Peter Jackson as a postcolonial filmmaker: national cinema and Hollywood genres.
Filmmakers (Works)
Filmmakers (Criticism and interpretation)
Postcolonialism (Analysis)
Alemany-Galway, Mary
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Name: Post Script Publisher: Post Script, Inc. Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Post Script, Inc. ISSN: 0277-9897
Date: Wntr-Spring, 2006 Source Volume: 25 Source Issue: 2
Named Person: Jackson, Peter (New Zealander movie director); Jackson, Peter
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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The purpose of this article is to investigate notions of national cinema as they relate to Peter Jackson's work as a postcolonial filmmaker, and his appropriations of Hollywood genres. Jackson, from the very start of his career, has used genre conventions and twisted them around to suit his particular vision and the national context in which he works. As Stephen Crofts points out, historically, the idea of a national cinema has been informed by the promotion of the development of a non-Hollywood cinema, particularly that of an art cinema. However, in postcolonial cinemas there is a tendency to use the understanding of another cultural practice to reperceive and rethink one's own cultural community (385). Peter Jackson has used Hollywood genres to reperceive New Zealand culture and identity. This can be seen from his first "splatter" films but is even more evident in Heavenly Creatures.

In the 1960s, radical politics extended the notion of a national cinema to include films made in the contexts of postcolonial struggles. Until the 1980s, ideas of national cinema tended to focus only on films produced within a certain territory, while ideas of the nation state were conceived in essentialist, albeit if in sometimes anti-imperialist terms. Non-essentialist conceptions of the nation-state and national identity have been forwarded by a number of theorists since then, and the constructedness of the "imagined community" has been underlined. The effects of the migrations and diasporas resulting from post-Second World War processes of decolonization have informed recent accounts of national cinemas which seek to resist the homogenizing fictions of nationalism, and to recognize their historical variability and contingency. What has also been noted has been the cultural hybridity of nation-states, so that American culture, for example, is seen to be a part of most national cultures and to interact with them (Crofts 385-86). This interaction is evident in Jackson's work, both in his use of such Hollywood genres as horror and science fiction and in the fact that he sometime uses United States production money.

In discussing Jackson's films, one has to take into consideration that he works within a postcolonial context. Like Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin, I use the word postcolonial to represent the continuing process of imperial suppressions and exchanges that become evident in the discourses and institutions of a diverse range of societies. Among these are the settler colonies, which, because of their filiative metaphors of connection problematize the idea of resistance as a simple binarism and articulate the ambivalent, complex and processual nature of all imperial relations (3-4).

Of course, New Zealand is a settler colony that historically had particularly close ties to Britain. Bill Willmott explains that the invasion of settlers from Great Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century was based on the goal of reproducing British society in the antipodes, not of escaping it, as happened in some parts of North America. Nor was there forced migration, as occurred in Australia. Thus, for a long time, the dominant segments of Pakeha society in New Zealand looked with disdain on anything "New Zealand" as inferior. But, as in other settler colonies, interest in a distinctive culture and identity grew during the twentieth century (4). In today's world, one also has to take into account the power and influence of American global capitalism, which in the context of cinema is represented by Hollywood. But, especially for Jackson, this is not a simple relationship of binary oppositions. On the most obvious level, he both uses the narrative formulas of Hollywood and satirizes them.

This can be seen in his first feature film, Bad Taste (1983-87). Barbara Cairns and Helen Martin recount that on its release in 1988 it quickly gained a large cult following, both locally and overseas. It received a standing ovation at its 1988 screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Its successes include winning the Prix de Gore at the Paris Horror Festival (1988), and the Special Public Prize at the Rome Festival (1989). In Wellington, at the Fringe Film Festival in 1992, it won an award for the creation of a new genre in New Zealand film, comedy splatter (69).

Basically, it is a hybrid genre, a mixture of horror, science-fiction and comedy, and is the tale of an alien invasion. In this story, the heroes (a group of lads) come to the aid of a small New Zealand village, which has become completely empty except for the presence of humanoid aliens. They learn that the inhabitants of the town have been murdered and packed into cardboard boxes. These are to be sent to the aliens' planet to be used as meat for a fast food chain. The "lads" kill most of the aliens, and one of them hides aboard the alien spaceship to go and destroy their planet.

