Significant clues

Pauline rushed home after meeting Juliet and...

[jp] ...played Mario Lanza's "Be My Love":

Be my love,
For no-one else can end this yearning.
This need that you and you alone create.
My arms... the way you haunt my dreams,
The dreams that you inspire
With every sweet desire.

Be my love,
And with your kisses set me burning.
One kiss is all I need to seal my fate.
And, hand in hand,
We'll find love's Promised Land.
There'll be no-one but you,
For me. ...

Never mind the passion (!), check out the lyrics and how they match the scenes up to Port Levy. Jackson buries most of his blatant, significant clues in the music. See 3.1.19.

Juliet always looked so romantic to Pauline.

[jp] True. And warm and sunny and desirable. And not just to Pauline. Jackson went out of his way to make the audience get caught up in these feelings for Juliet, too.

Juliet was forever making grand, romantic entrances in "Heavenly Creatures," accompanied by an equally-romantic score (see 3.1.19). And Pauline's expressions were adoring and attentive. Just look at the "Princess of Ilam" scene: Pauline stumbles across Juliet, dressed as a noble medieval Maid of the May in the splendorous Ilam gardens, laughing, spreading petals, dappled in sunlight--and Pauline looked like she fell in love, right then and there. I thought she was going to weep with joy, her heart was so full and soaring.

But, for the sake of argument, it should be noted that all such scenes were set at Ilam or in the Fourth World. When Juliet was at the Riepers' she was just a girl to Pauline, and to us. Pauline may have been more attracted to the environment or the lifestyle represented by Ilam and Borovnia than she was to Juliet (see

Ah, but then again, there was that last, grand entrance on June 11, 1954. Juliet, golden, luminous, with desire in her eyes, swept down the Ilam staircase and transported Pauline from her drab and shabby life into a stunning red-velvet gown, to her adoring Borovnian family and "The Loveliest Night of the Year."

The first thing the girls do together on holiday is...

[jp] ...cavort in the wildwood, in tremendous, joyous abandon, like nymphs or dyads, shedding their clothing along with their cares. And then, there is that first kiss...

This scene was scripted by the real Pauline Parker, by the way, in the front of her '53 diary. This episode had made enough of an impact upon her for it to be one of the 'highlights' of 1952 she recorded soon after getting her first diary. Medlicott sees great significance in this event, which he calls the girls' "ecstatic disrobing" (see 7.8.1). Alas, I don't have this quote.

Pauline kept portraits of Juliet in her room.

[jp] True, and they were flattering, romantic and many in number. And their numbers increased with time. And they came to encompass all of Pauline's fantasies: Borovnia, sisterhood, Hollywood, the Fourth World. This adoring art was over and above the clay figures the girls used to visualize Borovnia.

This excessive objectifying and adoration is a little unusual for a simple friendship, no matter how close.

I was reminded of Bud's many pictures lovingly arrayed all over Deany's bedroom wall in "Splendor in the Grass."

There was great despair at being separated.

[jp] And it began with Juliet contracting TB. The scene with Pauline standing alone and distraut in the hallway, being told over the phone of Juliet's illness, is a terribly bleak and touching one. Imagine the feelings that would drive a girl who had known such pain and sickness in her own life to want to be infected with TB ... just so she could be with Juliet again.

There was tremendous joy at being reunited.

[jp] Enough to worry Honora, for sure.

The girls' first reunion ran the gamut of emotion. It was portrayed as much more than a boistrous and superficial happiness. Once the initial excitement had worn off, there was also quiet concern and caring and some very tender gestures.

Juliet was jealous of John.

[jp] Juliet became extremely upset when Pauline told her about John falling in love with her. Juliet was obviously very jealous, referring to him as "that idiot boarder" and asking "is that why you haven't replied to my last letter?"

The scene certainly plays as if Juliet was in love with Pauline and was afraid of being 'dumped' for a new lover. Then again, her reaction could have been that strong just because her fear of rejection and being left alone had grown to be so overwhelming to her.

Pauline was caught a little unawares by the strength of Juliet's reaction, and she dismissed Juliet's comments and fears gently, the way a lover would have. Or, the way a good friend would have. It could be taken either way.

The 'jealousy' scene is actually based on real-life testimony and on widely-reported courtroom behaviour (see 7.6).

