4.7 The murder compared to real life

How accurate was the portrayal of the murder?

[jp] As mentioned previously, most facts related to the murder which were shown in the film were accurate, on the whole, compared to evidence read into court testimony.

Unfortunately there were also facts related to the murder which weren't shown explicitly in the film and these missing facts have a rather profound effect on the perception of this crime. Jackson attempted to convey the missing pieces of information indirectly, but he was only partly successful in his attempts, judging from the perceptions of many viewers.

What facts were omitted from the film?

[jp] The film's murder was in agreement with a subset of the facts revealed by the post mortem and investigation.

The most glaring difference between the murder shown in the film and the real-life murder deduced from the full set of forensic evidence was the extreme violence of the real-life murder, which was far in excess of the film's version, horrific as that may have been for most viewers.

One important detail not shown in the film was the fact that Honora was found lying on her back. Coupled with the nature of her injuries (see 7.2), it was clear that she had faced her assailants through most of the attack. It was also clear that she had fought back against the attack.

The next most important omission concerned the emotional state of all three principals. There was evidence entered into testimony of a violent argument between Pauline and her mother immediately preceeding the murder, and Juliet may have also participated in this argument.

Why would Jackson 'edit' the murder in the film?

[jp] The most obvious reason for 'editing' the depiction of the murder is simply that it would not be possible to get a completely graphic, explicit rendering of the murder past censor boards. Jackson has experienced this problem before in his previous films, and he was also attempting to distance himself a bit from his reputation as a master of the gore-fest. So, he had to make a difficult artistic decision, and he chose to attempt to convey the horror and brutality of the murder a little indirectly, though he has stated that he wanted the murder to be horrific and anything but entertaining. Jackson used clever innuendo (listed below) to imply those 'facts' he chose to leave out. The innuendo may have been just a bit too subtle, though.

The extremely powerful impact of the murder scene in "Heavenly Creatures" upon the audience is proof that Jackson succeeded in portraying, in part, the spirit of the crime, but some of the bare facts of the case carry an impact that is even greater.

What 'innuendo' did Jackson use?

[jp] Primarily the physical state of the girls when they approached the tea shop in the opening sequence of the film. Without showing the actual murder in detail, this was Jackson's opportunity to imply the extraordinary violence of the crime. The patterns of the spatters and the quantity and placement of the blood were reasonably-close representations of the evidence entered into trial; if anything, he may have exaggerated the amount of spattered blood slightly on Juliet's face. There is an incongruity between this image and the image of the murder shown later at the close of the film, and it is up to the audience to interpolate between the two (see 4.8).

In the murder sequence, Jackson has Honora cry out horribly. Many viewers commented to me that Honora's cries were very distressing to them. This is a very subtle but important reference to the events in the real murder. Similarly, Jackson also showed Pauline crouching behind Juliet when Juliet picked up the brick, and the sound of Juliet's blow, in particular, was another very important piece of innuendo. Pauline's tone of voice was also a muted piece of innuendo pointing to the possibility of anger during the murder.

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