One could see this plot as a postcolonial fantasy of revenge. According to Margaret Atwood, a partial definition of a colony is that it is a place where profit is made but not usually by those who live there. The major profit from a colony is made in the center of the empire. That's what colonies are for, to make money for the "mother country" (35-36). Atwood is writing about Canada, but this statement holds true for any colony. And, of course, New Zealand has long exported raw meat to Britain at bargain prices. As well, Bad Taste evokes a colonial fantasy that is arguably still a part of New Zealand's nationalist ethos. As Cairns and Martin point out:

    Male friendship, or mateship, has a
strong presence in New Zealand fictions.    Central to it is the idea
that a    man's most important relationships    are the bonds he
forms with his own    sex. These bonds are often based on    unity of
purpose gained through a    common struggle (against a harsh
environment, or a common enemy,    for example), and are not necessarily
verbally expressed. (81) 

This ethos is satirized by the film, while it is also central to a story where not one female character makes an appearance.

Jackson's next feature, Meet the Feebles (1989), is also a splatter film. The film follows the adventures of a troop of animal puppets and is a satire of The Muppet Show. It is full of scatological humor. Here again, Jackson is evincing a postcolonial attitude in this savage satire of an important element of the American mass media, which has colonized many a young mind.

In an article on Meet the Feebles, Ian Pryor quotes Peter Jackson who has this to say on the film:

    The film is
a celebration of bodily secretions.    That was the whole point of
doing it--otherwise you'd just end    up with The Muppet Show. The
entire    movie was made so we could be as    disgusting as possible
with puppets.    There was absolutely no reason to    make it unless we
could make a terribly

depraved and gross puppet movie, and we tried our very hardest

to make that. We were terribly worried when we wrote it that the puppet "gimmick" would run out even after ten minutes, so we really piled on the depravity to make sure we weren't left with too many scenes of straight soap opera. I think it's hilariously

funny for a puppet to break open and be full of tiny organs and

guts. That's the basis of the movie-they look like they're made of foam rubber, they act like they're made of foam rubber, but they secrete out of every orifice imaginable.., which just makes me laugh. I find it funny. (10)

In his next film, Braindead (1992), Jackson uses the horror and splatter genres as a vehicle for the exploration of the themes of personal and national liberation. The film starts on Skull Island in 1957. A zoologist is beheaded by the natives of the island because they consider the rare specimen rat monkey that he is importing to New Zealand, and which bites him, to be rabid, and his bite drives those bitten mad. I see the zoologist as a colonial exploiter of the indigenous population of the island- a role New Zealand itself has sometimes played. Certainly, a settler colony is also one where the settlers have expropiated the land and its resources from its native population. Further, Jackson juxtaposes these moments of ghoulish humour with footage of Queen Elizabeth II, and God Save the Queen is heard on the soundtrack. The complex relationship of a settler colony to its imperial center, and to its own forms of imperialism is suggested by this juxtaposition.

The monkey is transported to the Wellington Zoo where it bites the mother of the hero / protagonist, Lionel. All those who are bitten by the monkey become zombies and their bite is similarly lethal. Here, Jackson seems to be implying that colonial exploiters become zombies because they have to lose their human empathy for others in order to dominate and exploit them. At the end of the film, the mother having become a giant zombie, swallows Lionel but he carves his way out to find his true love. As Lawrence McDonald points out, this has obvious Freudian connotations (15). But it could also be seen as an image of a bid for freedom from the mother country, as the mother embodies some of the worst straitlaced characteristics of British colonials.

