Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Am I going to prom or to hell?"*

            I watched one of my favorite movies the other night: Heathers. And I’m not sure how I came to love this morbid, violent, darkly-disturbing-yet-oddly-funny movie in the first place. But I do remember when I came to love it.
The Heathers and Veronica, playing croquet.

            At twelve-years-old I was already an extremely experienced babysitter, and the Jensens—friends of my parents—asked me to sit for two hours with their six-week-old, first-born child.
            So, Scott Jensen picked me up from home (I guess this was before the days when parents only entrusted their kids to 35-year-old college graduates, which is weird, because a 12-year-old can’t invite a boyfriend over and most likely won’t steal your booze and smoke cigarettes in the garage.) and drove me to their beautiful home a mere half-mile from my parents’.
            They were nervous: they’d never been out since little S.J .was born. But I was so expert in my infant handling, that they were soon out the door, leaving a cloud of expensive perfume and aftershave behind them.
            Little Scooter, as I decided he should be called, was nothing but a tiny butterball of sweetness. He was too young to do much of anything other than eat, sleep and poop, and he would grip my finger in his teeny-tiny little hand and I  did everything in my power not to kiss his face off.
            He was sleeping in my arms when I started channel-surfing and came across a teen movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.
            I don’t know why, but I was immediately sucked into this utterly whack-a-doo movie from the beginning. Scooter in my arms, I stared, chin hanging down to my throat, as Veronica and J.D. murdered their classmates and made the murders look like suicides.
            But, three-fourths of the way into the movie, the Jensens came home early.
            “I couldn’t stand to be away from him another minute,” cute Sally Jensen drooled as she took the warm baby from my arms. “We’ll pay you for the whole night, Lacey, we just missed him so much!”
            I got on board with that. It was sweet, even if it was interrupting my viewing.
            I was in the car before Scott even realized we were leaving. I never found it hard to make small talk with adults when I was a kid, so I’m sure I would have normally blabbed his ear off the entire four-minute car ride. But all I could think about was Heathers, and so, like a kid who has to go pee, I sat there mute beside him, wiggling and anxious, and I gave him monosyllabic answers to his polite questions all the way home.
            I busted in the door and ran to the den. The movie was still on. I sat there, entranced.
            Heathers is a movie about a smart girl, Veronica (Winona), who dumbly winds up a member of the most popular clique in school: The Heathers—three girls, all named Heather, who treat everyone else in school like garbage. Their leader is the most popular Heather: Heather Chandler, whose sadism goes far beyond fucking with the nerds and the fatties. She likes to treat her friends like shit, too.
            When new student J.D. (Christian Slater) arrives at school, he senses that Veronica doesn’t “really like her friends”, and he romances her. But then he eventually tricks her into killing Heather Chandler and making it look like a suicide.
J.D. suggests a cocktail of liquid drainer. Veronica assumes he's joking.
            People don’t think this movie is funny. I think it’s hysterical, but that probably says more about me than it does about the movie.
            There’s this line where J.D. tries to justify blowing up the entire high school, “Society nods it head at any horror the American teenager can think to bring upon itself. People are going to look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, 'Now there is a school that was self-destructive. Not because society didn't care. Because the the school was society!' That's pretty deep, huh?"
            Now, at the time, I thought it was incredibly deep. And this was before Columbine or that heinous shooting at Westroads Mall a few years back. Before 9/11 and before the shooting at Virginia Tech. This was before a gazillion atrocious events that have happened IN THE LAST DECADE that made us all feel really unstable and wonky.
            If you grew up in the eighties, you probably watched a lot of nonsensical movies about how hard it was to be a teenager, how hard it was to be unpopular and how poor you were if you weren’t a millionaire (think about The Lost Boys, Karate Kid or anything John Hughes ever made).
            But this movie was sort of ahead of its time in it’s own dark, independent way. It was the first movie (that I know of) that featured a teenager that felt so unloved that he wanted to blow up his high school, anyway.
            Now, that being said, I thought the movie was funny. I still do. Am I fucked up? Yes, probably I am. But I think teenagers are hilarious. They think their problems are so intense (and at that age, what isn’t intense?), their issues are new issues, and their friends right now are going to be their friends forever.
            But I also think most of those movies made it seem like life was a sort of live-or-die scenario and we were all within a moment of figuring everything out or being destined to die unpopular and unloved. 
Veronica decides to be a hero and save her high school.
            In seventh grade (when I first saw Heathers) I thought it would be really cool to establish a color for myself, along with one for each of my girlfriends (Heather Chandler was red, Heather Duke was green, Heather McNamara was yellow, etc. I now realize that this is the same way gang members think.) I thought it was a movie about teenage angst. I thought it was sort of cool that they were casually bumping off the assholes. 
            And yes, high school is full of assholes, full of hard times and full of intense feelings. But it GETS BETTER, YOU IDIOTS! And the message is that Veronica is the ultimate "cool kid" because she does whatever it takes to save the rest of the assholes. And which one of us would give a shit about anything anyone said to us in high school now? If they were to say, "You are such a pillow case!" to me now, I'd laugh their faces off! (And not just because that would be an incredibly clever film reference.)
            But mostly I keep thinking about the line Veronica writes in her diary, when she’s realized that things have spiraled out-of-control, “I just want my high school to be a nice place.”
            Oh, sweet girl, high school was really hard back then? Try hiding under the table in the library while a psychopath goes on a shooting rampage through your high school hallways! What's happened to teenagers? The eighties really spoiled us, movie-wise, didn't they? Compared to now, the eighties look like a stroll down the Champs-Élysées in the 1840's! Then: weird fashion, occasional beatings from bullies, not having a car. Now: metal detectors, mass beatings that are televised (and yet not stopped), not having a chance of living through senior year. What the what? (To borrow an expression from Liz Lemon.)

            Yeah, high school blows--that's the point. And if your glory days were in high school, I feel a little sorry for you, because, again, HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS. You have no control over anything--your skin, your curfew, your friends, your living situation, blah blah etc..The eighties made it all seem like a beautiful (albeit fucked up) dream.
           To the kids going through it today, I say: hang in there. It (life) gets much, much better.
 *Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer in Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988).

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