"The Ones That I Worship."

[jp] Pauline's poem, and the scenes of Juliet's release from the sanatorium which Jackson builds around it, are full of significant indications of a romantic relationship between the two girls.

Juliet beamed triumphantly, and knowingly, at Pauline in the tram-riding scene, after Juliet's release from the sanatorium ("Compared with these two every man is a fool."). Pathetic, rejected John was making an ass of himself on his bicycle. Even bystanders twittered.

Jackson may have actually been translating some of Pauline's real-life diary entries not used in the voiceover, written following Juliet's release, into snippets of atmospheric scenes, linking them with the lines of Pauline's poetry. Those omitted entries dealt with Pauline's feelings toward Juliet and 'Nicholas'. See 7.4.3. The issues raised by those entries are not simple ones, in real life, possibly why the entries were not used by Jackson.

"He's just a stupid boy."

[jp] The girls commented several times to the effect that their relationship was something that was better than a relationship with boys, and that boys couldn't possibly understand it.

On the one hand, it is probably unusual for heterosexual adolescent girls not to have any fantasies at all about boys. On the other hand, remember what immature jerks most adolescent boys are... [my sex allows me to cast this stone. jp]. The girls did have romantic fantasies about their male Saints, of course.

What was Diello's comment to Dr Bennett?

[jp] Diello appeared during Dr Bennett's interview with Pauline. Dr Bennett was saying: "Perhaps if you spent a little more time with boys..." At that point Diello ran Dr Bennett through with his sword, commenting: "Bloody fool!" Amusing, but a direct statement from Jackson, nonetheless. And a direct diary quote.

Oh, and can you say "phallic symbolism?" See

By the way, the date shown on Dr Bennett's desk calendar was exactly right: December 14, 1953 (a nice little touch). See 7.3.

The girls bathed together.

[jp] Perhaps a little unusual, but not all that uncommon. In fact, there may have been communal baths at school [there certainly were in a comparable boy's school I attended.. I need to check this. jp] and communal bathing is common in many cultures ... hot tubs, anyone?

Certainly, in the film, we don't see the girls engaged in any erotic activities when they are bathing together. This seems to be a deliberate decision made by the filmmakers because we do see the girls in erotic situations elsewhere in the film.

Bathing together was taken straight from trial testimony and from real-life diary entries. See sections 3.1.15 and for more about bathing.

The girls took nude photos of each other.

[jp] This is a pretty common adolescent rite of passage. Hilda Hulme was probably right about this one: "It's all perfectly innocent." Henry Hulme found the photography particularly disturbing, though, an indication of "hanky ... panky" in his mind. Perhaps Henry's opinion said more about Henry than about the girls.

There was an additional aspect to this photography. Remember, the girls had just hatched a plan to run off to Hollywood and be film stars. Maybe these were going to be their 'publicity stills.' They read Film Magazines by the score, so they certainly knew you had to have good cheesecake pictures to get noticed.

The girls slept together.

[jp] The 'sleep-over' is an almost universal phenomenon among adolescent females.

On the other hand, sleeping blissfully in each others' arms night after night after night is probably not, although their first night together after Juliet's return from the sanatorium was a very warm, tender and beautiful image in "Heavenly Creatures." And a very innocent one. "And these wonderful people are you, and I."

Henry Hulme certainly did not like what he saw when he peeped in at the girls from the Ilam balcony. But why was Henry peeping through windows? Another instance of an unflattering portrait of Henry Hulme because the audience could see no harm.

What is not made clear in the film, though it was made abundantly clear in real life, was that the girls' sleeping together was actually done surreptitiously by them; it was not something that was officially 'known' by the parents, or openly approved of by them. Pauline recorded that the girls worried about being caught by Dr Hulme. This paints a slightly different picture than the one Jackson portrayed.

The girls hugged and kissed and held hands.

[jp,mf,G?] Girls did, and do, in public and in private, who are just good friends and not lovers.

However, there is no doubt that the girls' behaviour would have been very provocative, within their cultural setting. Physical familiarity of this sort was frowned upon, in public, even within socially-approved relationships; this was a very reserved and conservative society, after all. G? note (p. 61): "They were noticed by teachers and other students at the school [CGHS] because from early 1952 they became very close, sitting together and walking in the school grounds, hand in hand. At that time, showing this amount of affection publicly was seen as unusual."