Other films by Jackson also play with genre expectations. Forgotten Silver (1995) is a mockumentary which in its depiction of a New Zealand inventor/filmmaker hero seems to be satirizing the postcolonial condition itself. This film mixes fact and fancy in order to put into question artistic and nationalist myths. Many have believed this fabricated story of a previously unknown great New Zealand filmmaker and inventor to be true. Thus Forgotten Silver satirizes not only our gullibility about the "facts" or "truths" presented by documentaries but also our need for national/artistic heroes. It is these idealized figures that are often set up to create feelings of national identity, perhaps even more so when that identity is obviously a construct as it is in a settler colony.

Forgotten Silver can be seen as being part of the trend in contemporary cinema that John Cawelti discusses in his article on generic transformations. For him, when a genre exhausts itself, it can transform into a mode which uses "traditional generic structures as a means of demythologization" (507). In Craig Hight's and Jane Roscoe's article on Forgotten Silver, they point out that in Cawelti's argument there is a suggestion that as an audience becomes more familiar with a particular form of representation, that audience is prepared to accept transformations which can include the deconstructing of the myths and assumptions on which the original form is based. It is true that the documentary is not usually seen as a genre but it can be argued to have certain characteristics peculiar to other film genres, which also share particular structures and conventions. They argue that Jackson and co-director Costa Botes have created a mock documentary that demythologizes the documentary form itself (14). For them, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is its relationship to myths and to New Zealand myths in particular: "A perhaps central part of the effectiveness of the program with New Zealand audiences is the subtlety and variety of ways in which its film makers exploited cultural stereotypes and accepted notions concerning the nature of New Zealand history and society" (16).

Of course, Jackson's latest project is the trilogy based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (2002-2004). As Andrew Horton points out, the ways in which minority cultures appropiate Hollywood cinema and make use of the dominant discourse can prove instructive for both narrative film studies and cultural studies (173). Jackson appropriates various genres from Hollywood cinema in Lord of the Rings. Primarily, he uses the horror genre, the combat film genre, and the fantasy genre, as well as Tolkien's literary legacy, to create a story whose ideology reflects that of New Zealand's foreign policy and its anti-nuclear stance. Roy Smith states that New Zealand's 1984 decision to distance itself from a defense policy based on reliance on the United States' nuclear capabilities, under the ANZUS Treaty signed in 1951 had far-reaching consequences. The reverberations of this decision were felt throughout the Pacific region and also echoed in Europe, affecting US alliance politics and strategy (11). The fellowship's decision to destroy the ring of power is similar to New Zealand's decision to create a nuclear free environment in the South Pacific. It is true that the film is financed with Hollywood money. One can only conjecture as to the interests that lay behind the financing. However, as Smith points out, this ideal was embraced by a significant element of the international community (26).

The film that I would like to now analyze in some detail is Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1995), which won a Silver Lion for the best script at the Venice Film Festival and an Oscar nomination. The script was co-written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and capitalizes on Jackson's ability to create powerful imagery through special effects. The narrative is developed from an actual event and is about two girls who inhabit a fictional world of their own creation. A mixture of docu-drama, fantasy film, Gothic horror film, and family melodrama, Heavenly Creatures is based on a true story of matricide committed by two young schoolgirls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, in the city of Christchurch in 1954.

Heavenly Creatures begins with a sequence from a 1950s National Film Unit travelogue of Christchurch, New Zealand. Here the citizens are more English than the English. The optimistic tones of the travelogue's voice-over, and its sunny images of a model town, are interrupted by shots of two teenage girls, bloodied and screaming, running down a garden path. The violently moving camera affects the viewer in such a way as to create an empathetic reaction to the girls' out-of-control emotions. This cinematic device reoccurs throughout, as the filmmaker wants to induce a sympathetic reaction to these girls who have murdered one of their mothers. To further this aim, the actual diaries and fictional writings of the girls are used to let the viewers know what was going on in their minds at the time. The nationalist propaganda of the travelogue is thus countered by the girls' subjective point-of-view of Christchurch society in the 1950s, when an atmosphere of propriety and conformity reigned. The surrealist filmmaker, Luis Bunuel, used a similar type of satiric juxtaposition in his mockumentary Land Without Bread (1932) where the voiceover is heard extolling the beauty of the Spanish countryside, while the images show us starving children whose faces are covered with flies.

