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“Heavenly Creatures” a Drama by Peter Jackson Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2020


Heavenly Creatures is a 1994 drama, romance, as well as science fiction and fantasy movie that originated from New Zealand (Jackson 10). Based on a true story, the movie is directed by Peter Jackson who also co wrote it with Fran Walsh. Jim Booth and Peter Jackson produced the movie that stars Malaine Lynskey as Pauline and Kate Winslet as Juliet. The two actors make their screen debuts in the movie, with a support cast that includes Sarah Peirse and Diana Kent. The New Zealand Film Commission and WingNut Films hold the production rights of the movie, which was released on 14 October 1994 in New Zealand (Jackson 16).

The one hour and thirty-nine minutes movie premiered in the United States a month after it was released. The plot of the movie revolves around a murder case in New Zealand that involves two teenage girls that have a troubling relationship (Howe par.1). The bad relationship between the girls is triggered by hatred and envy because of their indifferences. Pauline is a student with a carefree attitude and low self-esteem triggered by her weight issues and un-courteous mannerisms. She is friends with Juliet, a beautiful girl from a wealthy British family that had moved to New Zealand from England.

The friendship develops based on shared interests in music, art, and literature, all of which drive them to develop fatal obsessions with a fantasy world they create (Jackson 30). Their parents later start becoming wary of their sudden change and make efforts to reconnect them with reality (Howe par.2). This turns tragic as the girls turn to violent ways in order to achieve their freedom from the parents. The result is the death of Pauline’s mother. The movie is characterized by a lot of imaginative production, good performance by the actors, and excellent special effects that allow the viewer to connect with the two girls in their fantasy world experiences (Hallenbeck 200).

Formal analysis

One of the strongest elements of the movie is its production. Heavenly Creatures comes across as a tasteful, persuasive, and thrilling movie with a very disturbing tale that does a good job in capturing the imagination of the viewer (Gateward 40).

This plays a crucial role in keeping the viewer glued to the screen and excited because one keeps imagining the possible thing that can happen next. This is highly enhanced by the high standards of editing that help to make easy transitions from one scene to another. A good movie is characterized by the ability of the producer to make the viewer remain interested in watching the movie to the end, as well as making easy connection between different scenes (Jackson 39). This element is highly influenced by the quality of editing standards as used in the movie. The editor makes the transition interesting with the use of various sounds, images, and camera angles to trigger the viewer’s imaginations at the end or beginning of a scene (Gateward 47).

The sound execution is clear and perfect across all the scenes. Another strong element of the movie is its cinematography, as evidenced in the sharp camera angles that help in capturing every detail of the action, the good lighting that allows the viewer to comprehend the visual aspects of the tale, as well as excellent camera movement that help in bringing the viewer as close to the action as possible.

One of the crucial elements to producing an excellent movie is casting the right people for various roles (Jackson 47). In Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, Jackson found the right people to tell this kind of a story. Despite this movie being their first, the two actors do a very good job of bringing out their characters in a manner that the viewer can easily relate with the movie’s theme. For example, Lynskey who plays Pauline has a very effective way using her eyebrows to communicate with the viewer about her mood at different times. On the other hand, Winslet who plays Juliet perfectly brings out her state of violent mental agitation by agreeing to things with minimal conviction, and laughing a lot. It is not very easy to tell such a heartbreaking real life story in such a masterful and skillful manner as Jackson has done in the movie (Gateward 62).

It is important to note that the viewer easily finds himself developing his or her own fantasy visions. For example, the producer has perfectly presented the sad lives of the two teenage girls, which leaves the viewer imagining the better life that the girls would be having in their fantasy world that they are ready to do anything as far as killing in order to experience it (Hallenbeck 213).

Events that influence the plot

The plot of the movie develops from a true story that made a significant impact in the history of New Zealand in the early 50’s. In 1952, the country was stunned to learn of the murder of a woman in Christchurch that involved two teenage girls. One of the girls was the woman daughter, whose relationship with the mother was rumored to have deteriorated after she befriended a girl that had transferred to her school from England (Howe par.4).

Allegedly, the girls killed the woman by crushing her head with a rock after she had constantly tried to break their friendship that many people believed was romantic in nature. The girls were tried and sentenced to five years in prison after which they were required to contact each other ever again (Case 103). The production of the movie happens at a time when the film industry had begun embracing the need to promote creativity and freedom of interpretation with regard to telling real life stories. Although the story that inspired the production of Heavenly Creatures had its own facts, Jackson and his team interpreted them in order to connect with a bigger audience and highlight the elements of the story in the perspectives of the involved characters (Gateward 100).

