TW: abuse, suicide, murder, rape.
“And now prepare to die.”
Michael Lehmann’s ‘Heathers‘ is an excellent black comedy that manages to incorporate social commentary, usage of colour to tell a story, abuse, suicide, and the glorious cruelty of popular teenage girls. It has gained a cult status, and is strikingly different from just about every other coming-of-age comedy I can think of. It is spectacular.
We are introduced to our characters in a montage, with Que Sera Sera playing gracefully in the background, paralleling the same sophistication the three Heathers, clad in all green, all yellow, and all red, have. They sit on white lawn chairs in a prim and proper garden, only to stomp on the flowerbeds without a care moments later.
The way in which Heathers introduces its characters is overtly simplistic, but incredibly effective. The domineering Heathers, the victim Veronica, the serial killer Jason Dean. Each character, in each of their first scenes, does something which is essentially the entire basis of their person. Jason is introduced not soon after the Heathers, and is the first character, besides Veronica that is, to show disapproval of the Heathers’ needlessly brutal behaviour. Kurt and Ram, the two hyper-masculine bullies of the school, begin to throw lewd insults at him. J.D. does not hesitate to grab for his gun, something that becomes like clockwork by the end of the film.
Heather Chandler, for all her acute bitchiness, was still able to be taken advantage of. We see this at the Remington University party, in which Chandler is forced to perform oral sex on one of the men at the party. It is the one and only time we see her with an ounce of timidness, for a second at least. When the scene finishes, Chandler can be seen gargling water in her mouth before spitting it harshly onto the mirror, exerting her control once again. However, the bathroom she’s in is completely blue, hinting that perhaps she is not the one in control after all.
“You were nothing before you met me.”
One of the most memorable scenes in Heathers also features one of the most effective uses of colours in the film. This is their merciless breakup, and while Veronica did not hesitate to talk back to Chandler in the past, here she reaches another level. “Lick it up, baby. Lick. It. Up.” This scene is where she comes to her conclusion: Heather Chandler Must Die. Something that had been bubbling underneath since perhaps the beginning of their friendship rises to the surface, and Veronica is done enabling Chandler and the spiteful ways in which she conducts herself. She is bathed partly in red, the glow from the fire in the trashcan, and partly in blue, signifying her departure from the Heathers and her new unity with J.D. Chandler, on the other hand, is almost entirely red, as she enforces her strict dictatorship more heinously than ever before.
After Heather Chandler is ‘accidentally’ killed, J.D. conveniently brainstorms the perfect plan to get them off the hook. Staging a suicide. In just a few minutes everything is set, the note is written, and there is no reason for anyone to suspect it was a murder, especially not one carried out by Chandler’s best friend and worst enemy, Veronica (with the help of J.D. of course, I mean, it was 100% him). Veronica, surprised at how quickly Jason thought of his sinister plan, casually jokes “have you done this before?” J.D. gives her no reply.
“Corn nuts!” Heather Chandler exclaims, as she falls onto her table, which is cluttered with fashion magazines, and, most notably, Cliffsnotes for The Bell Jar.
Back at Westerburg, the news has spread about Chandler’s suicide. For Heather Duke, who had long been the victim of Chandler’s abuse, this was a moment of rejoice. She was no longer plagued by her eating disorder wrought by Chandler, and this is the first instance we see her with her own newfound confidence. In a moment that nearly parallels Chandler’s bathroom scene earlier on, Duke throws the chicken leg she was eating onto the floor. “Where’s your urge to purge?” “Fuck it.” Veronica, on the other hand, slowly coming to terms with what she has done, makes her way into the gym showers, washing away her sins.
Possibly one of the most frightening examples of an antagonist in this film is J.D.’s father, who we first meet in an unconventional scene between him and his son, or, as he refers to him, his father. This role reversal portrays just how messed up their relationship is, even before we learn that he killed Jason’s mother. Their conversation is seen as a repetitive action, something they have done for a while and will continue to do, which mirrors Veronica’s conversation with her parents which repeats itself throughout the movie, showing the stark contrast between J.D.’s disturbing familial relationships and Veronica’s suburban normality.
There is no one villain in Heathers, and neither is there one victim. Nearly every single character has a moment of villainy (or, at least, a mean girl moment), and nearly every single character has a moment of weakness.
Despite the severity of the situation, Veronica always responds immaturely, as if she has not registered what has actually occurred. After Chandler’s funeral, McNamara asks what she’s doing that night. She replies “I don’t know… mourning? Maybe watch some TV?” Heather’s death is nothing but a minor ripple in Veronica’s daily routine, and she cannot realise the consequences of her actions until it is too late.
Just mere minutes after killing Chandler, she complains “I’m gonna have to send my S.A.T. scores to San Quentin instead of Stanford,” and after assisting in the murder of Kurt and Ram, and finally coming around to realising the depth to her actions, she puts her hands over her ears and screams “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to block out any attempts by J.D. to argue. J.D. also acts the same way. Later on in the film, Veronica points a gun at him and demands he put his hands on his head. “You didn’t say Simon Says.” he responds, the definitive proof that the murder of Westerburg’s students is nothing but a game to him.
An element that I think really shapes the film is the character of Heather Duke. She shifts from being the doormat of the group to taking Chandler’s place, and makes an even better ‘Red Heather’ than Chandler. Her weaknesses remain, as does her empathy (When McNamara calls Hot Probs, Duke is visibly upset), her entire mean girl act is merely that, an act. Revenge on Chandler for her mistreatment of her. Yet, Duke manages to be even more brilliantly ruthless than Heather C ever was.
In the first fire scene, with Heather Chandler and Veronica, this was effectively where Veronica switches to J.D.’s side. She has made her decision and it is final, Chandler will pay. In a similar scene later on, Duke completes her deal with J.D., finalising her transformation into the ‘megabitch’ of the school.
Another thing that will always keep this film close to my heart (aside from the phenomenal score, which makes every scene as menacing as it needs to be) is the relationship between Veronica and J.D. When I first watched Heathers, I was still dealing with the aftermath of an abusive relationship (and still am). Veronica is one character who I believe is exactly like me, from her mannerisms to her beliefs. J.D. is someone who notably reminds me of my abusive ex. This film helped, and still helps me cope with that, and the portrayal of the abuse, from implications to explicit scenes, was something which I had never really seen before, especially not from teenagers, and the victim of whom I saw myself in immensely. While Veronica has to go through more than strenuous trials for a teenage girl, she comes out on top, and has an incredible strength. “You know what I want, babe?” she asks, as she shoots at J.D. while a bomb counts down from ten. “Cool guys like you out of my life.”
Veronica, seeing her reflection in the knife, finally comes to terms with the gravity of her actions.
In what is objectively the most famous scene of the movie, J.D. states “The slate is clean.” as he resets the bomb Veronica had disabled prior, now strapped to his body. “Now that you’re dead, what’re you gonna do with your life?” his hands slowly lift to the air. An explosion. Smoke. J.D. is dead. Veronica laughs.
In the final sequence, Veronica snatches the red scrunchie from Heather Duke, the underlying symbol of dominance, and ties it into her own hair. “Heather, my love, there’s a new sheriff in town.” But this time, the cycle does not repeat. No new Heather Chandler wannabe will sprout in Duke’s place. It is ended.