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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Heavenly Creatures' Travels A Dark and Haunting Journey

"Heavenly Creatures," the critically acclaimed 1994 film now available on video in Moscow, is a visionary voyage to an inner realm where obsession and emotional need shade finally into madness. It also explores the connection between creativity and hallucination, the ambiguous power of the imagination in its dealings with reality -- and unreality.

The film tells the true story of New Zealand teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, who in 1954 brutally murdered Pauline's mother. The diaries Pauline kept, detailing the girls' enormously rich fantasy life and their increasingly intense dependence on one another, formed the basis both of their convictions for murder and the Oscar-nominated screenplay -- by Frances Walsh and director Peter Jackson -- of "Heavenly Creatures." Yet despite this open window into the mind of one of the perpetrators, the ultimate motives for the crime remain beguilingly opaque.

Both girls are shown to be slightly disturbed from the outset. Pauline, whose parents run a boarding house, is a dark and dumpy 14-year-old, hobbled by a childhood bone disease and discomfited by the strict and starchy regimen of the Christchurch Girls High School. Suddenly, Juliet arrives, all bright and golden, like an emissary from another world: well-traveled, well-off, the child of academic, progressive parents, and obviously unbowed by the hidebound ways of the sleepy provincial city. The two girls begin to bond through their love of art, and a shared history of ill health -- Juliet spent years of her childhood separated from her parents while recovering from a respiratory disease.

The blossoming of the friendship is shown in a brisk, giddy sequence that captures well the exhilaration that comes from at last finding a soul mate after years of emotional desiccation; but it is also one of the weakest segments of the movie, an outbreak of clich? in a work that otherwise moves to its own distinctive rhythm. More subtly, we are also shown something of the reality behind the facade of Juliet's "golden life," the sense of abandonment, on the deepest level, that pervades her relationship with her parents.

The intensity between Pauline and Juliet creates a force field that disturbs everyone around them. This power is fueled by their fantasy life, which finds expression in their Gothic fiction and in the remarkably skilled clay figures they create to people the "Fourth World," an imaginary realm where the two girls rule as king and queen, and where matinee idols like Mario Lanza and James Mason serve as honored saints. (In a very witty move, Orson Welles, for whom the girls have a fascinated loathing, comes to symbolize a demonic figure in their alternative world.) Jackson does an excellent job of building tension and fascination as a series of crises finally push the girls into full-blown hallucination, a shared unreality that only confirms for them the uniqueness of their bond.

Jackson takes us with them as they move in and out of the "Fourth World," with several stunning fantasy sequences. These are perhaps the key scenes in the movie, conveying by image and indirection the otherwise unfathomable drift toward psychosis. As the adults around them prove weak and wanting in their various ways (as adults always will to teenagers), the fantasies take on an increasingly violent tone. At the same time, the world of reality reveals itself to be quite fantastic in itself, with its own secret strangeness and painful dislocations.

Throughout, the narrative pulsates with a beautiful, dreamlike quality, and like a dream threatens to break down at any moment into incoherence. But it also carries the emotional cohesion of the most vivid dreams, which hang together despite their shifting moods. And one of the best things in the film is its careful delineation of these shifts: Jackson keeps us swinging back and forth between the beauty of the friendship and its destructive intensity, the repose of their self-created paradise and its unnerving dark side, the humor inherent in much of the situation and the tragic outcome that hovers over everything.

The New Zealand-produced feature introduced two very fine young actresses. Melanie Lynskey, as Pauline, has perhaps the hardest part, certainly the least sympathetic, for it is harder to understand what drives her toward a murderous hatred toward her harried but kind-hearted mother. But she turns in a effective performance, full of wonderful nuances: Her gestures and body language convey much more than the voiced-over narration from her character's diaries. Kate Winslet, as Juliet, went from this striking debut to an Oscar nomination for her role in last year's "Sense and Sensibility." She'll next be seen on screen as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's $30 million "Hamlet."

"Heavenly Creatures" is a bold, unsettling film. Not the sort you reach for when you're in the mood for light entertainment, perhaps, nor the kind that seeks to help you "make sense" of disturbing realities; but if you feel like taking part in a deep and vivid dream -- where fragmentary truth blends with unbreakable mystery -- then Jackson's vision of the bright girls' eclipse will take you there.

"Heavenly Creatures" is available for rent at Video Express, in the Post International store, 1/2 M. Putinkovsky Pereulok. Tel. 209-9168.