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Melanie Lynskey
Kate Winslet
Sarah Peirse
Diana Kent
Clive Merrison
Simon O'Connor
Jed Brophy

Peter Jackson



Time: 99 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Murder

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

I remember being highly impressed the first time I saw this film and even more so recently when I succumbed again to the entrancement of this particularly brutal portrayal of a real life crime. It's hard to put a film like this on a pedestal since the events it enfolds are anything but exemplary. However, what HEAVENLY CREATURES does do is completely take you on a journey into the hearts and minds of its young characters, Pauline and Juliet. For good or bad, this is a tale you won't soon forget. Rarely does a director create such a vivid and heartbreaking relationship. Juliet Hulme (who's grown-up to become the well-known mystery author Anne Perry) and Pauline Parker are the only people on the planet who know what really happened between them...and I bet even they have different ideas about the true nature of their relationship. What the film captures perfectly is their utter obsession with each other and the fantasy worlds they created. Given the prolific and complex stories they devised, it's not a big stretch to see how Juliet became a professional writer. It is, however, somewhat unbelievable that she became a murderer.

The film opens with a bang – the girls running up a wooded path covered in blood, screaming that something had happened to Pauline's mother. It doesn't take the local police long to figure out what that "something" was, but we are treated to an extended version of events leading up to this tragic decision. It's clear from the beginning that Pauline (Lynskey) has a fairly strained relationship with her mother. Her family is not rich and forced to take in boarders to make ends meet. Though Pauline does well in her private girls school, she is not exactly overjoyed by her family's sacrifice. That is until Juliet (Winslet) arrives like a breath of fresh air. Neither girl really fits in with the rest of the students and they soon find themselves bonding over stories of childhood illness. Pauline had a rare bone disease that leaves her with some pain and terrible physical scars. Juliet suffers from respiratory problems that kept her away from her parents for many years throughout her youth. These extended separations cause her to be somewhat clingy with her parents and contribute to the obsessive nature of her relationship with Pauline. For her part, Pauline would much rather be a member of Juliet's literate and upper-class family than her own. She feels loved and accepted by the Hulme's and believes Juliet is the only person who really understands her.

"The next time I write in this diary, Mother will be dead. How odd... yet how pleasing."

Their relationship becomes stronger and stronger as they create fantasy worlds of knights and maidens, kings and queens, with death for anyone who stands in their way. Much to their own delight, but the dismay of their elders, they begin to call each other by character name – Juliet is Deborah, Pauline is Charles. They fill volume after volume with their stories and are convinced they will one day go to America where they will become published authors. When Juliet is diagnosed with tuberculosis and committed to a sanitarium for several months, it becomes frighteningly clear to their parents how extremely devoted they are to each other. At best they think the friendship a bit extreme, at worst they fear it's delving into the romantic. (The film implies a more typical love/romantic nature to their relationship at times, but is never completely conclusive one way or the other. Juliet/Anne denies the lesbian aspects.) The Hulmes' leaving New Zealand for an lengthy trip to England causes Juliet to become hysterical with fear. They blame her behavior on her friendship with Pauline and suggest to Honora Parker that she take Pauline to a psychiatrist to see if she's a lesbian. This doesn't exactly engender Mrs. Parker with her teenage daughter.

Pauline's behavior is also a matter of grave disgust to her parents. Her mother is appalled when she discovers Pauline in bed with one of the boarders, who is promptly thrown out. This only serves to cause Pauline to seek out this relationship and actually commit the act her mother most feared. Things come to a head when Juliet's family life falls apart, culminating in her eventual removal to South Africa. The horror of another terrible separation forces Juliet into the arms of Pauline, where they discover the secret door to their fantasy world, a beautiful paradise populated with all the characters from their stories. They use their final three weeks together – their parents think this will help the separation – to implement a plan that will enable them to escape to America. With most of the money in place, their plans are dashed when Pauline is unable to secure a passport. They have no choice but to rely on her mother's generosity of spirit to give her permission to go live with the Hulmes. What she doesn't know is that the Hulmes are only too happy to see an end to this friendship. Seemingly with no other choice, and separation not an option, Pauline and Juliet set upon a plan that will haunt and change their lives forever.

There are two things one learns from watching this movie: 1) murder is a horribly ugly and brutal thing; and 2) that the power of love and the depth of friendship are not to be underestimated. Though based on a true story I'm sure Peter Jackson couldn't begin to capture the complexity of the friendship between Juliet and Pauline, however, I think he did the best job anyone could. There is so much raw emotion portrayed between them that it practically burns through the screen. Winslet, in a powerful performance showcasing the talent yet to come, and Lynskey are almost devastating to watch, knowing the path they are about to embark on. They are such divergent creatures and yet the chemistry and attraction between them is palpable. The visual design is also stunning, giving flight to their imaginations in ways that place you right inside their heads. Needless to say, you've never seen anything like it. The murder scene is also one of the most horrible I've ever seen, mainly because you know it's coming and it isn't pretty, quick or painless. I guess it's not a quarter as graphic as the real event, but it was enough for me. They're lucky they weren't tried as adults or I doubt they would still be around today.

HEAVENLY CREATURES is a wonderfully filmed, amazingly acted tale of friendship and murder, not to be entered into lightly. It is very esoteric in places, moving freely between fantasy and reality. The film centers more on the relationship than the murder, so if you're looking for more of a suspense/slasher pic, this is definitely not for you. Jackson does a superb job bringing you into the hearts and minds of these characters and their story will stick with you. He has to walk a fine line between portraying them as having an active fantasy life and being plumb crazy. One must believe that they committed this heinous crime in order to save their world from crumbling, that they have no other choice. You have to be able to relate to these girls for the film to work and the film does a great job at that. Lucky for Jackson, we've all experienced a relationship where receiving a letter or phone call from that special person meant everything. Thankfully, most of us stop short of murder to hold on to it. HEAVENLY CREATURES may not be a perfectly accurate account of the events leading up to this crime, but it sure is an incredibly powerful piece of cinema.

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