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A glimpse of Heavenly Creatures
by Stacy Westbrook

 

I just watched Heavenly Creatures for the second time, having rented it to write this review. I hadn’t seen it since 1994 when it came out. I hadn’t seen it since I came out. The last time I saw the movie, I was a nineteen year old college sophomore, deeply entrenched in a depressive funk. Yeah, I had issues.

Heavenly Creatures is based on a true story; a story in which one Pauline Yvonne Parker, played by Melanie Lynsky, and her friend Juliet Marion Hulme, played by Kate Winslet, conspire to murder Pauline’s mother. It was the worst crime committed in New Zealand in 1954. Pauline wrote the details in her diary.

As I watched the friendship of the girls develop, I couldn’t help but empathize with Pauline; she was awkward, unpopular, dark, shy, and bookish. Juliet was the perfect foil to Pauline — an attractive, bright, effervescent, outspoken transfer student from England. In each other they found a sympathetic soul, and a common bond. Both had suffered from serious childhood illnesses — Pauline from osteomyletis, Juliet from tuberculosis — which had left them emotionally and physically damaged. As Juliet told Pauline, "All of the best people have scars!"

The two grew inseparable, making up fantastical stories about Deborah and Charles, the king and queen of their make-believe world of Borovnia, listening to Mario Lanza records, sharing baths in the afternoon. The stronger their friendship became, the more the girls retreated in to their fantasy world, until they hardly knew the difference between reality and fantasy.

I could have been Pauline Parker. Hell, I had been Pauline, at least for a little while in high school. My Juliet was named Suzanne, and how I worshipped her! We were inseparable at school, on the phone with each other constantly in the evenings, and even wrote poetry to one another. Suzanne was wild where I was meek, outrageous where I was reserved, and she oozed sexuality. She was unlike anyone I had known before in my sheltered private school life. She was my first real crush. I understood Pauline because I knew what she was feeling. The biggest difference was that I wasn’t completely insane, which Pauline turned out to be.

There I sat in the theater, watching my own adolescence unfold on the screen. Well, except for the murder part. Oh, and the bath sharing. Leaving the theater, I had this unshakable feeling of great distress, but I couldn’t put my finger on the cause. That was something that would take me another three months of depression to figure out. It is, in fact, entirely possible that this movie made me reflect enough on my relationships with other women to realize that maybe there was something more than friendship happening for me. I didn’t think about that six years ago, but on my second viewing of Heavenly Creatures, it seemed pretty clear.

So, what about the murder and all that? I never found that to be the most compelling aspect of the movie. For me, Heavenly Creatures will always be about the relationship between Pauline and Juliet. In a bizarre way, it was the only possible outcome given the circumstances. If I, as a fairly sane fifteen year old girl, could let my GPA slip from a 3.8 in the fall to a 2.9 in the spring on account of my friendship with Suzanne, then it does stand to reason that two girls could, given the right situation, see murder as the only means by which their friendship could continue. Crushes are funny that way. We let them blindside us in a way that nothing else, not even love, can. Crushes are as close to madness as many of us will ever get.

I never really thought about the nature of crushes until I saw Heavenly Creatures a second time. I have done strange things when under the influence of a crush. Nothing especially illegal, mind you, and certainly not murder, just things that were out of character for me. It was as though I couldn’t help myself, and agreed to do things that I would otherwise avoid. In high school, I was Suzanne’s loyal sidekick, even if it meant hanging out with her gross boyfriend-of-the-hour. She would get in trouble for kissing boys during lunch hour (we went to a Catholic school), but even that didn’t stop me from following her everywhere.

I’m not Catholic, I wasn’t raised in a religion, and I was never baptized. Hell, mass is one of the most boring things in the world, if you ask me. Yet I used to attend Friday mass with Suzanne just so I could hold her hand during the Our Father. Never mind that everyone held hands for that part of the mass; to me it was special. At that time in my life, I would have done nearly anything to get Suzanne’s attention. Ultimately, my crush ended on the day that she and her boyfriend, and one of his rowdier friends, wanted to go get drunk in a park then drive around. That was too much for me, and I got out of the car. Suzanne’s bizarre power over me had been broken, and none too soon. My grades improved, I wasn’t on the phone all the time, and I was less depressed.

Crushes are extreme in a way that love doesn’t seem to be. Sure, love can make people do crazy things from time to time, but I have to wonder if it is love or obsession that leads to such actions. In five years with my partner, I have never had to do anything extreme to prove my love or to get her attention. But within five minutes of being around someone I have a crush on, I find myself agreeing to go out on the town and coming home drunk, or going to events and parties that I would ordinarily avoid. No matter how old I am, nor how happy in my relationship, there always seem to be people who enter my life and compel me, even for a little while, to be extreme. Every time it happens, I am surprised.

 
 
Stacy isn't really a sociopath, she's just a freelance designer with too much time on her hands.