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Heathers (1989)

by The Movie Diorama

Heathers subversively tackles American establishmentarianism through the conventions of a high school hierarchy. “All we want is to be treated like human beings, not to be experimented on like guinea pigs or patronised like bunny rabbits”.

The 80s American lifestyle was in the midst of capitalism. Democratic values were diminishing and the social brutality of consumerism was on the rise. Westerburg High School was the microcosm of that lifestyle, where its students were enveloped in potential and opportunities. Veronica was one of those students, sacrificing her old life of “nerdy” peers to become popular and intimidating. But the clique of Heathers she had adopted was a ruthless social structure, encapsulating the competitive principles of individualism. Bullying the weak mercilessly and controlling the cafeteria. “I wish Heather would just die” craved Veronica jokingly. New student James, representing anarchy and chaos, may had taken that inclination as a literal desire. And so Heathers transforms itself from a generic high school flick to a dark comedy demonstrating the ideology of ending tyranny.

Waters’ offbeat dialogue often sent a timid shiver down my spine. Addressing peer pressured situations by allowing admired pupils to popularise suicide pacts. Battling against homophobia, depression and the pressures of popularity. Creating an irony that these students became more worshipped in death than in life. The bullied then started catching onto this trend, sacrificing themselves to end days of torment. Illustrating the power and responsibility one has when at the top of a school hierarchy. The impressionable follow, and Waters’ unorthodox script certainly conveyed that darkness.

However, despite his fashionable cynicism and youthful narratives, Heathers failed to function as a cohesive story. On a thematic level, Waters was able to produce metaphors in almost every action Veronica and J.D. took. Yet Lehmann’s inability to direct, although his debut, prevented the characters and their own journeys from being naturally developed arcs as opposed to a means to convey anarchy. A high school film requires quirky students and memorable characters to mimic reality. Sure, cliques are in attendance and are presented heavy-handedly through the introductory cafeteria sequence, but that’s not enough to establish a connection with them. Everyone is unlikeable, even Veronica to an extent, diminishing our emotional capabilities to the characters and Waters’ story. Spouting lines like “*insert expletive* me gently with a chainsaw!” ensues a mild case of hilarity, but without foundational character development, it’s disposable dialogue at best.

Ryder and Slater produced engaging performances with a fiery chemistry together, especially the latter who clearly was a snack back in ‘88, as do the rest of the supporting cast. The transition from high school comedy to dark thriller was almost seamless if it wasn’t for the psychotic splurge of philosophy during the boiler room confrontation.

Yet, there’s something about Heathers that doesn’t sit well with me. Call me old fashioned, but it’s as if it glamorises suicide. On a personal note, suicide is a sensitive topic, as I’m sure it is with millions of individuals globally. To integrate this act of self-destruction into a school comedy and disguise it as an implication of social association, it felt wrong. And I understand, that’s the entire purpose of Heathers. To exploit anarchy against the establishment. And, for what it’s worth, remains enjoyable throughout. The thematic message was prevalent. However its complacent morbidity resembled an abuse of power that failed to resonate with me. Another viewing is required to solidify my personal conflict.