Furthermore, Jackson has Juliet and Pauline kiss on the mouth, which was probably much less common at the time, and especially in that cultural setting, than friends kissing on the cheek. This could be Jackson being impishly provocative, or it might be another red herring--it is barely far enough into the grey zone to be a toss-up either way, according to modern sensibilities--or it might be a genuinely-significant clue to their relationship. The first few times the girls kiss, it is within a light setting such as the "Donkey Serenade" scene. When the setting isn't light the girls' kisses come across as a little surprising or even jarring, for some, but the audience becomes quite acclimatized to this aspect of the girls' relationship by the end of the film.

The girls weren't furtive or secretive about their kissing; it wasn't something they only did when they were all alone. They kissed quite openly, in front of their family members in several scenes, and even in public, in the sanatorium. This openness would tend to support the notion that it wasn't an erotic pastime for them. Or, maybe it was a case of 'hide in plain sight.' If it was, we never saw them checking for public reaction, which they would have if kissing was done on a dare, or to deliberately shock or provoke a reaction.

Interestingly, Michaelanne Forster also has the girls kiss specifically on the lips in "Daughters of Heaven" because this behaviour was public enough to be the stuff of stories about them in real life. In a sense, then, Jackson was forced to deal with this fact if he wanted to portray the story accurately.

In support of the idea that this is a significant clue, the girls really did kiss quite frequently. And a couple of kisses in "Heavenly Creatures" did stand out as being off-the-cuff, spontaneous, heartfelt and intimate. For example, when the girls parted after Pauline's first visit to the sanatorium, and whenever the girls parted under emotionally stressful conditions. And, perhaps most significantly of all, there was that kiss in Pauline's 'ship' fantasy. See

Were these kisses a true indication of the girls' romantic feelings toward each other? Perhaps. But then again, maybe the girls really were simply inventing their own rules for demonstrating their own particular kind of love and friendship.

Oddly enough, some of the most ambiguous, tender and loving gestures the girls made in "Heavenly Creatures" occurred when they took and held each others' hands. By rights, these should have been the most innocent of their actions. They stood out for me, at least.

The girls did have sex together.

[jp,G?] Yes, they did. Two different times, at least, according to the evidence given in the film. On the surface of it, this seems to be pretty strong evidence supporting the idea that the girls were lesbians--how can you argue with simple physical facts?

Glamuzina and Laurie discuss this aspect of classification and categorization at some length, and their book is recommended as an informative and readable account of this issue. (see 7.7.6)

Though he may have been painted in an unflattering light, Dr Bennett was at least statistically correct in one of his statements: many adolescents experiment in their formative years with physical acts of various kinds that can be labelled 'homosexual,' without being irreversibly, completely or permanently committed to this sexual orientation. In effect, many people do seem to 'drift into and grow out of it.' Maybe this was the case with the girls. Jackson deliberately introduced this evidence earlier, to be recalled by the viewer when the girls are shown making love. It plants a seed of doubt about their being committed lesbians. And, for many people, sexual orientation is a kind of sliding scale, and it can vary with time. Maybe this was a better description of the girls' sexual preferences.

Over and above this ambiguity, the girls did have sex under very specific and unusual conditions, namely they took turns imagining what it was like to have a man, one of their Saints, make love to them. And the other girl pretended to be the Saint. So, in their imaginations, they were taking part in heterosexual sex. At least, this is what we are shown and told at the beginning of the scene.

However, Jackson introduces yet another layer of ambiguity by having the images of the Saints dissolve back into the images of the girls themselves in the final moments of these shots. Does this indicate that the 'Saints' angle was a rationalization the girls used, perhaps because they didn't want to admit to their physical attraction for each other? Then, once they had overcome their initial reluctance and inhibitions, the pretense was dropped? Possibly. It could also be an artistic way of saying 'we've intruded enough into this private moment.' The scene dissolves soon after.

Jackson is toying mercilessly with the audience's preconceptions, driving home his point that the girls had a relationship that pretty much defied simple categorization. Even in the face of 'straightforward' physical evidence. He is saying that the girls may not have been lesbians at all even if they had one or two superficially lesbian encounters.