For all its empathy with the girls, the film does not see their act of matricide as anything other than horrific. In using matricide as a central element of the plot structure, it is similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and the film clearly has elements of the psychological horror genre. The girls are both monsters and innocent victims. The disaster is brought about by the two girls' desire to shape their own destinies (Ribeiro 33). To be a young female with ambition, intelligence, and imagination in this society seems to be a recipe for disaster. The repressive atmosphere of 1950s New Zealand has been well documented in Janet Frame's autobiographical writings, as well as in Jane Campion's film, An Angel at my Table (1990), which is derived from them. In many ways Heavenly Creatures can be seen as espousing a feminist point-of-view due to the fact, no doubt, that it was co-written with Fran Walsh.

According to Deborah Shepard, the very fact that Heavenly Creatures is so different in nature from Jackson's splatter films and that it proceeds from a more feminine viewpoint suggests Walsh's influence. The idea of making a film about the Parker-Hulme murder came from a memory Walsh had of reading a sensational account of the story, Obsession by two international tabloid journalists when she was twelve. As a teenager Fran Walsh had been drawn to reading about the darker side of life and could identify with Pauline and Juliet to some extent (155).

Many feminist filmmakers have adopted the genre of the woman's film, which is itself a form of woman-centered family melodrama. Thomas Elsaesser states that the current that leads to the family melodrama of the 1940s and 1950s is derived from the romantic drama, which had its heyday after the French Revolution but is unthinkable without the eighteenth-century sentimental novel and its emphasis on private feelings. The element of interiorization and personalization of what are primarily ideological conflicts, together with the metaphorical interpretation of class conflicts as sexual exploitation and rape, is important in all subsequent forms of melodrama, including that of cinema (514-515). Thus, the form of the family melodrama can have political implications, even in Hollywood, since the central characters are often victims subject to social oppression as in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). Also, (as in Elsaesser's account), the melodramatic form can be linked to stories pertaining to national identity (Gledhill 25). In many ways, one can see in Heavenly Creatures New Zealand's ambivalent rebellion against Britain, as well as its angst at being deserted by the mother country with the advent of the European Common Market.

The two girls' relationship in itself is emblematic of colonial relations as Pauline is a working-class New Zealander and Juliet's parents are British upper middleclass. Pauline, whose thoughts the audience shares via a voice-over reading of her actual diaries, idealizes the sophistication and culture of Juliet and her family and longs to become one of them. It is their proposed departure from New Zealand that brings about the crisis point of the film since it is her despair at not being able to leave with them that causes her to murder her mother. This crisis can be seen to have parallels with the trauma of separation that was experienced by many New Zealanders when Britain cut its close economic ties to its former colony to join the European Common Market.

In psychoanalytic terms, the murder of Pauline's mother can be accounted for in that the process of socialization for the female child involves accepting her "bleeding wound," her lack, and she remains angry with her mother whom she holds responsible (Kaplan 121). In a way, the same process could be seen to occur when a settler colony has to face the fact that, because it is not part of an empire anymore, it lacks power in the world at large. Of course, this depends on the actual position of that excolony on the world stage. The United States, for instance, having had a successful revolution and become a world power itself tends to produce narratives where the male hero triumphs over the father figure in symbolic Oedipal conflicts.

The melodramatic imagination underpins many forms of thought including the Freudian and Marxist account of reality. It is also the basis of many literary and filmic genres such as the woman's film and the Gothic horror (Gledhill 20-37). Heavenly Creatures uses both of these Hollywood genres to address issues that are central to New Zealand's reality. Teresa A. Goddy explains that gothic tales of horror use elements of dystopian fantasies that are intimately connected to the culture that produces them and can articulate the horrors of history, and register the contradictions from which of the culture they emerge. For instance, the American Gothic is a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a country built on the notion of Utopian hope and harmony (4-5).

