Open main menu

All The Tropes β

Heathers

Heathers ver1 6730.jpg
"Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit has a body count."
Veronica (Winona Ryder), Heathers

A 1989 High School movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Also adapted into a 2010 stage musical with a limited run.

Heathers is an extremely dark Deconstruction of the then massively popular wave of teen movies. The protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is an unhappy member of the most popular and powerful clique at Westerberg High -- the "Heathers", so named because the other three members all share the same first name. At least, until a mysterious new guy named Jason "J.D." Dean enters Veronica's life. They end up poisoning the Alpha Bitch and making it look like a suicide. Pretty soon the bodies start piling up as Veronica realizes that J.D. is a psychopath with ambitions tied into his nihilistic views of human behavior.

This was one of the most cynical (albeit funny) films of the era, and a cult favorite that's famous largely for reasons completely different from what the writer wanted. The film's writer conceived the film largely as a satire of how society sensationalizes teen suicide, but fans opted instead to focus on the plotpoint of how J.D. and Veronica killed off their school's bullies as the chief draw of the film.

The history of the film's release added to its cult status: the studio that produced Heathers went out of business within weeks of its release, ensuring that it only had a brief run in theaters. However, critics loved the film and it would become popular with its home video release (and countless airings on cable, granted in Bowdlerised form). That said, the film's influence can be seen in later Black Comedy high school movies, like Jawbreaker (1999) and Mean Girls (2004), the latter being considered to be a PG-13 Spiritual Successor to this film.

The sad fate of Kimberly Walker (who died of a brain tumor), who played the chief Heather, has also made it uncomfortable watching these days even for some fans (see Harsher in Hindsight). Also Jeremy Applegate ("I don't think I could handle suicide") as Peter -- the actor committed suicide in 2000.

Tropes used in Heathers include:
  • Action Survivor: Veronica.
  • Adults Are Useless: The parents are shown to be self-absorbed and oblivious to their children's problems until they are dead, and the teachers are cynical towards their handling of the dead kids (for instance, the Hippie Teacher who wants to exploit the deaths for group bonding rituals).
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Heavily deconstructed. In this case the bad boy is a complete psycho, murdering three of the popular kids and intending to blow up the entire school and pass it off as a group suicide. The girl who wants the bad boy soon realizes the mess she's got herself into and realizes how much better her life would have been without him.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Subverted and played with. Heather Chandler says to Veronica "No one at Westerberg's gonna play your reindeer games." Most of the goings-on, including Veronica's heroic save, happen without the rest of the school knowing who's behind it.
  • Alpha Bitch: Three of them, actually.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: J.D. when Veronica fakes her suicide.
  • Asshole Victim: The Alpha Bitch and two jocks who ruined Veronica's reputation by claiming she gave them blow jobs.
  • Ax Crazy: J.D.
  • Axes At School: J.D. brings a revolver (loaded with blanks) to school and "shoots" two kids in the cafeteria. It gets Played for Laughs. Yeah... kind of says something about when the film was made. Of course, it also says something about its genre.
  • Badass Longcoat: Used before it even became that popular... and also before the shooters in Columbine dressed the same way.
  • Big Fun: Poor, poor Martha Dumptruck.
    • "Big Fun" is coincidentally also the name of the in-universe band behind the song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," which is used at several points in the film. Martha is wearing a "Big Fun" tee shirt when she attempts suicide, and J.D. blackmails Heather Duke into helping him circulate a petition around the high school to have Big Fun perform at the Prom, which is actually a disguised "suicide" note from the student body he plans to have found after he blows up the school.
  • Bilingual Bonus: J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets they intend to shoot Kurt and Ram with are German "ich lüge" bullets, which are supposedly non-fatal, so that she will go along with the shooting. "Ich lüge" means "I am lying" in German.
  • Black Comedy: Black as midnight on a moonless night.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: J.D. isn't evil per se, he just operates on a completely different set of morals from normal people - primarily because he's terrifyingly insane.
  • Book Ends: When Veronica meets J.D., she asks him a hypothetical question for the lunch time poll. When J.D. starts the timer of his suicide bomb. he asks her a hypothetical question.

Veronica: You win five million dollars from the Publisher's sweepstakes, and the same day as that big Ed guy gives you the check, aliens land on the Earth and say they're going to blow up the world in two days. What are you gonna do with the money?

J.D.: Pretend I blew up the school, all the schools. Now that you're dead, what are you gonna do with your life?

  • Bury Your Gays: Subverted. Everyone thinks the two football players killed themselves because they were gay lovers who were convinced that they would never be accepted. Everyone, that is, except Veronica and J.D., who forged the suicide note that led everyone to believe that the two heterosexual football players were secretly gay lovers.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: All three Heathers, Veronica, and J.D. wear their own color of clothing -- Chandler is red, McNamara is yellow, Duke is green, Veronica is blue and J.D. is black, though this isn't noticeable at first. Chandler's red hair bow becomes a symbol of power, as after her death, Duke claims it for herself, symbolizing her replacement of the original Heather. Veronica forcefully taking it from Duke at the end of the film shows the end of the Heathers' power.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Some of these suicides are a little too on the nose. Who brings gay porn with them on a suicide pact?
    • It's made pretty clear that the cops didn't give a shit.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Veronica lights her cigarette off of the explosion that just killed her ex-boyfriend J.D. Also, when Veronica burns the palm of her hand with a car's cigarette lighter (intentionally), and J.D. lights a cigarette from the burn-scar's residual heat. This scene is also one of a few incidents of Veronica's Self-Harm (noted on the DVD commentary).
  • Crapsack World
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Subverted in the film's climax: It's done by the villain, J.D., as he's about to blow himself up. And then he has to break the pose to slap the stuck timer on his bomb vest to get it to continue before resuming the pose.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Veronica, Heather Duke, Heather Chandler, and J.D., mainly.
  • Driven to Suicide: Darkly subverted, in that all the deaths by "suicide" are actually murders, and all the attempted suicides either fail or are revealed to be faked.
  • The Eighties
  • Fingore: Veronica shoots off J.D.'s middle finger during their confrontation in the boiler room.
  • Flipping the Bird: J.D.'s response when Veronica demands he disarm the bomb when she has his gun pointed at him. Doesn't end too well for him, see directly above.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of the popular John Hughes style teen movies at the time.
  • George Washington Slept Here: Big Bud Dean, J.D.'s father, laments that his construction company is having conflicts with a local organization:

