Before watching the movie:
There are three kinds of movies that become modern classics. The ones that are constantly referenced to the point that very little remains a surprise on the first watch, the ones that have one specific scene that is synonymous with the movie, and the ones that are classics even though nobody seems to talk about them at all, apparently assuming that there’s nothing left to say. The last group is the hardest to discuss preconceptions of, since I have nothing to base them on.
I know this is about bloody revenge on a clique of popular girls who are bullies, and that’s it. Some blurbs have more words, but little more content. I didn’t even know it starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater until I sourced the poster.
After watching the movie:
The most popular girls at Westerburg High School are Heather, Heather, Heather, and Veronica. The Heathers got where they are with a lot of high-school drama backstabbing, and while Veronica is in their group, it’s mostly for the purpose of using her intelligence and ability to forge handwriting, and Veronica is sick of the bullying and misses her old life with the nerdy kids. Disaffected iconoclastic new student JD, who’s spent his whole life moving around the country for his father’s work, is the kind of person who responds to jocks trying to bully him by pulling a .44 Magnum on them and shooting blanks at them from point-blank range. After the party at the prestigious university Heather Chandler talked Veronica into going to turns out to be disappointing and creepy and Heather threatens to destroy Veronica’s reputation for not playing along, JD turns up at Veronica’s house and claims to help Veronica make Heather “puke her guts out” in revenge, but actually poisons Heather and encourages Veronica to forge a suicide note to cover their tracks. This only serves to set off a hysteria about teen suicide in the town of Sherwood and a string of revenge “pranks” turned deadly that JD and Veronica cover up with more suicide notes. Even as Veronica is sickened by JD’s attitude toward killing, she’s pretty sure she’s going to prom with him.
The fashion early on is peak 80s and really highlights all the worst ideas of the decade, but as the story moves away from the Heathers, it becomes less distracting. There are some very well-done dream sequences that I think are marked as such mainly by a shift in cinematography, but I’m not very good at identifying lens and lighting techniques.
At times I started to wonder if the way JD slips in and out of scenes at will was hinting at a reveal that he wasn’t real. Christian Slater’s disaffected superiority goes a long way to making the character stand out. Winona Ryder is mostly playing the sane woman in over her head. The quality she brings to the role seems like a quality a lot of acting women bring to their roles, but Veronica is supposed to be an Everyperson.
I didn’t feel like I was watching a comedy, but the tone is certainly not the kind set by a drama. It might be too soon to discuss a movie with this kind of subject matter, but at the rate that violent crimes and domestic terrorism are being covered by news media, what time would not be too soon? A recovering addict knows that recovery is impossible without admitting and discussing the problem. (That said, there are other reasons to be glad the TV adaptation got delayed.) So this is set as an indictment of society and JD has some legitimate critiques, but I question a system that lets JD continue to have access to firearms and explosives, to have no real consequences at all, when his first act at the school was to pull out a pistol in the cafeteria and fire blanks for the purpose of scaring some jerks. Which is more culpable, a society that creates a JD, or a society that enables a JD?
A few hours after posting, it occurred to me that quoting The Breakfast Club (reviewed on this blog, but I don’t know how to link in comments) with “screws fall out all the time, the world’s an imperfect place” (a surprisingly profound quote for something that, IIRC, is pretty banal in context) might be appropriate for discussing the way it’s always too soon for this movie.
However, I just realized that both movies are also concerned with the segregation of archetypes in high school (jock, geek, prep, etc), but where JD’s solution is to demand that things change with blood and the movie offers little counterpoint but “not that”, Breakfast Club is entirely about how pressing different kinds of people can break down our barriers. In Heathers, high school is too small, it’s society in a pressure cooker. In Breakfast Club, high school is too big, and our differences are only overcome by being put in a crucible.
Heathers is all about a problem. Breakfast Club is about the solution.
(And I’m still not sure that rigid caste system ever really existed.)
Such an odd film! I watched it for the first time last night, and it was just such a strange film haha. I completely agree, I thought they were going to reveal that JD was just a figment of her imagination…