New Zealand, which is sometimes called by its inhabitants "godzone," has also at times seen itself as a paradise of sorts. Roy Shuker writes of a small but significant body of New Zealand literary utopianism that reflects that country's historical development, at critical junctures, as a utopian social experiment (14-15). But New Zealand, like the United States, also has its dark side, which is often expressed in the Gothic mode. Of course, like America, New Zealand is also based on the repression of its indigenous population and the return of the repressed is what the horror genre can effectively portray.

Goddy states that the Gothic, despite its formulaic nature and its easily listed elements--such as the haunted house, the evil villain, ghosts, gloomy landscapes, madness, terror, suspense and horror--has rather unclear parameters and is cobbled together of many different forms (5). Certainly elements of the fantasy genre are obviously incorporated into Heavenly Creatures. The girls develop a fantasy world to which they can escape, and its cinematic embodiment through morphing makes this subjective world particularly important to the impact of the film. In some ways, this is the same story of adolescent escape from the real world as Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939). But these girls never want to go back home, for the New Zealand reality depicted in the film is a repressive society, which regards their emerging lesbian identity as a form of madness.

Wade Jennings describes the fantasy genre as involving a quest, literal or metaphorical, a journey that leads to necessary self-discovery, a rejection of conventional values, and a climax in which the protagonist makes a choice between two worlds. Some protagonists choose to return home but some do not. Thus, the genre entails a questioning of what constitutes home. The most significant theme of the fantasy film is freedom; since fantasy denies natural laws it opens the door to freedom (249-251). This has obvious implications for narratives that are concerned with issues of national and postcolonial identity. Like adolescents, settler colonies must establish their own individual identity as separate from that of the parent. However, in Heavenly Creatures, Jackson twists the fantasy genre around because the bid for freedom has such dire consequences. Perhaps, this is because the settler colony can have such ambivalent feelings towards the mother country. The fantasy genre has been used by writers like William Morris to put forward ideals of utopian communities (Mathews 42). But Heavenly Creatures shows us both the utopian fantasy (in the girls' vision of a "Fourth World") and the dystopias and nightmares associated with the Gothic genre in the act of matricide.

It is apt indeed that this contradictory aspect of national identity should be embodied by two women, for women have often represented heaven and hell, the angel and the demon. According to Nina Auerbach, in the nineteenth century, the loss of faith led to the displacement of spiritual feelings onto the woman, hence the recurring image of the "angel in the house" (74). But, Auerbach states that the female invasion of religious iconography is also one agent of the radically new sort of terror, which, in the nineteenth century, conflated divinity with demonism. And this conflation is related to the new British Gothic literature of the time which, at the end of the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment, reasserted the claims to attention of the sacred and the sublime in its most primitive manifestations as an ethics founded on terror. In Victorian England, any incursion of the supernatural into the natural became ambiguously awful because unclassifiable. As the primary agent of supernatural activity, woman hid within her virtue a divine-demonic terror (75). Heavenly Creatures indeed! Perhaps, the film is warning us not only of the problematic power of displaced spirituality onto women but also onto the terrain of national identity, where it can certainly create both heaven and hell. The creation of images by Romantic painters, in the nineteenth century, expresses a phenomenon basic to modern times: the shift of allegiance from religion to nationalism (Janson 465). In New Zealand this shift seems to be related to the idea of New Zealand as a pastoral paradise. According to Ian Conrich and David Woods, the most dominant and persistent New Zealand myth is of an Edenic garden, a natural utopia. Initially this concept was fabricated as nineteenth century propaganda to attract European settlers. New Zealand painters maintained the myth, importing and absorbing European landscape conventions (8-10). But, as Jonathan Rayner points out, the variety of landscapes--temperate, tropical and geothermic- contained within the islands of which the country is composed can suggest an Edenic diversity, or an imprisoning, infernal purgatory (39).

