Official pronouncements

Was Pauline and/or Juliet a lesbian?

[jp] This question obsessed the public in 1954 in the months following the murder of Honora Parker. In real life, the girls were judged in the court of public opinion to be murderous lesbians, and there are many tabloid headlines to bear witness to this conclusion. This 'fact' was used to condemn them as evil and "dirty-minded," and it formed the core of the public's rationalization of the murder. Vintage '54 this went: Honora Parker had come between two murderous lesbian lovers so, in their frustrated, unnatural lust, they killed her.

The legal defense of the girls was based upon a strategy of admitting they were homosexuals (whether or not it was true) to establish diminished mental capacity. The strategy backfired.

The prosecution played both ends of this stick. The public's revulsion of homosexuality was exploited, but experts were also called to declare that homosexuals were not criminally insane.

All of this ferocious, rabid public condemnation, focussed upon and fueled by the belief that the girls were lesbians, was well-known to the filmmakers, yet they chose to omit all mention of it from "Heavenly Creatures." The film only deals with events up to the immediate aftermath of the murder, and there is absolutely no mention of the trial, the publicity or public reaction in the film's preface or epilogue.

By making this choice, Jackson deliberately leaves the question about the girls' sexual orientations unanswered in the film, at least in terms of making an explicit statement. The viewer may choose to investigate and consider the issue, as did the public at the time of the murder, but Jackson will only provide raw 'background' material in "Heavenly Creatures" to be used as observations or input to a deduction.

So, as far as "Heavenly Creatures" is concerned, the official answer is:

Maybe the girls were lesbians. Then again, maybe they weren't. It is up to the viewer to decide.

What have the filmmakers said about the relationship?

Walsh: "I've had very intense adolescent friendships. They were very positive, affectionate and funny, and I understood to a large degree what was so exciting, so magical about the friendship. And though it ended in a killing, the friendship itself is something people would identify with, particularly women." [jp]

Jackson: "What attracted me to this story was that it was complicated, about two people who are not evil, not psychopaths but totally out of their depth. Their emotions got out of control." [jp] Jackson: "They were totally devoted to each other and felt no one else in the entire world understood them. They felt their world would fall apart if they were separated...

"I don't think their relationship was sexually based. I think there was a lot of exalted play acting and experimentation involved and, to be perfectly honest, I don't think it's a relevant issue." [se] Jackson has also stated in interviews (e.g. Eye Weekly, Jan. 19, 1995) that he believes the question of the girls' sexual orientations is a "red herring."

What does Jackson mean by a 'red herring?'

[jp] A 'red herring' is a false clue. Often, red herrings are planted deliberately, to deceive or to throw a pursuer off the scent of the pursued.

Taking his statements at face value, Jackson implies the murder can't be explained simply to be a consequence of the girls' sexual orientations, whatever they may have been. Given the known public conclusion of '54 that the girls were lesbians, his statement is also a strong hint that he may not believe the girls really were lesbians after all (see

And his statement puts the viewer on alert. Watch out! The film might be critical of the kind of simplistic, dogmatic, judgmental moralizing that was voiced by the citizens of Christchurch forty years ago. Or, it may be a warning that Jackson might try to trap the viewer, using false signs, into simplistic moral posturing.

Specifically, Jackson's statement is his way of giving notice that there may be misleading or irrelevant clues in "Heavenly Creatures" pointing to the girls being lesbians and/or pointing to the girls not being lesbians. He is not going to point out conclusions with a neon sign. We are on our own here.

What have the actors said about the relationship?

[jp,sb] At an early screening of "Heavenly Creatures" where she answered questions, Kate Winslet (Juliet) was paraphrased as having said that she and Melanie Lynskey (Pauline) approached their roles with the following attitude: The girls were devoted friends. They acted out exploratory heterosexual romantic fantasies. At times, one partner was a surrogate or stand-in for the (male) object of desire. She also mentioned that the girls were very sexually naive and innocent.

In an interview, Melanie Lynskey and Sarah Peirse stated that "the film portrays the girls' relationship as innocent love."

Melanie Lynskey went on to say that "when Juliet was arrested she was asked if they had had a sexual relationship, and she said 'How could we? We're both women.'"

What were the conclusions of the main characters?

[jp,sb] Officially, in "Heavenly Creatures," there was an accusation, expertly-engineered by Dr Hulme, that Pauline was a predatory lesbian, seducing Juliet, and a confirming medical 'diagnosis' of this from Dr Bennett. The diagnosis was apparently accepted by Mrs Rieper, who may have harboured homophobic fears of her own, according to her statements and her reaction to the diagnosis. Mr Rieper was worried in general by the intensity of the friendship and by his daughter's libido, but he was a little slow off the mark concerning the lesbian angle. Mrs Hulme appeared to be unphased by questions of the girls' sexuality, telling Dr Hulme at one point not to worry because it was "all perfectly innocent."

In the film, Juliet seems to have escaped official condemnation as an identified lesbian, before the murder, with the label of being sexually impressionable, gullible or easily swayed in sexual matters, but heterosexual. Unofficial worries about her sexual orientation are not made clear, but evidence points to her being considered to be heterosexual, unofficially, too. There is ample evidence that Dr Hulme wanted Juliet to be thought of in this way. If anyone had to bear the brunt of an accusation of homosexuality, according to Dr Hulme, it should be "that... Rieper girl."

There is no direct evidence presented in the film about external social pressure being placed on the families because of their daughters' relationship, though it is implied by Dr Hulme once or twice in conversations with Mrs. Hulme. This added pressure may have contributed to his decision to "resign," but it probably wasn't the main reason for his resignation. (see 3.1.25, 3.2.2, 7.10.1).

Much more extensive and explicit concerns over Juliet's being "lost to the world of men forever" were featured prominently in scenes (Heavenly Creatures, Draft #5, February 7, 1993, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.) which were not part of the North American release version.

In real life, it was clear from public reaction and the sentencing that Juliet was not viewed as weak, or easily swayed at all. In fact, public impression was that she was by far the dominant personality. This public perception is a fascinating topic for discussion, and will be raised again in other sections.

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