[sb,mf] Although it is not stated explicitly in the film, Juliet's real-life trip to South Africa with her father was to have been a sea voyage. The filmmakers obviously used this fact as their inspiration for the 'ship' scenes.
Also, in real life, but after the events portrayed in the film, Dr Hulme sailed for England via Capetown and Marseilles with Jonathon on the vessel "Himalaya" [nice tie-in with Sir Edmund Hillary...]. Except, of course, the two sailed alone. And since real life can be more bitter and ironic than fiction, it turns out that Henry Hulme left New Zealand, and his daughter, long before his daughter's trial for murder (see 7.3).
Also, in real life, Juliet's mother and Walter Perry left New Zealand after the trial in a much-publicized ship voyage (see 7.3).
Also, in real life, Honora Parker came to New Zealand by ship, and her voyage was said to have made a big impression on her. It figures prominently in a key scene in "Daughters of Heaven" (see 6.1).
So ships and sea voyages figured prominently in the real- life events and it was almost inevitable that the filmmakers should use this image at some point in the film.
In the film, the ship was meant to represent leaving New Zealand and its dreary, painful life for a happy new life abroad. The ship is shown in the excited, bittersweet moments of departure from the quay, when it is traditional to make noise and laugh and cry and throw streamers.
[lfr]There are three 'ship' scenes in the film. The first appears near the beginning of the film and the third near the end of the film. These two are paired and interwoven with scenes of the murder of Honora Rieper and its immediate aftermath, though a full appreciation of their relationship to these scenes can only be obtained after the end of the film. The second ship scene is interwoven with Juliet's Aria sung from the balcony of Ilam, a more subtle reference to the murder--the aria signals the moment when Juliet agrees to help Pauline murder her mother.
Perhaps for emphasis, the three 'ship' scenes occur in a logical progression, so that the second logically follows the first, and the third logically follows the second, but they are out of 'wraparound' chronological order. All other events in the film can be reconstructed in their proper chronological order by wrapping the preface of the film around to the film's conclusion.
[jp] Yes, these scenes were 'imagined' by Pauline, or at least they are images shown from the perspective of Pauline's life. But this is not obvious until the end of the film, and can only be deduced with confidence in hindsight. However, since the film tends to linger in the minds and emotions of the viewer (!) this point is not an obscure one.
[jp] Dr Henry Hulme, Hilda Hulme, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Rieper appeared in all the 'ship' scenes as themselves. There were also other, nameless passengers shown, and there were also nameless people shown seeing the ship off from the quayside. Henry and Hilda Hulme are unknown in the first scene, identified in the second scene, and active in the third.
[jp] The significance of a character's presence or absence from the ship can only be appreciated after the film is over.
However, significantly absent from the ship scenes were: Herbert Rieper, Honora Rieper, Wendy Rieper, Nana Parker, Jonathon Hulme and Bill Perry.
[jp,lfr] The 'ship' visions in "Heavenly Creatures" are haunting, eerie and deeply unsettling, despite being devoid of violence or shocking surprises. Technically, they stand apart from all other shots and scenes in the film.
They are shot in monochrome and sepia tones, like old photographs, whereas all other shots in the film are in vibrant, saturated full color.
The action occurs in various slow-motion speeds. Continuity is not strictly followed, so there is some overlap of shots and missing segments and the frame of reference moves discontinuously. And sound is used brilliantly.
[jp] There is an ominous wind sound in the first ship scene which builds as the scene progresses until it washes out the end of the scene. Is used to echo the emotion of the hysterical scene with which it's paired. The only other sound is from the two girls, laughing as they run. Both call out "Mummy!," Juliet first.
The second ship scene is accompanied by Juliet's a capella aria. Both girls again call out "Mummy!" We hear the 'smack' of their happy kiss.
The final ship scene has only voices and selected foreground sounds. The tone is muffled and there is a noticeable reverb. The scene is paired with the murder and its extraordinary soundtrack.
[jp,lfr] "Heavenly Creatures" is chock full of fantasy and imagined scenes and characters, yet the 'ship' scenes are set apart stylistically even from the other fantasy scenes.
There are probably three reasons for this. First, for artistic effect, because the first and third form symmetric 'bookends' near the start and finish of "Heavenly Creatures." Second, for emphasis. The director may be drawing attention to them to say, in effect, be sure to notice these scenes because they are particularly important to the film. And third, because they are qualitatively different from the wild fantasies in the film. The 'ship' scenes don't involve fantastic paradises or mythical beasts or imaginary characters, but the real people shown in the film.
[jp,lfr] There was no explanation offered as to what was being shown- -was it a memory, a flashback, a flash-forward, a premonition, a dream, a treasured fantasy, an artistic interpretation of a feeling? There was no information given as to how the scene compared to the 'reality' within the film, and the viewer was given no guidance about how to interpret the scene or how to react to it.
The style is dream-like, but they are not likely to be simple daydreams. Sepia toning is often used to associate a scene with photography and age or, in other words, with a memory. This doesn't strictly follow in this case, either.
