Heathers (1988) is undoubtedly one of the greatest teen films ever made. If you don’t think so, stop reading now, honey pie, because that statement is a fact. Like Rebel Without A Cause, Foxes and The Breakfast Club, it shows that being a teenager is much like being in purgatory or limbo. You are no longer a child where you needed constant supervision so you wouldn’t die, and you are not yet an adult, that magical time when you think you’ll have all the answers and finally be free of control. And it also shows that that is a lie. That adults have no more an idea of how to actually be responsible or solve problems than teenagers. Heathers shows that there is very little benefit of hindsight.
What it does show is that teenagers can’t help each other through probably the most traumatic time in a person’s life because they’re too busy trying to survive it themselves; or be cruel to each other in order to exert some kind of imaginary control. And adults have no way of helping teenagers either, because they’re trying to forget the agony of half a decade of rioting hormones.
Heathers doesn’t hold its punches in how it confronts and shows how awful being a teenage really is. How confused you are, and how without purpose you feel your life is, because no one is giving you any real, helpful guidance. It also shows how hierarchy doesn’t start when you’re an adult, but when you’re a teenager. And that if you don’t want to fit in that hierarchy, or if you try to move away from it, there can be some pretty unpleasant consequences. But it doesn’t preach the “being different can be fixed” message like She’s All That, or that the future is certain because you survived prom and some guy with perfect sideburns loves you.
Veronica (played by Winona Ryder) is an extremely intelligent teenager, who has somehow found herself in the popular crowd. While she wants to break away, she’s too scared, and comfortable to do so. Heather Chandler (played by Kim Walker) is a sadistic bitch, but better the devil you know. Which Veronica very quickly forgets when she meets someone even more psychopathic and narcissistic than Heather: Jason Dean (played by Christian Slater). Yes, Jason’s name is one step away from being James Dean. But instead of sobbing and proclaiming that “you’re tearing me apart”, Jason wants to tear everyone else apart. And Veronica goes along with it for a while, and when I say a while, I mean a while. It’s unclear whether or not Veronica has fallen into the same pattern of unhealthy dependency she had with Heather, but she finally starts to realise that Jason’s mission to dismantle the system is a bit too extreme.
Heathers manages to combine so many things in a genre that tends to be very by the numbers, especially as it got into the early nineties and 2000s. It is a black comedy, but also a drama, and it almost has an apocalyptic feeling towards the end. It is as real as it is absurd. The ending really drives this home. But one thing it isn’t, is predictable, just like teenage life. The only predictable thing about it is how the adults in the film respond to what they see as teenage behaviour that needs to be fixed, put a bandage over, instead of really addressed. Heathers doesn’t preach to its audience, or tell them what to think, but it encourages them to actually think. And trust me, you’ll be thinking about it long after you’re even remotely a young adult anymore.
This is my first contribution for the It’s a Young World Blogathon being hosted by Pop Culture Reverie and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please visit their blogs for more information and to read everyone’s contributions.