David Lynch apparently made sure Peter Jackson won the Silver Lion for best director when he was chairing the panel of judges at the Venice Film Festival. That he should warm to the film makes sense – Heavenly Creatures shares more than a little with Blue Velvet. Not just period decor and an interest in noir, but a general concern with the way we police our imaginations. Like the bohemian decadent aesthetes that slither through Lynch's film, the two childhood friends start losing track of where their imagination ends and where reality begins. Jackson's innovation is to block out any attempt to judge the killers, at least before we understand what led up to the crime.
Part of it is the fierce mutual fellowship that comes with shared ostracism (it emerged after the film that the relationship was never sexual). Part of it is the urge to escape a lonely and parochial world, one that is too confident in its finger-wagging prejudices. Part of it is also the loss of trust that comes when secrets and lies are revealed beneath what appear to be secure family units.
Incredibly, I didn't actually know the story of the film, and had no idea about the scandal it was based on. And even though Jackson foregrounds the horror of the murder in a busy sequence at the start, much of the film is free of any presentiment of where it is all heading. For me more than perhaps most, Heavenly Creatures is less of a foreboding true crime drama, and more of a film about the delights of friendship and fantasy. Jackson's achievement is to make sympathy with these two killers so easy, and then to put a murder weapon in your hands.