Reexamining “Heathers”, 30 years later


Quinn Soltesz, Entertainment/Features editor

When Heathers, the 1989 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater first hit US theaters in March of that year, it was immediately deemed a complete and utter flop. The bitingly satirical teen movie about an epidemic of suicides at an Ohio high school did not catch on with audiences in the late 80s. But, in the 30 years in between its release and the present day, it has become a beloved film that has grown a massive and infamous cult following.

The message of the film and the societal criticism masterfully put on screen by the crew behind the movie is something that still rings true in every way, perhaps more than it did when it was first released.

I must confess that I am a massive Heathers fan. When I first watched it last year (I know that I am late to the trend), I was immediately taken over by the complex themes that had been captured by such a bizarre film. Croquet, teens with monocles, and a light dashing of homicidal mania are probably aspects of what made the original release of Heathers such a disaster. Not even Winona Ryder’s punchy internal monologue or angsty romance could save the film from 80s orthodoxy.

What makes Heathers so special for so many people nowadays is how it skewers the traditional teen movie by analyzing the actual thoughts and feelings that teenagers have, instead of just presenting a sexy and idealized version of it. Sure, everyone on the cast is unrealistically attractive, but at least all of the characters have a moment in the film that give us a glimpse of their real personality. These sort of “true color” moments are even more pressing in today’s world. Modern teenagers, myself included, are either unrealistically put together or unrealistically “relatable”. This dichotomy is not new to the youth of 2019, but it is different than past generations in the way that it is harder for people discern the truth of other’s circumstances because they only see the perfect, or not perfect, image that people choose to put out online.

Heathers’ presentation of the way teens mask themselves, often to disastrous consequences, has a direct parallel to teenagers today. When we see both Heather Duke and Heather McNamara fall apart once out of the dictatorial rule of Heather Chandler, we are actually seeing their facade crumble without a keystone. When Veronica Sawyer is fighting with JD to not blow up the school, we see her masked personality break apart, as she realizes that the person she thought she was in sync with is actually deeply disturbed.

The point of Heathers was never to be about romance or teenagers, it was to be about the roles that society decides for us, and how we act and adapt to those roles. In a world that is fraught with an increase in violence, particularly when dealing with schools, it is crucial to understand that message, the one that Heathers puts forth so perfectly.


***Heathers was originally released on March 31, 1989. The film will turn 30 years old this upcoming Sunday, March 31.***