Heaven Help Them
Sure, Lord of the Rings is phenomenal, but don't ever try to tell us that Peter Jackson proved his genius for the first time in 2001's Fellowship of the Ring. The scruffy New Zealand native has had us in his grasp since the deliciously gory Dead Alive (aka Braindead). Jackson has some gift for cult films--Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and The Frighteners are just a few others. But the real wallop to the head (pun fully intended) turning us into Jackson followers was 1994's Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey and a few others who pop up regularly in his films.
Based on the true story of a matricide in Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand, the film follows the budding friendship of Pauline Yvonne Parker and Juliet Hulme. Although Hulme, now identified as mystery writer Anne Perry, has claimed that the friendship never had lesbian elements, the film does delve into a certain romantic intensity between the two girls, fueled by a fantasy world they created in which they are the royalty of their own Borovnia, a "MAD" world. Pauline wrote in her 1953 poem "The Ones That I Worship": "Compared with these two, every man is a fool/The world is most honoured that they should deign to rule/And above us these Goddesses reign on high/I worship the power of these lovely two/With that adoring love known to so few/'Tis indeed a miracle, one must feel/That two such heavenly creatures are real."
The friendship started innocently enough when Pauline and Juliet bonded over being restricted from gym for health reasons. The two became closer doing average teen girl activities like worshiping "The Saints," including tenor Mario Lanza, and running from shared hallucinations of Orson Welles. (In the style of Hitchcock, Peter Jackson makes a cameo as a bum outside the theater from which the girls run screaming.) They began writing novels, sculpting the characters of their make-believe world and spending all their spare time with each other. Until the possibility of a move for Juliet threatened to separate the two, the relationship seemed intense and curious but not necessarily malicious. The girls, however, would mastermind a murder that, while designed to keep them together, kept them apart, literally, forever.
After watching the film, the weighty situation hangs on the viewer, and a curiosity about the real turn of events plagues the mind. Thankfully, several sites on the Internet offer glimpses at Pauline's incriminating diary entries (including the aforementioned poem), testimonies, police statements and photos of the actual girls that prove how shockingly well Winslet and Lynskey portrayed their characters. We were able to satisfy morbid curiosities, and yet we conjured as well a surprising sympathy for both girls. Anne Perry long ago came forward as Juliet Hulme, but Hilary Nathan (Parker), a devout Catholic, remains a recluse who does not comment on the case. Obviously, the crime was dreadful and cruel, but since this movie's release it has incited a paparazzi-like probing into the lives of the people involved. Although obsessive people continue to try to contact the two women, Jackson features their story in a responsible and objective way, with glimpses into past traumas, emotions and factual information that examine not only a mother's murder, but the motivation of innocents to commit it.
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