Cult Classic: Heathers (1988)

Posted: November 13, 2012 in Joe Giambrone
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Heather Duke – Heather McNamara – Heather Chandler – Veronica Sawyer

by Joe Giambrone

Some films make a bold frontal assault on society, and Heathers is clearly one of them.  As J.D. (Christian Slater) makes his final pitch in favor of blowing up the school with everyone inside of it, he remarks, “People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, ‘Now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society!’”

Such is the backdrop to the story of clashing social types as represented through an Ohio high school population in the 80’s.  Characters stand in for various mindsets and views in conflict.  The teenagers vie for popularity, fame and fortune.  Selfish ends are weighed against the school as a whole, and peoples’ inherent worths are ranked according to criteria such as if they were cheerleaders or not.  The theme deals with self-destruction and suicide, and the tendency for self-interested myopic individuals to create a hostile atmosphere, to profit at the expense of the weak or less popular.

Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is the character torn between both worlds, the popular clique vs. the humble dweebs who languish in obscurity.  Although she isn’t one of the infamous Heathers, Veronica is allowed into their group by the decree of the head Heather, the uber-bitchy blonde bombshell Heather Chandler (Kim Walker).

With Heather Chandler’s coaching, Veronica has abandoned her childhood friends in favor of going off to college fraternity parties and being at the center of the school’s malicious activities.

Then the bodies start piling up.  When Veronica falls in with J.D., her partner in crime, people start dying.  By hiding the murders and presenting the scenes as suicides, the two young outlaws try to justify their actions vis a vis improving the school – improving the world by eliminating vile people.  This is, of course, the provocative and highly charged center of the film.  Veronica is torn between the reality of horrible people getting away with running the school for their own benefits, versus a self-styled revolution of destroying them covertly with J.D.’s dirty tricks.

Sucked deeper into the machinations of J.D., who has access to demolition explosives, Veronica finally realizes that her heart has led her head astray.  Vowing to turn the situation around, her stance is heroic vs. J.D.’s self-destructive psychosis.

Lines from Veronica suggest a middle ground, a law and order style solution to the problem of social conflict.  She appoints herself the “new sheriff” in a bid to take Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) back down a notch, and to lift up Martha Dunnstock who had been led astray during the course of events.  Veronica’s character suggests a political compromise to the strife.  Heathers is a black comedy with socio-political implications in the vein of God Bless America and Idiocracy.

Heathers on Netflix.

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