Ann Hardy, in her article on the transcendental style in Heavenly Creatures, states that, although New Zealand is a secular society and few Pakeha filmmakers except Vincent Ward deal with the spiritual dimension of the land, for the Maori and the Maori filmmakers, such as Merata Mita and Barry Barclay, that dimension is important. She quotes Gaylene Preston (a Pakeha woman filmmaker) who sees much of the creative work coming out of New Zealand as evincing an unresolved tension between land, art, and spirituality. For Preston, there is something that comes out of the land that is spooky and which has cost all of New Zealand's great artists much pain. Further, according to Hardy, the entry of the girls into a "Fourth World" and their accompanying visions, as described in their diaries, is offered a sympathetic elaboration by Alison Laurie and Julie Glamuzina in Parker and Hulme: A Lesbian View. Port Levy, where the "Fourth World" vision takes place, had been the site of an important Maori settlement and the Maori tohunga or priest, consulted by the authors, was of the opinion that their visionary experience was genuine. Neither was he surprised that the aftermath of the event ended in violence. It was his belief that the guardians of that other world sometimes demanded blood sacrifice (5).

Many stories in Western literature reiterate the need for a human sacrifice to be made in order to ensure the continuance of the world. An obvious example of this narrative structure is the death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The girls certainly sacrifice the mother in a bid to ensure that the imaginative world they have created does not come to an end. If the mother represents the mundane, working class world of 1950s New Zealand, it is a world that they violently reject. Hardy describes their energy as "daemonic," containing both good and evil (6), that is, they are both angels and devils. Like nineteenth century women in England, they embody the unease of a displaced spirituality that has also been associated with the land. In the film's discourse on postcolonialism, what their vision signifies is that vision of a new world that is the beginnings of nationalism in a postcolonial society. But usually for that new world to come about something or someone must be sacrificed. I think the rejection of the meek and servile colonial position is signified by the killing of the mother, who for Pauline embodies subservience and lack in her role as a working class Kiwi wife. However, the film makes the viewer aware of the contradictions involved in this rejection. After all matricide is an abhorrent act, and to cut the ties to one's cultural identity is not an easy task for a postcolonial subject.

Hardy points out that Heavenly Creatures can be analyzed in terms of Paul Schrader's description of the Transcendental form in film narrative. She cites the three stages of this form as 1) The Depiction of the Everyday, 2) The Growth of a Sense of Disparity, and the arrival at 3) Stasis or the decisive moment. The sense of the banal in everyday life induces tension and boredom. This leads to an understanding of the disparity, or lack of it, evident between the character's sense of self and the world that becomes unbearable, and there's an outpouring of human feeling which can have no adequate receptacle in the everyday life. That emotional relief occurs during the final stage of disparity, when the character makes an irrevocable choice, and it serves to freeze the emotional into expression, the disparity into stasis (8). It is this trajectory which the narrative of the film undertakes as it follows the girls from their rejection of the everyday reality of New Zealand, to the creation of another disparate world which cannot exist with the everyday, to the final terrible act of murder. Perhaps the terror lies in the paradox that for something new to be born something old must die, or that death and birth are inextricably linked.

Jocelyn Robson and Beverley Zalcock, in their book on Australian and New Zealand women filmmakers, discuss the importance of being ex-colonies to both of these countries' sense of cultural identity. If New Zealand settlers did not arrive as convicts and therefore did not reject English culture as readily as the Australians, they still had to cope with the isolation and the enormous physical demands of the new environment. The need for survival did encourage collectivity as well as the rejection of old priorities determined according to social status. This experience shaped various images and myths of national identity which in New Zealand took the shape of "The Good Keen Man," where the emphasis fell on unsophistication, on a celebration of vulgarity, and on "doing it yourself." The striking features of these identities are, of course, their maleness and whiteness. For women there was little of interest in this thing called national identity (4-5).

However, by the 1970s, as Robson and Zalcock point out, fuelled by the civil rights movement and feminism, there were some major changes in consciousness. Maori nationalism was gaining momentum and the role of the United States in the Vietnam War, Britain's entry into the EEC and the developing economic prowess of several Asian states were all giving impetus to questions of national identity and helping to create a new assertiveness. Old myths continued to find expression in a number of "boys' films" but some distinctive films by women directors were also being created. Many of these films focused on three major preoccupations: the family, the landscape, and ethnicity. It is as if filmmakers were exploring what had previously been omitted, the experiences of women and the dark side of the collectivity myth. Jane Campion and Alison Maclean are two among these New Zealand filmmakers. Merata Mita explores the Maori experience. And often the land is represented not as a tourist's paradise but in its more sinister aspects (6-7).

