‘Heathers’ – Decomp

Decomp for the film Heathers. This decomp is intended for use to organize your thoughts after watching the movie. For more information about decomps please head to this blog post.

How did the film make you feel?

What was your favorite shot of the film?

What did you feel was the thesis of the film?

What things did you enjoy about the film? What things did you dislike?

By the end of the film, did you have any empathy for any of the characters? Which ones and why?

Did you interpret the use of primary colors to mean anything beyond identification for the main characters?

The movie seemed to imply that it’s thesis was (as spoken by J.D.) – “The extreme always seems to make an impression.” Do you agree with this or do you think the film was trying to say something different?

Do you think it’s possible in today’s political climate to feature high schooler students in such a dark film? Many of the scenes are fairly shocking in the wake of Columbine – do those historical events that have happened since hinder or strengthen this film’s legacy?

Do you think this film is the first ‘teensploitation’ film or is it the first to be honest about it’s exploitative motive? Or did you feel that it wasn’t exploitative?

 


And my answers to the above – please don’t feel like you need to agree with me at all! I’m interested in how you feel about the film, as ultimately that’s what matters!

How did the film make you feel?

I found the film to be fairly jarring as it was much darker than I was expecting. Some of the imagery was so shocking in light of recent events – things like school shootings becoming so commonplace – that I kept feeling like it was going to have more and more surprises. And it did! I did also find it to be quite funny in many spots as the writing was very sharp, and definitely inspired many of the ‘edgy’ teen movies that came after it.

What was your favorite shot of the film?

My favorite shot of the film was the above shot of Heather laying dead on the floor on the red carpeting. Surrounded by glamour mags, lying in glass – the image is both beautiful and haunting.

Heathers

What did you feel was the thesis of the film?

I felt the thesis of the film was looking to say something along the lines of pain is a web. All of the bullying, hurt, cliques, infighting, external violence – all of it begets more of those things.

What things did you enjoy about the film? What things did you dislike?

I loved the sharpness of the script, it’s ability to keep pushing the envelope farther and farther, and I felt the cinematography was astounding, which was much better than what I was expecting.

I disliked the way that various characters’ despair was exploited to redeem our main characters. I get that this was the point, but it was still hard to see.

By the end of the film, did you have any empathy for any of the characters? Which ones and why?

At the end of the film I felt empathy for nearly every character, even J.D. Part of the gravity of the film is that we get to see the results of horrible upbringings, bullying, cliques, violence, etc. Every character, even the stupid football jocks, are the way they are as a result of how they’ve been treated at some point.

Did you interpret the use of primary colors to mean anything beyond identification for the main characters?

I don’t think the color usage had any extra meaning. I think it was fun to pick up how different details brought the characters together in the world, specifically the scenes involving croquet and how the characters assert themselves via the desire for the color red.

The movie seemed to imply that it’s thesis was (as spoken by J.D.) – “The extreme always seems to make an impression.” Do you agree with this or do you think the film was trying to say something different?

I think this is certainly one possible reading of the film’s thesis. Films like this seem to be trying to give us a more meta view of specific relationships and how the world works.

Heathers 2

Do you think it’s possible in today’s political climate to feature high schooler students in such a dark film? Many of the scenes are fairly shocking in the wake of Columbine – do those historical events that have happened since hinder or strengthen this film’s legacy?

I don’t think a film like this could come out nowadays, but I feel like it’s exactly the kind of film that should. Seeing such powerful and dark scenes acted out by children really brings home the reality of violence among youth and in schools. People might take these things to be potentially aspirational to would be offenders, but I don’t think things actually work like that. Just because people are problems doesn’t mean we should be shying away from said problems. Maybe by forcing people to confront these realities we might make some progress on lowering violence like this.

Do you think this film is the first ‘teensploitation’ film or is it the first to be honest about it’s exploitative motive? Or did you feel that it wasn’t exploitative?

I think this film is definitely in the ‘exploitation’ vein. It’s trying to push the limitations of it’s teen genre to the most absurd and violent possible place. If that doesn’t count, then I don’t know what should.


If you’re so inclined, please use the decomp in the comments to let us know how you felt about the film. Is there anything you feel we missed that feels applicable to the film? Let us know!

To see the notes I took while watching Heathers – please visit my letterboxd – https://letterboxd.com/niallmccarthy/film/heathers/

Active Participation, Decompression, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Today I’d like to introduce you to a new tool I’ve been developing called a Decompression. The idea behind Decompressions (Decomp for short and here on out) is that we all watch and enjoy films, but often times it can be difficult to start to parse out how you feel about it. There are so many ideas, images, sounds, emotions contained in a film that sifting through everything without anything at all to guide you can be quite difficult. A decompression then is simply a small guide with a few guiding questions and observations from the film so that you can begin to crystalize your own thoughts on the film. Decomps are not reviews and are not designed to tell you what to think, they’re designed to get your gears to turn. What matters most about film is how you feel about it once it’s over. Happiness when dealing with art comes about from being an active participant in the art and I want to encourage interaction and listening as much as I possibly can here. There are thousands of websites that will tell you how to feel about something – I’m here because I want to know how you feel about films and to help you learn how to better channel those feelings.