Telling real life stories through movies

One of the elements that the movie brings out is the impact of friendships and the ever-growing challenge of understanding people that identify with their sexuality. The two teenage girls involved in the murder are rumored to be involved in a lesbian relationship, which leads to their parents freaking out. At the time when the movie is produced, countries such as the United States had already started embracing the concept of people in same-sex relationships with regard to according them their rights (Case 111).

The producer does a very commendable job in the way he uses the movie to communicate the values of the community in which the cast members lived in, as well as the perceptions that different people had with regard to the concept of sexuality. It is also important to note that the movie presents the events that characterized the murder case with a lot of precision. Its production marked the advent of a new element in film making that involved staging real life situations in an entertaining manner, while at the same time informing the audience about their facts (Case 126). Heavenly Creatures was one of the first movies to test the concept that has had a huge influence on the rise of art cinema in such an effective manner.

The movie attracts very positive reviews because it presents the facts of the story in a manner easily comprehendible by anyone (Jackson 61). It is important to note that some facts were omitted in the movie due to the complex nature of the story. Nonetheless, this helps to influence the pitch of the movie in a positive manner because it allows the viewer to figure out the key elements of the story such as the motivation behind the murder, its execution, and the aftermath. It is also important to note that the information shared in the epilogue, a short speech addressed directly to the audience at the end of the movie is accurate (Case 128).

However, the epilogue does not offer every little detail of the tragic story for the sake of the younger audience that might watch the movie in the absence of their parents or guardians. The film also accurately captures the physical details of the murder, the girl’s ailments, flashbacks, and events before the film (Jackson 69). This movie can easily be used as a reference point for the murder story because of these elements. Movie covers a lot of the country’s history, thus putting it on the global map (Case 166). For example, its nomination for an Academy Award in 1994 and its feature in various film festivals across the world have helped to put New Zealand’s film industry in a good position.

The perception developed about New Zealand

Heavenly Creatures is a perfect example of the kind of influence that postcolonial filmmakers such as Jackson are making in the development of art in New Zealand. Over the years, he has built a reputation of using film cultures from various parts of the world and changing them to suit the national context within which a movie is shot (Fox 186). In the film, Jackson uses various elements of the American film industry to create a new perception about New Zealand’s cultural identity. During the time when the events depicted in the movie were taking place, the country’s film industry had an orientation towards telling stories of postcolonial struggles experienced by its people.

The industry is slowly moving away from a culture of nationalism, which blocked avenues for film producers to tell stories that attracted an undesirable image for the country (Fox 193). Following the conclusion of the World War II, filmmakers found the need shift from the culture of promoting fictional equality and embrace cultural variability and influence from other nations. This explains the high influence of the American film culture in the movie as witnessed in Hollywood. Some of the characteristic elements of Hollywood that Jackson uses in this film that introduce new perspectives to the New Zealand’s film industry include use of dollars, repulsion, comedy, and creative writing (Fox 202).

From the movie, it is clear that New Zealand is still a settler colony. It is an independent country within the British Commonwealth. Since achieving its independence from the United Kingdom in 1907, New Zealand has continued its ties with the colonizers. This is evidenced in the movie through the relocation of Juliet’s family from England to Christchurch. In addition, the United States is depicted in the movie as one of the settler colonies owing to the huge impact on the film industry in the country (Fox 214).

For example, the concept of same sex relationships has been a common feature in the American film industry for a long time. The fact that Jackson triggers the imagination of the viewer along this line in the movie, gives a clear indication that the country’s perception about the issue could be shifting towards promoting diversity. In addition, the producer manages to introduce his audience to the perceptions and attitude that the people in New Zealand have with regard to myths about destiny (Fox 219).

Since the movie revolves around the lives of two girls that have developed an obsession with the desire to reach their destiny shows the aggressive nature of the people. It shows that there is always a dark side in everything that gives people the drive to exploit their potentials and reach their destiny. The movie also helps the viewer in understanding the country’s legal structure during the murder case hearing. New Zealand has a very stable legal structure that seeks to promote social justice and equality for all (Fox 230).

Works Cited

Case, Sue-Ellen. The Domain-Matrix: Performing Lesbian at the End of Print Culture. California: Indiana University Press, 2006. Print.

Fox, Alistair. New Zealand Cinema: Interpreting the Past. New York: Intellect Books, 2011. Print.

Gateward, Frances. Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood. New York: Wayne State University Press, 2002. Print.

Hallenbeck, Bruce. Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008. New York: McFarland, 2009. Print.

Howe, Desson. Heavenly Creatures. 1994. Web.

Jackson, Peter. Heavenly Creatures. London: Cine Market, 2009. Print.

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