What did happen in the "enacting the Saints" scene?

[jp] This was a key and very dense scene and Jackson and Walsh threw everything they had into it. Good cinema, but hard to analyze in a few lines. I'll settle for a description, here.

The two girls were running from 'It' in his Harry Lime incarnation. They shut and brace the door to the balcony with a chair, then collapse on Juliet's bed, laughing. 'It' has been locked out of the room.

Juliet is shown lying on the bed with Pauline above her. Juliet sighs and the girls kiss, not too briefly and very warmly. We cut to see a dark-coated Pauline against the ceiling from Juliet's perspective. Pauline 'morphs' into 'It' and Juliet gasps. 'It' begins to kiss Juliet; he is b?, she is flooded by the blue light coming in the window through her gauze curtains, where her gaze is drawn as she becomes lost to her passion. 'It' is wearing crude leather gloves and he plays them over Juliet's neck. The plasticine figures on Juliet's bedside table are seen prominently, and they include a pair of horses facing in opposite directions, an exact reproduction of Pauline's drawing glimpsed on the day Juliet is introduced to French class, but now real, physical objects.

Cut to a shot of Pauline lying on the bed in a warm, natural light. We hear and then see Diello grunting, slashing and hacking limbs in a frenzy of violence. Pauline smiles blissfully. Diello comes to her bed and begins to make love to Pauline, his crude gloved hands reaching for her, and he carries her off to Borovnia where Gina ... is now a clay figure. Diello pins Gina to a wall and ravishes her, to Gina's obvious delight. We pull back and see writhing bodies everywhere. The Borovnians are having an orgy and Gina is part of it. We see, though only very briefly, quite a variety of sexual activity among the Borovnians, including males having sex with males, though the gender of many of the Borovnians is hard to determine.

Finally, we pull back and Borovnia fades. We see Juliet against the ceiling from Pauline's perspective and Juliet smiles shyly. The girls embrace and kiss; both are smiling warmly and they caress each other as they lie in each others' arms. The diary voiceover informs us that the girls "have now learned the peace of the thing called Bliss, the joy of the thing called Sin." The pink gemstone is on Juliet's bedside table by their heads.

Jackson managed to put most of his major themes, symbols and potent clues into this one short scene. For more on them see 3.1.16. How does all this compare to real life? Real life was far more complicated, but that is what Art is for: distillation into the essence of a consistent perspective. See 4.6 and 7.4.3 for more on the real-life episode.

Were the girls too sexually naive to be lesbians?

[jp,G?,mc,maw] Or, for that matter, too naive to be committed to any particular sexual orientation. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey both brought this point up. There is ample evidence that the girls were unusually naive and sexually unsophisticated for their age. For example, Pauline thought at first that John's climbing into bed with her was sufficient to constitute her losing her virginity, according to the film. They attended an all-girls school, and seemed to have had little social interaction with boys their own age. Juliet, in particular, seems to have led a particularly sheltered social life, according to "Heavenly Creatures." Neither set of parents was pushing for the girls to become more involved with boys--just the opposite, in fact. (In the NAm version of the film.)

The film strongly implies that both Pauline and, especially, Juliet had had absolutely no sexual experiences before the ones that occur in the story. It's quite possible that neither of them had formed definite ideas about their sexual preferences one way or the other. And, as mentioned above, the girls really would have had little access to material about homosexuality or lesbianism and may not have even discussed the subject at school.

I admit I was originally a little sceptical of this 'profoundly naive and innocent' characterization of the girls as depicted in the film, but I have been swayed by discussion provided by several FAQ contributors, and others, and by background information provided by and referenced in G?, and by some of Anne Perry's statements about the real-life context. The time and place really were quite different from contemporary society where I live and, possibly, where many FAQ readers live. I can now accept that this aspect of profound innocence should be considered seriously in the analysis of the film and the case.

But is ignorance of one's sexual orientation proof that one is probably 'normal' in a statistical sense? Human hearts and souls don't really conform well to simple statistical descriptions and "Heavenly Creatures" can't answer this question, of course.

A much better question (and I did not phrase it this way, deliberately) might be: Were the girls too naive to know what their sexual orientations were?

Did either girl ever say "I love you" to the other?

[jp] No. Not in "Heavenly Creatures."

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