Sometimes, life has a funny way of making things happen.
A couple days ago one of my Twitter followers in the #WritingCommunity posted a fun “activity” tweet. She asked us to type in the name of our WIP (“work-in-progress”) and put in the GIF that showed up. This was all done for hahas. No serious business here.
So I typed in Heather’s Veil (i.e. the name of my WIP and the next entry in the Heather Zlamanowski series). What showed up was a GIF of Winona Ryder saying something like, “I chose the wrong time to be human.” I had zero clue what the context was. Hell, I didn’t even know what movie it was from.
After some extensive, sweat-inducing Internet surfing (okay, okay. All I did was type in “Winona Ryder Heather” in the Google search bar), I discovered Heathers, a dark comedy film released in 1989 starring Ryder and Christian Slater. By reading the description, I was hooked right away and had to watch it.
I normally don’t care for teenage romcoms, especially those set in high school. There’s a certain quality to these movies that makes me…sadly nostalgic? Like, I wish I could go back to the bygone era and fix some things? Earn a more meaningful experience, maybe? I don’t know if it’s natural to feel this way. Us grown-ups like to dream about the past, I suppose.
Thankfully, Heathers isn’t your typical high school romcom. In fact, it’s more of a deconstruction of it that adults can appreciate. This film is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Heathers is about a trio of popular girls in high school. This trio holds the distinction of having girls that are all named “Heather.” (“How are you today, Heather?” “Great, Heather. When is Heather going to arrive? She’s late.” “Such a wet blanket, that Heather.”) Man, those conversations must be awkward. I once knew a trio of Matts in my college class. The professor took it upon himself to name each of them either “M1”, “M2”, and “M3” to avoid confusion.
Winona plays a girl who’s trying to get accepted into this trio of divas by basically being their slave (doing their homework, playing cruel pranks on less-popular students, etc). The main character’s name is Veronica, so we know she isn’t anything like the snobs that are the school’s de facto rulers. Veronica is cute and smart, but naive.
The Heathers walk all over her with impunity and she doesn’t have an ounce of self-respect to tell them off. But the movie itself isn’t about her trying to fit in. It’s how her willful lack of self-respect gets her tangled with a f*cking psychopath. And I’m not talking about any of the Heathers (though they come pretty damn close).
No, I’m talking about J.D., Christian Slater’s character.
J.D. is a charming, good-looking dude. Sophisticated, too, which earns him the adoration of Veronica. (she’s actually the monocle-wearing type, no joke). After being confronted by two bullies in the beginning, J.D. literally pulls a gun and fires on them with blanks in the cafeteria. Strangely enough, he doesn’t even get expelled.
You have to understand the universe this movie is in kind of…satirical? It’s the first sign that the film deals with serious issues in an unprecedented, off-beat way. But yes, J.D. is absolutely psychotic and Veronica is absolutely smitten. In spite of J.D.’s smiling, charming exterior, he’s a broken spirit. Broken spirits make for more complex souls, which is probably why Veronica can’t get over him until the very end.
You see, J.D.’s father is depicted as being (humorously?) emotionally distant and aloof. J.D.’s last memory of his mother was her waving to him from a window in a building right before it collapsed. It’s heavily implied that his father was the culprit behind the building’s collapse, too.
J.D., in this film, has strong parallels with The Dark Knight’s Joker. He sets these chaotic events in motion while observing and exposing society’s hypocrisies for all the horrified onlookers to drink in.
“If I said a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody bats an eye. But if I say a little, old mayor will die, THEN EVERYBODY LOSES THEIR MINDS!!! Because it’s alll part of the plannn…” – Joker
“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg (High School) and say; ‘now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.’ Now that’s deep.” – J.D.
“You know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.” – Joker
“Chaos killed the dinosaurs, darling.” – J.D.
While the Joker believed in exposing the Gotham City citizens for being the chaotic animals they are, J.D. was more concerned with exposing society as a chaotic animal for only giving people depth if they’re brave enough to end their own lives. (“Gosh, that poor girl was so smart and sophisticated when she was alive! She really saw the world in a way that nobody did!”)
But here’s the kicker: the only person in Heathers that took his own life was J.D. himself. He was not only a suicidal, wannabe sophist. He was also a murderer.
Since he loved Veronica dearly, he plotted to kill all the Heathers and jocks and stage their deaths to look like suicides. He took it a step further towards the end when he tried to blow up the school under the guise of a mass suicide. Geez, how can someone with such a weird fixation with suicide keep themself alive until high school? Or 1st grade, for that matter?
While he wanted Veronica to be happy so he could be worth something to somebody, it seems that his worth to society was more important. His final crime was being a suicide bomber (thankfully, he didn’t take anyone with him). He tried to justify it to himself with childish, superficial reasoning (“society will learn something when I die, you’ll see”).
Based on J.D.’s observations throughout the film, he lamented about how society loves people after they kill themselves (“We’re so sorry for not loving him while he was alive. We’ll love him in death. That should make up for it, right?”). J.D. wasn’t trying to change society. He simply learned how society behaves and tried to use it to alleviate his own personal sufferings.
It was clear in the film that his father didn’t love him, and his mother wasn’t physically available to show him love and compassion, either.
So his solution? To kill himself and find the love he long craved. So no, his primary interest wasn’t Veronica’s heart, or what society needed to learn to correct itself. His only interest was in himself. J.D. may have been a tragic character, but he was selfish, pedantic, and petulant to the very end.
Suicide is a waste, especially if done by a teenager. You’re throwing out all the potential you have in life over something extremely temporary. If you’re down in the dumps, go for a walk and talk to somebody. What you’re feeling isn’t targeted towards you. The universe isn’t conspiring against you to make your life hell. What you’re feeling is what everybody goes through.
Life isn’t hard just for you, it’s hard for everybody. Suicide is not a weapon, nor is it a statement. Suicide is like blowing up your house because of a broken pipe. Suicide doesn’t fix, it can only destroy. Traumas can’t be destroyed, they must be lived with.
Your traumas don’t make you special. They simply make you like everybody else.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255