time and place. The cherry on the cake is the religious hymn that accompanies these sweeping moments, sung by a school choir. It’s a meticulously detailed introduction, which is something that rarely happens in films other than masterpieces.

I believe that Juliet is so eccentric because she escapes into a world of imagination and happiness. It’s a place where there is so much joy that she could almost burst, with idols like Mario Puzo and James Mason inhabiting it. This became apparent to me when she ran to the hill at Port Moresby, incredibly upset because her parents were going to England without her. After having a nervous breakdown, she stands up and pretends that beautiful, fragrant flowers surround her. It’s her way of escaping the torment of having disinterested parents, and living in a world that is plain and uneventful. This realisation would not have been possible if it weren’t for the dazzling performance by Kate Winslet. She just inhabited this character, and gave her dimensions that would not have been visible with most other actresses. It’s one of the best debut’s I’ve ever seen.

Paul is a very interesting character. She loves being around Juliet. All that she does, it is to be closer to that energetic, beautiful ball of life that is her best friend.  In many of the scenes where they’re being eccentric, you can tell that Paul’s heart is not fully in it. She’s having the time of her life, just being with Juliet and doing the things she does; but she doesn’t fully submerse herself in that imaginative, unreal world that her friend so often visits. However, the more time they spend together, the more Paul starts believing in the ‘fourth wall,’ the imagined beautiful world. In the beginning, you can tell by the expressions on Melanie Lysnkey’s face, where it’s apparent that although she’s involved in all craziness, she doesn’t believe it’s really happening. Deep down, Paul is just your average girl, moved to do the extraordinary by the person she loves most in the world, which is Juliet. It’s a relationship I absolutely adore. Lynskey’s performance is one of the most powerful displays of love and devotion I’ve ever seen. A performance that is truly worthy of an Academy Award.

Perhaps the most moving thing of all about the relationship between Paul and Juliet, is the fact that it is based upon a real story. When we hear Lynskey reading the diary entries of the real Paul, we get to know just how devoted and serious the friendship truly was. Lines such as “I spent a retched night. It would be wonderful if I could get tuberculosis too,” were a real wake-up call for me. Not only did this statement show me how young and naïve the girls really were, but it displayed the power of Paul’s love for Juliet better than any re-enactment possibly could. Still, Lynskey and Winslet did their relationship justice.

“Homosexuality. I agree Mrs. Freeman, it’s not a pleasant word. But let us not panic, this condition is often a passing faze of girls Paul’s age.”
“But she’s always been such a normal, happy child.”
“Oh, it can strike at any time, and adolescents are particularly vulnerable.”

This conversation pretty much sums up the consensus of people’s understanding of homosexuals. Seen as an illness, reviled as Satanic, and treated like the plague. Heavenly Creatures took a stunning turn and showed us how society crashed in and drastically impacted Paul’s life. The world, including her family, is against her being a lesbian. The only person that accepts and sympathises with her is Juliet. It’s very sad to know that these two young girls, and countless others like them, could not be themselves without being subjected to the torment of religious moral opinion. Yet, I cannot hate Paul’s parents for acting the way they did. You could see they worried and cared about her so much, and only wanted what was best for their daughter. It was the 1950s, a time where sex and sexuality was not something people discussed. The only crime committed by the parents was their lack of understanding of something they had never learned about nor faced in their lives. These things are never black and white.

An orchestra of strings makes up the score, which is both incredibly beautiful and haunting. It oozes the feelings of amazement, desire, and love. Yet it has a dark undertone to it. Almost like a longing for something that will never happen. When Paul and Juliet are running through the woods chasing after her little brother, the score elevates the emotions of Paul to a new level. Juliet is a girl that she greatly admires, and it is her first visit to Juliet’s gorgeous stately manor.  As she runs through the picturesque woods, trailing Juliet, I could just sense all of these feelings through the exquisite facial expressions of Melanie Lynskey, and the superb music by Peter Dasent. It turned what seemed like a minor scene, into one of the key establishing sequences of the film.

Peter Jackson is a masterful filmmaker. He may always be remembered for his outstanding Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I do believe the most finely crafted film of his is Heavenly Creatures. Each scene has such purpose and strength within it, which is elevated by the magnificent performances, cinematography and score. It’s the visual style that separates this film from all others. From amazing life-sized, live-animated clay figures, to the stunning images and costumes in the fourth wall, Jackson fully commits to recreating the imagination of two young girls from New Zealand. His masterful manipulation of special effects, as well as his understanding and sympathy for the characters, make Heavenly Creatures a riveting film on every imaginable level.  

I felt absolutely dreadful during all the events that led up to the ending. I put myself in Paul’s shoes, and felt the nerves wrack my insides. The thoughts that must have been going through that girls head, I will never understand. All I know is that the film suddenly felt very claustrophobic. I felt suffocated as Paul and Juliet followed through with their plan, all the way up to the tea-shop. The scene where they were having tea with Paul’s mother made me feel inexplicable emotions. For some reason, I identify the mother with my own, which is why it had such a powerful effect on me. Then there was that haunting score by Dasent, which only strengthened the sinking feeling in my stomach. In fact, my heart felt as if it was breaking as they walked with the mother through the forest. Yet again, Jackson created an unforgettable sequence in Heavenly Creatures.

This film rendered me speechless. In all my life, only a few films have ever done that to me. Not only is Heavenly Creatures a severely underrated movie, it’s one of the greatest films ever made.

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