Have you guys seen Heathers? If you haven’t, go do it and read on.

First of all, life has a funny way of making things happen.

Recently, 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 first GIF that showed up.

This was all done for hahas. No serious business here.

Winona? Is That You?

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.

A screencapture from my Twitter feed. It shows a GIF of a scene from the movie Heathers. Winona Ryder is saying "I guess I picked the wrong time to be a human being."

SPOILER WARNING

Heathers? Okay, Let’s Watch It…

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 from the get-go and had to watch it.

High School Romcom?

I normally don’t care for teenage romcoms, especially those set in high school. There’s a 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, perhaps. I don’t know if it’s natural to feel this way. Us grown-ups like to dream about the past, I suppose.

Aerial shot of a high school library.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thankfully, for me, Heathers isn’t your typical high school romcom. In fact, it’s more of a deconstruction of it that adults can appreciate. Heathers is not all sunshine and rainbows, you can bet on that.

The Premise

Heathers is about a trio of popular girls in high school. The 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.

So, 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).

Said 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 also naive.

Veronica, You’re Not a Heather

The Heathers walk all over Veronica 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).

Image from the movie, Heathers. Winona Ryder as Veronica on the far-right side. With her are three girls, all named "Heather."
Heathers. New World Pictures. 1989.

No, I’m talking about J.D., Christian Slater’s character.

J.D. is no Christian, is He?

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 cafeteria, J.D. literally pulls out a gun and fires on them with blanks.

Strangely enough, he doesn’t even get expelled.

Christian Slater as J.D. in Heathers. He's wearing a suicide vest and appears bloodied.
Christian Slater. Heathers. New World Pictures. 1989.

Satanic Satire?

You have to understand the movie’s universe is kind of…satirical? The cafeteria incident is the first sign that Heathers 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, and that’s probably why Veronica can’t get over him until the very end.

Laughing in the Darkness

You see, J.D.’s father is depicted as (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.

An image of a depressed male with tattered clothes. He looks beaten up.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

J.D. and Joker

“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.

Heather Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Heath Ledger as the Joker. The Dark Knight. Warner Bros. 2008.

(The influence is undeniable) 😉

While the Joker believed in exposing the Gotham City citizens as the chaotic animals they are, J.D. was more concerned with exposing society as a chaotic animal. This society only gives 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 else did!”)

Since J.D. loved Veronica dearly, he plotted to kill all the Heathers and jocks while staging their deaths to look like suicides.

Suicide is Sophisticated!

He took it a step further towards the end when he almost blew up the school under the guise of a mass suicide. Geez, how can someone with such a weird fixation with suicide keep himself alive until high school? Or 1st grade, for that matter?

Here’s the kicker: Heathers may be a movie about suicide, but the only person that took his own life was J.D. himself. He was not only a suicidal, wannabe sophist, he was also a murderer.

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. When he killed himself, he tried to justify it with childish, superficial reasoning (“society will learn something when I die, you’ll see”).

His final crime was being a suicide bomber (thankfully, he didn’t take anyone else with him).

Society is Sophisticated!

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.

A sad man's face, half osbscured in the shadows.
Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Dear Mother, Dear Father

It was clear in the film that his father didn’t love him. His mother wasn’t available to show him love and compassion, either.

So his solution? To kill himself and find the love he long craved. Again, his primary interest wasn’t winning Veronica’s heart, or what society needed 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…

Suicide is a waste, especially by a teenager. You’re throwing out all the potential you have in life over something largely 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 is…

Life is not hard only for you, it’s hard for everybody.

Suicide is not a weapon, nor is it a statement. It’s like blowing up your house because of a broken pipe.

Suicide doesn’t fix, it only destroys. Traumas can’t be destroyed either, 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

3 thoughts on “How ‘Heathers’ Challenges Our Understanding of Suicide

  1. Really interesting analysis of this movie. My sister was a huge fan of Heathers. She used to watch it everyday after school. Normally that kind of movie would be right up my alley, but I never really connected with it. I think it was just a little too pessimistic for me. And I’m not a fan of Christian Slater. But i do appreciate it for what it’s trying to say. And your comparing JD to TDK’s Joker is spot on. Great essay!

    1. You’re right, the movie isn’t for everyone. Its blasé approach to suicide can be a little jarring.

      Also, something I could’ve added to this was how much it resembles my first book, Heather’s Mannequin. It also deals with people using trauma to elevate themselves. (Another reason why I said life has a funny way of making things happen, lol)

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