Heavenly Creatures falls into the category of New Zealand women's films that look at the underside of the national myth even though its director is male. Both, because it focuses on two female protagonists, and because the script is co-written with Fran Walsh this film qualifies as a feminist film. It also follows the narrative mode used by most other New Zealand women's films. As Robson and Zalcock explain, New Zealand women filmmakers have produced a body of work that is mostly described as psychodrama with a feminist tilt. The New Zealand feminist psychodrama is closely allied with the psychological thriller and has a heightened preoccupation with gender, especially gender confusions and conflicts (7-8).

However, most of the Australian and New Zealand feminist films have a female protagonist who triumphs over odds as in Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (1979) and Jane Campion's The Piano (1993). The protagonists of Heavenly Creatures come to a dire end as they are imprisoned and separated forever. Heavenly Creatures is closer to Campion's Sweetie (1989), the tale of two sisters who have been harmed by their dysfunctional family life. Sweetie's younger sister is particularly anarchic and destructive in her relationship with people and it is she who is mad and dies at the end. Robson and Zalcock see her as representing "a force that is presented in the film as potentially liberational but also deeply destructive" (76). The girls in Heavenly Creatures also represent such a force, where the bid for freedom teeters into chaos in opposing itself to a social order that borders on tyranny. The breaking away from the parents, or the parent country, can be dangerous, but is also necessary for the establishment of an independent identity. Perhaps, this is even more so for women who are even further outside the norm because of their "deviance," sexual or otherwise.

Elizabeth Guzik allies Heavenly Creatures with the New Queer Cinema of the 90s in its self-conscious play with the conventions of the "killer-dyke" narrative. For her, the film demonstrates how women on the margins, in terms of both sexuality and nationality, can shape mass media images, whether those of heterosexual romance or Hollywood films, to their own desires. The use of fandom in the film also reveals New Zealand's struggle to come to terms with its national identity (48-49). The two girls use various male hero figures that they call "the saints," including Mario Lanza and Orson Welles, as a means to access their lesbian sexuality. By taking on the roles of these male figures, and through the use of fairytale romance narratives in their fantasy kingdom of Borovnia, they enact heterosexual roles that allow them to imagine a lesbian romance. As Guzik points out, this mirrors in some ways the position of New Zealand as a postcolonial nation in 1994 when the film was made. She sees New Zealanders as splitting their interests among "four mistresses" because of their complex history. Not only are they attached to their own land, but they also have affiliations with Australia, Britain, and the United States. Thus New Zealanders tend to work out their national identity through the myths and icons of other cultures (55). Nick Perry suggests that post-modern pastiche has acquired particular local energies in New Zealand and Australia. In cultures instituted by colonization, bricolage is a way of life and therefore there is a developed awareness of culture, including the idea of a national culture as artifice (14). I think that Jackson himself, in this film as well as in earlier ones, has used the genres of Hollywood cinema to describe the postcolonial condition of New Zealand.

This poses the question of what links queer concerns to those of postcolonial artists and thinkers. This question is central to an understanding of Heavenly Creatures since the film seems to make this link itself. Guzik writes that the national citizen is a male, abstract subject, thus female subjects can only be citizens by masquerading as men. Once a woman makes herself even more sexualized, by declaring herself to be someone who practices a sexuality that is read as aberrant, she will further embody herself. Even if lesbians remove themselves from the economy of sexual exchange, the perceived deviancy of lesbian sexual acts would still increase their abject or liminal status, and disrupt the possibility of abstraction so necessary for the definition of citizen. Instead of having access to Anderson's imagined communities, lesbians are reduced to "imaginable communities."

