Heavenly Creatures (1994)

(Streaming on Netflix as of 4/19/2012)

Heavenly Creatures makes me think of the quote, “Art is a lie that tells the truth.”

You could never accuse any of Peter Jackson’s films of being cinema verite. And Heavenly Creatures, a movie about two school girls and the fantasy world they invent, is no different. Yet—and here’s where the lie tells the truth—every emotion in this movie feels completely authentic and true.

Jackson captures the nature of childhood friendships, specifically their progression from innocent enthusiasm to unhealthy exclusive obsession. He reminds us something we’ve forgotten as adults: how when you are a child, the whole world vanishes when you’re with your best friend.

Heavenly Creatures is notable as Kate Winslet’s first film, but what’s more noteworthy in my opinion is how it showed us an early glimpse of just how great a filmmaker Peter Jackson really was. His raunchy, body fluid-drenched early horror/comedies revealed his theatrical, stylish side. But Heavenly Creatures showed us the depth of his storytelling. Without it on his resume, I can’t imagine him being trusted with The Lord of the Rings movies.

If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…

The truth in Heavenly Creatures also extends to the darker end on the spectrum of emotions. The movie makes a very gradual tonal shift that explodes at the climax in sudden and shocking violence. Even though it’s been foreshadowed by the homicidal Diello in the girls’ fantasies, unlike the dark humor of those fantasies, the murder scene is unforgiving in its brutality. I’m someone who can watch the goriest of horror films, but every time I see that murder I cringe as if I’m seeing it happen for real.

That’s what I meant when I said that this movie tells the truth. It could have softened that scene, made it play out more movie-like, giving us some emotional distance. Then audience members could have had nice and neat intellectual discussions afterwards about the morality of the characters’ choices and how the director interpreted things filmically. But that’s all bullshit. Jackson keeps you right there in the middle of that horrible act, so when the credits roll all you can do is sit there, shocked by the horrors that we “heavenly” creatures are capable of.

More info at IMDb, RottenTomatoes, and Amazon.com.

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