Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Heavenly Creatures (1994) 'Clubbed to Death'

Director- Peter Jackson
Uk release-10 February 1995 (UK)
Produced by Wingnut films in association with the New Zealand film commision.
Filmed In Canterbury, New Zealand.

Many generic thriller conventions are used in Heavenly Creatures such as the use of clocks, as time is important in thriller films, use of claustrophobic spaces and quick glances at weapons. Peter Jackson has however challenged the generic location of a thriller film and contrasted it to the norm, the mise-en-scene presents a very different image as it is sunny in open spacing and it has pretty features such as landscaping. 

Clocks play a very important role in this film as there are many events that take place in a short amount of time, such as the murder of the mother and the time of the boat back to England. In this particular scene the clock pops up in the frame at least 3 times, this makes the audience aware, adds suspense- could something happen at a certain time? It also makes the audience interact with the girls and it then becomes almost realistic. 

An over the shoulder shot/birds eye view shot is used to show the two girls and the mother walking down the steep, narrow confined path that her daughter has led her to, the use of this particular camera angle establishes to the audience that something may about to happen. 

During this part of the scene there is no dialogue, however the famous Intermezzo from Puccini's "Madam Butterfly" has been used by Peter Jackson. It is a tragic opera about a young Japanese woman who marries and has a child with an American Solider, he left for three years and came back with a new American wife and wants his old son to join the new family. The young Japanese girl is forced to give up her son, she does so, kisses him then commits suicide. This links in with the current situation in the film and it also adds to the hyper reality surrounding the film, in a sense that you cannot tell between dream and reality, a new imaginary world. It builds and creates an odd suspense which clearly notifies the audience that the girls are about carry out the grotesque event that has been foreshadowed. 

The camera angle then changes to a panning shot that fully establishes where the girls are taking the mother, to a desolate woodland area that is what seems to be an idealistic place to carry out a murder. The mother is entirely unaware of the event that is about to take place and Peter Jackson has done it to exaggerate the cruel and evilness of the two girls. However Peter Jackson has really challenged the conventions of a thriller here because the landscape seems to be nice and dreamy, almost something that you would see on a holiday perhaps. The lighting used throughout this scene is ambient, this contrasts the generic conventions again as most major events take place in a dark, bleak and gritty location. 

From this point on the feel of the situation seems to change, Peter Jackson has now focused the camera angles on the feet and head and shoulders of the girls to build a large suspense around the event, it also presents a weird sense of beauty.  This particular part of the scene is filmed in slow motion, this encapsulates and personifies the girls feelings and emotions, and again adds to the dreamy and unrealistic feel it creates.

This close up shot of the mother's daughter is all the audience really needs to see to confirm the event that is about to happen, the bag has been focused on frequently in the film as this is a generic convention, close ups of a weapon. Following this it cuts to close ups shots of the girls hands and feet, they seem to appear nervous and anxious which adds even more tension and suspense to the film. The three of them carry on walking and they come across a muddy section of path, during this the mother holds her hand out to her daughter for help, this subtly significant to me because it captures the harshness of the daughter, the mother has helped her all her life and when the mother needs help, it gets thrown back in her face, again it foreshadows the following murder. 

This low angle close up shot of the girls feet in the deep mud is a reflection of what the girls are about to get into, it could represent the consequences of the girls actions in a sense that they will ultimately end up in a deep situation, perhaps end up in prison or could they end up getting their own bodies massacred? They walk further along the path and the mother stops to look at the time, the clocks and time have played a significant role in this scene and it makes the audience feel connected and concentrated. This also foreshadows her own death, she hasn't got long left.

The daughter then reaches to her bag, this immediately alarms the audience and lets them know that the murder is about to happen, in a confined and dimmer location which is a convention of a thriller. The girl starts to beat her mother with the brick in the stocking, after one shot a close up of the mother is shown, she is a bloody and disorientated mess, this is a sickening image and helps to understand how twisted the two girls are. The use of flashback in sepia which is a convention has been added whilst the girls are continuing to stone the mother, underpinning the idea of a hyper-reality and fantasy. The colour of the images start to change colour to perhaps symbolize age, will the girls ever see each other again? 

The film is based on a true story of the Parker-Hulme Murder in Cristchurch, New Zealand in 1954. Two girls had created their own fantasy world and people often thought it to be lesbianism, which at the time was thought to be a thing of insanity, the murder was carried out in Victoria Park down a small narrow confined path, the girls then proceeded to beat her with a brick. The girls fled back to the tea shop and told the man that her mother had hit her head, the brick was later found nearby in the woods and the girls had lost their case, they were found guilty of murder and sentenced to five years in Prison and upon release were never able to see each other again. The girls would have been put through the death penalty, but as they were too young they were not able too. 

1 comment:

  1. Some proficient analysis of aspects of mise-en-scene, specifically the purpose of camera angles and movement. Note the lack of dialogue which indicates Peter Jackson has made this sequence like a silent movie where the focus is on image and soundtrack. I like your comments about the notion of illusion/dream and reality and how Jackson injections the sequence with a surreal quality which contrasts splendidly with the grotesque murder.
    The clock is generic; when a crime takes place and there is a criminal investigation the timing of events is important, for example time of death, where witnesses are etc.
    Well done Chelsea.