This, in itself, can lead to an inclination to appropiate images, texts, or elements of other cultures without full consideration of the colonizing influences at work (Guzlik 56-57). Thus, it seems to me that both the lesbian and the postcolonial subject are prone to an openness to the myths and icons of others. For instance, Michelle Elleray, in her article on Heavenly Creatures, sees the girls' mode of performing lesbian sex through a heterosexual paradigm as paralleled by the process of the settler whose reality is mediated through another culture's symbolism and categories (237). This openness to the texts of others can be seen as a liability (as it is by Elleray) but it can also be seen as a positive attribute in that it makes for an openness to multiple meanings and an avoidance of essentialism. At least this is the point of view of postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers like Jean-Francois Lyotard (66-67).

I will argue that Heavenly Creatures is a postmodern film because of its openness to multiple meanings, and its uses of different Hollywood genres. Barbara Creed describes postmodern queer cinema as using appropriation and pastiche, irony and the reworking of history. These films break with the older humanist tradition of gay identity politics and the "positive image" films that accompanied them, and are influenced by poststructuralist theories of subjectivity. She claims that, like Lyotard, queer theoreticians call for the abandonment of a universal truth that would apply to all (160-163). Thus, an openness to multiple truths can be seen as a defining feature of postmodern queer cinema.

As Heavenly Creatures is dealing with lesbianism and its political implications, it can be seen as related to queer cinema. Laurie and Glamuzina point out that the local and international media coverage seized upon the girls' "special relationship," with a resulting association of lesbianism with "evil," insanity, and criminality (73). Chris Watson, in his article on the film, links its themes with Foucault's ideas on the control of sexuality as a way by which the middle classes exercise power (14-27).

Linda Hutcheon argues that the type of postmodern film that questions the status quo works to subvert society's system of values from within. Their deliberately unresolved paradoxes serve to underline the complex contradictions within our socially determined patterns of thinking (5). The central paradox within Heavenly Creatures is that the girls are both victims and victimizers. The tyranny of the social order of 1950s New Zealand denies them freedom of expression but their bid for freedom leads them to commit murder. The problematics of individual free will are underlined in the film by their hero worship of Orson Welles, a young rebellious artist figure, whom they meet in his role of villain in Carol Reed The Third Man (1949). Their identification with various masculine heroes allows them to express their sexuality but also leads them further and further into violence. And that violence leads them to the ultimate horrific act of matricide.

A similar postmodern queer film is Derek Jarman's Edward II (1991) Susan Broadhurst sees this type of film as concerned with "liminal politics". She regards Edward II as directly political in that it demands the repeal of all anti-gay laws. However, the film denies closure by integrating past and present events, disrupting cinematic space and fragmenting the narrative structure. As well, the inclusion of Jarman's subjective fears and desires calls for subjective identification and participation by the spectator. Yet, character identification is problematized for both Edward II and his lover, Gaveston, commit violent murders (120).

As I have argued previously, the forwarding of contradictions and paradoxes is central to the kind of postmodern film that questions the status quo (Alemany-Galway 5-6). It is a central aspect of Heavenly Creatures in its forwarding of the problematics of postcolonialism. As Linda Hutcheon states, there are clear links between postcolonialism and postmodernism, although there are also many differences. Some texts do engage with the overlap of their formal and thematic concerns. Thematic concerns regarding history and marginality, and discursive strategies like allegory and irony are all shared by both the postmodern and the postcolonial (130-131).

I do not think that all of Jackson's films can be considered postmodern, but I will argue that Heavenly Creatures is both postcolonial and postmodern in its use of multiple discourses and narrative genres to forward contradictory truths. To construct a national identity in postcolonial times can be both a necessity and a problem, as it is for New Zealand. In the postmodern age, with its suspicion of "grand narratives," the contradictions inherent in nation building are apparent and inform films like Heavenly Creatures. The film adopts a questioning attitude and alludes to the contradictory nature of nationalism and national identity, which can be allied to both heaven and hell, utopia and dystopia. For one thing, just as Pauline and Juliet are both victims and victimizers, a settler colony is built on an act of destruction of the indigenous society, while itself being a victim from the imperial center.

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