Thursday, February 22, 2024


 by Rosalie Lewis

“Another night, another dream, but always you… You feel joy, you feel pain, ‘cause nothing will be the same.”

The week Heavenly Creatures debuted in American theaters, Real McCoy’s Eurodance earworm “Another Night” was at number three on the charts, describing a “vision of love that seems to be true.” The teenage girls at the center of the real crime this movie depicts had a shared vision of love also—a fantastical dreamscape they called The Fourth World where pop culture figures like Mario Lanza and James Mason were saints, but more importantly a world in which nothing could tear the two girls apart.

Did this world really exist to them? The diary entries upon which the movie is based indicate a blurring in the girls’ perception of reality and fantasy. Is this a case of folie a deux with a tragic outcome? The courts rejected insanity pleas for the murderous duo, but there have been plenty of other historical instances where shared delusions are blamed for horrific acts of violence.
In case you haven’t experienced Heavenly Creatures for yourself yet, let’s get the important bits out of the way. Peter Jackson was a New Zealand director of such low budget schlock fests as Brain Dead, Meet the Feebles, and Bad Taste. His partner and collaborator Fran Walsh suggested they try something new for their next project: a movie based on a notorious crime committed by two teenage girls in the 1950s. More specifically, they decided to focus on the friendship of the girls rather than the murder and subsequent court case that made them so notorious. This meant loads of research, interviewing over a dozens of classmates, teachers, neighbors, and family friends of the girls. They also decided to cast two unknown actresses to play the parts of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme: Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. The movie ended up being critically acclaimed, with Jackson and Walsh netting an Oscar nom for Best Original Screenplay.

Winslet and Lynskey have been powerhouses of likability from the very start, and the tone of this movie shares a certain kinship with Badlands, given the use of voiceover, the classical music lulling us during the lead up to quite disturbing moments, and the amorality of the protagonists.

When you hear about a movie where two teenage girls brutally murder one of their mothers, you might naturally assume it’s going to be a tough watch. And don’t get me wrong, the actual murder is upsetting. But the miracle of this movie is that much of it is so beautiful, so striking, so FUNNY even! We meet two smart, passionate, rebellious, imaginative young women who instantly recognize in one another a kinship they haven’t found in their other peers. They bond over their contempt for their teachers, their shared history of long periods spent convalescing after serious illness, and their exuberance for pop culture. It’s the beginning of an intense friendship… and perhaps more.
They essentially invent their own religion, because of course they’ve concluded that Christianity is “bunkum,” and they create a shrine to their saints. Juliet shares her belief in The Fourth World with Pauline, who hangs on her every word. The two girls write elaborate stories about this world, create artwork inspired by it, do class assignments in character as their alternate selves, and become more and more immersed in the mythology they’ve created. The movie accompanies them on this journey, morphing from realistic scenes to technicolor visions of them in royal gardens with unicorns walking around.

“We enacted how each saint would make love in bed,” narrates Pauline in voiceover. “We spent a hectic night going through the saints. It was heavenly, wonderful, beautiful, and ours. We have now learned the peace of the thing called bliss, the joy of the thing called sin.” These voiceovers are directly excerpted from Pauline’s diaries, and while open to interpretation, certainly seem to indicate a more than friends situation. When a potential upcoming move threatens to separate the girls by insurmountable distance, something breaks inside of them and they come to the conclusion that violence is the only way to remove this threat.

According to Psychology Today, Shared Delusional Disorder (SDD) occurs when an intimate bond exists and delusional beliefs or even hallucinations are transmitted from one person to another. Then again, what is love if not a shared way of seeing the world? Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote in his 2012 book Hallucinations, “To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives… transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.”
The movie ends with a scream, and cuts to a black screen where we learn the fate of Pauline and Juliet through a few short paragraphs. The conclusion could be summarized by another excerpt from Real McCoy: “I feel pain ‘cause it’s all the same; when the night is gone, I’ll be alone.”


  1. I went with a friend to an art theater in Portland Maine to watch this in '94. I loved it! Was definitely in this art-movie headspace that year, which might explain why I (gulp) didn't like Speed the first time I saw it.

  2. Obviously the murder of Paul’s mother was unjustifiable. But the amazing point of this whole movie is the creation of empathy for the two young people who committed such a horrible crime.

    It’s a bit crazy to think that Juliet went on to become a celebrated murder mystery author (under the pseudonym Anne Perry) and received a lifetime achievement award 15 years after having her true identity and notorious past revealed following Jackson’s movie.

    But then if the true aim of justice following a murder is the preservation of public safety and eventual rehabilitation, then Juliet/Anne’s story is a clear example.

    If the girls had been eligible for the death penalty at they time, they might have been executed at 16 for for being murderous deviants.

    Pauline also changed her name and left New Zealand. After being tracked down following the movie’s release she denied being Pauline.

    According to her sister Wendy, Pauline spent the rest of her life repenting for her crime in a quasi self-imposed imprisonment where she avoided all personal relationships and all media, working as a librarian and eventually running a children’s equestrian school.

    Wendy said she had to make the choice of hating Pauline forever or accepting that her sister had made a horrific mistake as a child and keeping her in her life. I don’t think I’d be so forgiving in her place, but I hope I could be.

    Anyway, great movie. Great column.