The subject of the 'ship' scenes is very much that of a familiar, long-nurtured wish or dream of Pauline's. The final perversion of the wish is like the kind of bitter regrets Pauline would have had in the days, weeks, months and years after the murder. Perhaps we are witnessing the shattering of her precious dream at the moment it is broken, told as a forward memory.
So, it appears as if the 'ship' scenes defy simple categorization, although their meaning is quite readily grasped by the viewer. They are clever, key artistic devices used by Jackson to convey very important information and to effect powerful emotional responses in the viewer. But they are hard to label--just like the girls' relationship.
[jp,lfr] The first 'ship' scene poses a mystery to the viewer. In the first 'ship' scene, Pauline and Juliet both run and laugh happily, but toward the anonymous turned backs of a man and a woman who can't be identified. The relationship between the characters is a confusing one. Both girls cry out "Mummy!" yet the woman at the stern of the ship never turns around. And, since the scene is interwoven with the aftermath of the killing, in which Pauline says "It's Mummy! She terribly hurt." the viewer might even get the impression that the woman at the stern is injured or killed, and the girls are laughing at the thought of this violence. This confusing juxtaposition of contrasting scenes, with their parallel actions and words, is deeply unsettling and mysterious.
The second ship scene takes place during Juliet's aria and provides a happy, surprise completion to the first ship scene, ironic and unsettling in the context of the balcony scene with which it is paired. The mystery couple at the stern turn around, just as the girls arrive, and it is excessively-effusive Henry and Hilda Hulme. Of course the girls calling "Mummy" now has a completely different meaning from what we had feared during the first ship scene. All four embrace, and smile and kiss, and the happy scene is sealed by Juliet and Pauline hugging and then, sealed with a 'smack' on the soundtrack, the two kiss in front of the approving Henry and Hilda.
The second ship scene confirms that the events shown are Pauline's fantasies and thoughts. In this scene Pauline has linked the acquisition of her goal--the perfect family, complete acceptance of her being with Juliet in whatever manner (don't forget that kiss)--with the decision to murder Honora, conveyed by Juliet's aria. There is just enough repetition and overlap in this scene to give the impression it was replayed over and over by Pauline, a cherished 'dream.'
There is no room in Pauline's dream for any of the unpleasantness in her life--her family, for example, is completely absent; they are not even shown waving goodbye--and she also callously discards Juliet's brother from the scene. Juliet's parents are shown to be a loving, devoted couple, so there is no place for Bill Perry, either. Or history, or reality.
And Pauline and Juliet are not shown to be adult lovers setting off alone, together into the world, free of the interfering adults in their lives, but they are shown to be much more like close and loving sisters and part of a family. Of course, there is that kiss, to make things ambiguous...
These are Jackson's most explicit statements in "Heavenly Creatures" about Pauline, about what may have motivated her to plan the murder of her mother and about her relationship with Juliet. He is stating that Pauline had been looking for an escape from her dreary life and she was very much attracted to the idealized lifestyle represented by the Hulmes--both their material wealth, and also the intellectually stimulating and encouraging environment their house provided. She was single- minded in her devotion to this ideal and was quite prepared to be ruthless to achieve her dream--she was certainly willing to jettison all of her family and anyone else who interfered, happily, and without a second thought. And, Jackson is saying quite clearly, with just a slight amount of residual ambiguity, that the girls were not independent lovers in Pauline's eyes, but sisters pure and simple, if unusually close.
The dream died for Pauline in the third 'ship' scene. First Juliet, distraut on the deck of the ship, cried out "Gina, hurry!" a terrible line when connected with the brutal murder occurring in counterpoint to it. For several more cuts to the ship, the girls were speechless, making whimpering, crying noises and reaching out for each other. Finally, Pauline screamed out in pain and Juliet cried out, softly, "I'm sorry." Behind her, on the ship, there was still the image of the nuclear family, but it was shown to be plastic and oblivious, and fragmenting, leaving Pauline to her fate, in the emotionally devastating final moments of the film. Pauline cried out "Julie," her 'sisterly' name for Juliet, not "Deborah," her Borovnian fantasy name, "I'm coming. Don't go!" Others, laughing and waving silently on the quayside, moved to follow the departing ship, leaving Pauline behind. Juliet cried out again, softly, "I'm so sorry!" over and over, straining to reach out to her, and Pauline was reduced to screaming and crying "No!" during that agonizing fade-to-black.
The act Pauline thought would provide her with the realization of her fantasy--the murder of Honora--is causing its exact opposite. Pauline was left alone in the world: Juliet's greatest fear, come true for Pauline. There were no Riepers brought back to comfort the despairing Pauline on the quayside, for she had rejected them completely. This wrenching, sad image is consistent with Jackson's statements from the first two 'ship' scenes. And they may have something else to say about guilt and blame (see 3.1.18).
[lfr] An early draft script (Heavenly Creatures, Draft #5, February 7, 1993, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.) has Pauline screaming "No!" and calling out to Juliet, hand outstretched--and a pull back revealing the pier empty except for the body of Honora at her feet. I'm delighted they didn't use that--I don't believe it would have worked as effectively as the filmed ending.