A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Heavenly Creatures is based on a true story about two teenage girls in the 1950s who murder one of the girl's mothers. The murder scene is intense, graphic, and suspenseful -- way too much for tweens, most young teens, and any sensitive viewer. There is an air of budding sexuality throughout the film that is sometimes innocent, other times with hints of lesbian psychosexual drama. One of the teen characters is shown losing her virginity; the shots are of faces only, but plenty of suggestive sounds. Still, for older teens, Heavenly Creatures is an imaginative and brilliant portrayal of a gruesome true-life crime from the director of The Lord of the Rings.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) is a sullen and withdrawn 14 year old attending a stodgy girls' school in 1950's Christchurch, New Zealand. But when bright and energetic Juliette (Kate Winslet) arrives as a new student, an inseparable friendship forms over a mutual love of Mario Lanza records and imaginative play. The two create their own reality filled with stories of medieval love and conquest as a counterpoint to their stuffy surroundings, and as the two form an attachment bordering on obsession, their parents begin to worry. As Juliette's parents begin to divorce and plan on taking Juliette to live with an aunt in South Africa, Pauline and Juliette try to save up money to go to Hollywood to make movies inspired by their medieval romances, or, barring that, Pauline plots to move with Juliette. When Pauline's mother (Sarah Peirse) refuses to sign a consent form allowing Pauline to have a passport, Paulette and Juliette plan a hideous scheme: the murder of Pauline's mother.
Is it any good?
HEAVENLY CREATURES is a frightening film. That's not because of the murder's aftermath shown at the beginning of the film or even the murder itself, but rather because of how innocent and seemingly like any other young teenage girl from any time or place Juliette and Pauline seem to be. Their Justin Bieber is Mario Lanza. They are emotional and overwrought about any and all drama that enters their lives. They argue with their parents. They are moody and mercurial in temperament. All of this makes their murder plot all the more terrifying, and makes Heavenly Creatures such a suspenseful and imaginative film.
Peter Jackson's directing is highly creative, weaving rich montages and sequences highlighting the frenetic imaginations of the two girls and creating a counterpoint to the girls' drab and repressed 1950's surroundings. The under- and overtones of sex and violence throughout don't exactly make this a "family film," but for adults and older teens, Heavenly Creatures is an unforgettable experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this film was inspired by a true crime. Lots of movies and television shows are inspired by true stories. What are the similarities and differences between Heavenly Creatures and other movies and television shows that draw on true stories?
What purpose do you think the dream montages and imaginative sequences serve? What would be lost if they weren't in the film?
How is the stodginess of 1950's New Zealand conveyed through place and character, and how does this contrast with the wild imaginations of Pauline and Juliette?
- In theaters: October 14, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: September 24, 2002
- Cast: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Peirse
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, High School, History
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: A chilling murder and some sexuality.
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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