Friday, January 29, 2010

Heavenly Creatures

Peter Jackson seems to be a director for whom reality holds no interest. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, so long as he chooses his projects well, but it's clear that he wants to spend as much time as he can creating novel and interesting worlds rather than deal with the mundane reality. As such, he's the perfect person to take on the story of Heavenly Creatures, a film about two young girls who eschew reality and live in a fantasy world of their own creation, with less than positive results.

Melanie Lynskey is Pauline Parker, a perpetually scowling girl from New Zealand. Kate Winslet is Juliet Hulme, a new arrival to New Zealand who is one of those kids who is a bit too loud and a bit too convinced of their own brilliance. They bond over the fact that they were often sick and are not especially popular, and retreat into a lovingly rendered fantasy realm. That fantasy becomes increasingly intense, as does their bond, which leads their parents to be concerned about their well being. Unfortunately, this is interpreted as a threat to their friendship, and to their world, with tragic results.

I feel the need to make special note of the camera here. Camerawork, naturally, can create a mood, but with a variety of sweeps and turns, Jackson manages to capture that feeling of obsession and happiness that begins an intense relationship. The camera throughout sets the mood, from romantic, to horror, to the last sequence which is somewhat elegiac. Sometimes it's a bit overplayed - zoom for emphasis isn't the best choice - but the camera catches the emotions of the characters.

It's an interesting journey it goes on. Contrasting the elaborate fantasy of two main characters with the more sensible concerns of their parents keeps everything in context. While it endeavors to give an understanding of the girls' motives, it keeps the audience from getting convinced they were right. Parker's mother is deftly played by Sarah Peirse, who manages to pull off the impossible trick of being kind and tender and absolutely awful depending on whose perspective the scene is seen from. It works hard to keep every side of the story in focus.

It's obvious that the fantasy sequences were Jackson's favorite part of the production, but that's fine, because they're an essential part of the story. The way they are intercut with reality gives a unique perspective into the minds of the girls, who were so obsessed with their manufactured reality that they had great difficulty in the real world.

When I talked about Champion, I spoke about how that movie succeeded because you cared about the character at the center. Here, it works because you understand those characters, who were also real. You won't agree with their course of action, but you will get a glimpse into their mind. While it's a vividly realized place, it's also somewhere where you wouldn't want to be.

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