Big Bud Dean: Some damn tribe of withered old bitches doesn't want us to terminate that fleabag hotel. All because Glen Miller and his band once took a shit there.

  • Gilligan Cut: Veronica really hopes her date doesn't take her cow-tipping.
    • This was acknowledged on the DVD commentary track with a remark along the lines of "And this is our 'Gilligan's Island' cut here.."
  • Heel Face Turn: Heather McNamara.
  • Hell of a Heaven: The first Heather to die complains that Heaven is boring.
  • High School: It's named after Paul Westerberg, lead singer of Alternative Rock band The Replacements, who were Wynona Ryder's favorite band at the time.
  • Hippie Teacher: Played straight with Pauline Fleming.
  • Hollywood Nerd/Hollywood Homely: Subverted. The "geek squad" is actually really really dorky.
  • Insult Backfire: "You're not a rebel, you're fucking psychotic." "You say tomato, I say toe-mato."
  • In with the In Crowd
  • Jerk Jock: Ram and Kurt.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: What J.D. thinks he's doing.
  • Leitmotif: J.D. has one. Although most of the score is technopop-inspired synths, there's a harmonica playing in any scene that scene features or is about him.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: About halfway through, Heather McNamara.
  • Manipulative Bastard: J.D.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: No one knows why Christian Slater decided to play J.D. as a teenage Jack Nicholson (probably because Nicholson is famous for playing psychos...), but he did do Nicholson quite well (well enough that one viewer was convinced the two actors were related).
    • Christian Slater has said that it was because he is a big fan of Jack Nicholson and also that that was just the way he talked at the time.
  • Odd Name Out: Veronica is the only member of the title clique not named Heather.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There are three characters named "Heather" in all.
  • Popular Is Dumb
  • Precision F-Strike: Weirdly subverted, due to Executive Meddling, according to the DVD commentary. In the alley scene, when Heather calls out Veronica ("You stupid Fuck!" "You Goddamn Bitch!"), they were supposed to use the word "cunt," as "fuck" had already been used several times. But censors thought this was too much (!).
  • Shout Out: According to the DVD commentary, the first lunch room scene is an homage to Full Metal Jacket, in its lighting and framing. The writer originally wanted Kubrick to direct "the ultimate high school movie."
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn are a playing on both Betty and Veronica and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, symbolizing how close they used to be.
    • But Betty and Veronica are competitors...
      • Only when it comes to Archie. Otherwise they're best friends.
    • Also J.D. is obviously named after JD Salinger for obvious reasons. His surname is Dean, as a reference to James Dean.
      • His given name recalls another Jason notorious for killing stupid teenagers.
      • And of course, J.D. really is a JD[1]. Heather McNamara refers to him as "Billy the Kid."
    • Westerberg High is named after The Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg.
  • Shower of Angst: The day after Veronica kills Heather #1 and makes it look like a suicide, she hears other girls in the locker room buzzing about how her death has raised her status even higher. Veronica staggers, still clothed, into the shower. It may look to the others that she's stunned by the news, but it's more because her plan backfired.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: J.D. employs this a lot. The creepy variety.
  • The Snark Knight: Veronica.
  • The Sociopath: J.D. is a tragic example.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Darkly subverted; see "Bury Your Gays", above.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: J.D. creates a package to leave at the scene of the football players' "suicide," which includes a bottle of mineral water. Later, that bottle (along with the note) convinces the policemen that the two were, in fact, gay.
  • Strip Croquet: Played by J.D. and Veronica.
  • Stylistic Suck: Teenage Suicide... don't do it!
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Veronica to Heather 3.
  • Talking to the Dead: J.D. to Veronica... which doubles as a reveal for her, since she was only Faking the Dead.
  • Teens Are Monsters
  • Troubled but Cute: Emphasis on the "troubled".
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Veronica (Blackadder-type)
  • Villain Protagonist: J.D.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Veronica and her dad.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Veronica, the "drop under screen" variety.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: J.D. again. For starters, his father is a sociopathic bastard who doesn't care for him (when asked if he even likes his father he responds that he ("[hasn't] given the matter much thought"), and his mother killed herself in front of her son's eyes to get away from her husband. His entire life has been spent moving around from town to town and school to school wherever his father's demolition job took him, where it is implied he saw the same scenario of clique groups bullying other students at every high school he's attended. He starts out by murdering JerkJocks and Alpha Bitches and making their deaths appear as suicides (also implied as something he's done before), but he ultimately resorts to trying to blow up the entire school. He explains his intentions are such because he believes nobody loves him, and that "the only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven", somehow seeing the school as a representation of society itself.
  • Worthy Opponent: What J.D. comes to see Veronica as:

J.D.: You got power - power I didn't think you had.

  1. Juvenile delinquent