Heavenly Creatures may be the best film I've seen so far from Peter Jackson, even after having gone through the Lord of the Rings, King Kong, even Dead-Alive. His film is loaded with so much that it's hard to classify it as one specific thing, and its psychological complexities make it something special. One way to describe the picture is that it's about the stirring friendship-cum-relationship of Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) in 1950s New Zealand. Another way to describe it is showing the other side, the much darker side, of a coming of age story, where youth have to come to terms with realities, with horrific results. And even another way is that it's another in a big line of independent films that work on the relationship between fantasy and reality, or rather the practical need for abstractions to try and not get too close to the mundane, and then the all too hard to accept realities around the characters.
But there's another way to describe it too that I like best, and that also marks it as something even more special than some might realize- it's one of those rare, sensational takes on what it's like to be in that dreadful cocoon of an age at 14 and 15, when hormones go completely insane, parents are more of an enemy and force to be reckoned with than a helpful, compassionate side like when younger, and at times the world seems like it could end at any moment if something changed for the worse. This is where I think Jackson strikes it hardest and most fulfilling, even as the other descriptions are not un-true at all. In this case, Juliet and Pauline are at that age, and when they first meet they first connect very strongly, being outsiders in their class, though completely in tune with their fantasy life of romanticized worlds, knights, an opera singer, and (some) male movie stars. But this becomes complicated more once they first get briefly separated due to Juliet's illness, and when they meet again there are suspicions from both sides of the family ('homosexuality' is shown in a close-up shot of the mouth of one of the father's saying it, as if it's like the plague), and the dysfunctions of Juliet's side end up drawing things to its very tragic end.
Along with the substance being at a very high quality, of a script that deftly combines the elements of lush fantasy mixing and matching- sometimes without discerning- through a powerful subjective viewpoint, mostly through Pauline, there's unexpected scenes that are touching. For example, there's a scene where she reluctantly loses her virginity to a boarder, and through this she keeps cutting back and forth in her dulled state to clay knights. This is a motif, I suppose, that is expounded upon alongside the narration from Pauline, which adds her subjectivity to a fault. And all the while the objectivity becomes pushed aside, or at least is questioned. What is it to be so different from how everyone in this 1950s time views their uncommon bond? Whether they are or aren't lesbian is up for debate, it's left ambiguous even when its put up-front in the last twenty minutes. And all the while, Jackson directs it stylistically with the same verve he had with his early films, though balancing the wild fantasy with the grounded reality; he's even playful with it, however dark, which includes a great tip-of-the-hat to Orson Welles and the Third Man.
All the while, too, the performances by the two leads are stellar. It's actually shocking to see Lynskey not get better roles since, as her Pauline is totally defined and made real and, at least in some sort of emotional way at times, relatable or sympathetic. Winslet, meanwhile, has one of her best here, as the more outward one personality-wise of the two, who is even more immersed in the fantasy than Pauline, but has a vulnerability that is crushing. Everything combines together then- the direction, the writing, the performances and the actual mixed psychology behind it, and it becomes quite memorable. It's not a very easy picture to watch at times, and its implications are disturbing, but it has more guts and determination to tell its story full-on than many others I can think of. A+
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