Have you ever stood in an art gallery and looked at painting after painting and none of it meant anything because there was so much going on? Maybe you didn’t have context for what the artists were going for or you felt like you didn’t ‘get’ what was being said? Maybe the techniques weren’t what you were used to or the subject matter left you cold? Films can be like that. Music can be like that. TV shows can be like that. The hope is that by going through a decomp with an individual film you can break through the initial paralysis from information overload, then you’ll be able to join the conversation with your own thoughts and insights.

The art world needs more and new perspectives on things. We haven’t plenty perspectives from people who make it their job to give those perspectives. Your voice matters and your thoughts matter.

Here’s to learning and to being active participants in the things we consume. I promise it makes those things more enjoyable in every way. I hope you enjoy using these tools, and I hope it makes you want to watch more film and start to branch out into new kinds of art.

Please – let me know how it goes! Feel free to answer the posts in the comments with your thoughts on the film or shoot me an email, tweet, instagram comment, letterboxd message – whatever!

Ferris 2

Below is a sample Decomp for a film I’d assume most of you have seen – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a little bit shorter than some will be, but I think you’ll get the gist. I’ll post my personal answers to the decomp questions below so you can see how you might go about answering these questions. 

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Decomp for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

How did the film make you feel?

What was your favorite shot of the film?

What did you feel was the thesis of the film?

What things did you enjoy about the film? What things did you dislike?

Which character did you find most relatable?

What do you think has made this film so enduring in the public consciousness? What is that makes things seem universal?

This is one of my ‘sick’ films, something that I can put on that makes me feel ok and is comforting for me. Which films do that for you?

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Below are my answers to each of the decomp questions so you can see how you might approach these types of questions. The more honest you are with yourself, the better.

How did the film make you feel?

This film makes me feel all sorts of different emotions. I very much relate with Cameron and his anxiety in the beginning of the film, I feel joy when the trio is going on various adventures throughout the city, I feel genuine happiness at the twist and shout musical number. That people might find joy through singing and dancing with one another is so comforting for me right now. I feel melancholy as Cameron stares into the paintings in the museum. I feel a deep sense of nostalgia from the film as a whole because of how many times I’ve seen it both recently and as I was growing up. All of this is comforting to me and I’ll continue to watch this film because of how it makes me feel.

What was your favorite shot of the film?

My favorite shot of the film is technically more an entire scene, as I absolutely adore the entire museum trip. That a film that is regarded as ‘for kids’ or is often written off along with the rest of John Hughes’ films would embrace the quiet introspection of a museum is just so invigorating for me. The entire scene is such a beautiful break from the rest of the mayhem of growing up and it’s become one of the most dear series of images to me. I’ve picked the shot of the trio holding hands with the kids because that is what makes it all for me. That they’re just as bright eyed and optimistic as children on a field trip. That’s what art is. That’s how it should be. Happiness and innocence.

Ferris 3

What did you feel was the thesis of the film?

I think Ferris says it to close the film – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I can’t really think of anything that I could add that would improve what the movie is directly saying in any way. There doesn’t have to be something hidden underneath the surface in many cases. Don’t let the thesis of a film get lost among it’s details.

What things did you enjoy about the film? What things did you dislike?

I enjoy and admire the attitude of this film. It’s so joyous, so forgiving of humanity, so optimistic towards the future. Maybe not necessarily in much of it’s dialogue or the anxieties they deal with, but I love that these characters have determined that simply spending a day with one another and living and being with each other is what life is about is exactly the direction I want to move my own life in. Stress will always be there. Anxiety will always be there. But so will the people who will help you pull through it. That’s powerful.

What did I dislike? Sometimes Ferris is a jerk, but I think he also learns by the end which redeems any faults I have with his character at the beginning. There really isn’t much I don’t like the film as everything that it sets up eventually pays off nicely.

Which character did you find most relatable?

Cameron. Cameron. Cameron. He embodies my anxiety to a t. He struggles with it. He wrestles with every decision. But ultimately, he’s just a guy doing his best in the world. “He’ll keep calling me, and calling me, and calling me. Fine, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go. *slam slam slam* – GOD. DAMMIT.” Kills me every time.

What do you think has made this film so enduring in the public consciousness? What is that makes things seem universal?

I think it’s so universal because it’s the ultimate get out of school or work fantasy. How many of us have wanted to just put life on pause and do anything but what we were supposed to? I’d venture to guess it’s just about everyone. That really is so much of the appeal here, as it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment for something that we all go through. This specific film has become so universal beyond that though because of it’s cast of characters and the quotability of it’s dialogue. Hughes created a warm and memorable world, and the film is an all-timer because of it.

This is one of my ‘sick’ films, something that I can put on that makes me feel ok and is comforting for me. Which films do that for you?

Well, this one! Other ‘sick films’ of mine are anything that makes me nostalgic for my youth or things that I enjoyed watching when I was in college. I love going back to this film, Lost in Translation, My Neighbor Totoro, and Office Space (if I’m ‘sick’ of work!).

And that’s all there really is to a decomp. It’s just a structured way to focus your thoughts and I hope that by doing so it will bring you more enjoyment to your film watching experience.