Heathers: High School is a Black Comedy

Heathers: High School is a Black Comedy


“Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast? It’s been almost 30 years
since Heathers transformed teen comedy with its morbid, biting satire
of high school. “[BLEEP] me gently
with a chainsaw.” In the John Hughes era of perfect movie endings
and fun teenage shenanigans, Heathers heightened
adolescent cruelty and darkness and made them very funny. “Grow up, Heather. Bulimia’s so ’87.” Heathers still feels edgy
and daring today, and it continues to resonate
because it exposes a timeless truth — that high school,
like the society it prepares us for, is a twisted black comedy. “If everyone jumped off a bridge,
would you?” “Probably.” Before we go on, if you’re new here
be sure to subscribe and click the bell to get notified
about all of our new videos. Heathers primes us to look for meaning
in high school drama and pain, and then it reveals that there is none. “Dear diary: my teen angst
bullshit has a body count.” The movie’s stroke of brilliance
is the way it mocks the takeaway of almost all other teen movies,
and that’s the idea that our high school peers
have a secret depth we’ve overlooked. “What we found out is that
each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case,
a princess, and a criminal.” Heathers is saying no,
they don’t have hidden depth — they’re just as bad as they appear. “Football season is over, Veronica. Kurt and Ram had nothing to offer this school
but date rapes and AIDS jokes.” And there is no profound takeaway
to the high school experience, other than realizing it’s all nonsense. “Are we going to prom
or to hell?” The character who understands
this from the beginning is JD. After he kills Heather Chandler, he convinces Veronica
to help craft her fake suicide note, knowing that people will eat this up. “I die knowing no one
knew the real me.” Sure enough, people start acting
like they had Heather all wrong. “I thought she was
your usual airhead bitch. Guess I was wrong. We all were.” And they idealize the idiot
football players, too, after JD frames their murder
as a gay suicide pact. “Suicide gave Heather depth,
Kurt a soul, Ram a brain.” The joke is that the community
romanticizes these people because of their fake suicides, but we know they actually were
just mean and dumb — they were in no way misunderstood. JD underlines passages
in Heather Duke’s copy of Moby Dick when he’s planning her murder. “I’ve already stared
underlining meaningful passages in her copy of Moby Dick,
you know what I mean?” And later Veronica dreams about everyone overanalyzing
the word she underlined. “But I believe the word ‘Eskimo’
underlined all by itself is the key to understanding Heather’s pain.” so the use of Moby Dick
epitomizes the way that society will search to create a deeper meaning
when it’s not there. “I must say that I was impressed
to see that she made proper use of the word ‘myriad’ in her suicide note.” But at the same time, Heathers
is rejecting JD’s version of nihilism. In a cast of characters where everyone’s a stereotypical
high school type, JD is the “bad boy”
taken to a grotesque extreme — he’s so bad he wants to kill everyone
and blow up the school. “You’re not a rebel,
you’re [BLEEP]-ing psychotic.” JD’s full name, Jason Dean,
associates him with James Dean and the iconic Rebel Without a Cause. He seduces Veronica with the appeal
of a Bonnie and Clyde-style rebellion “Listen, my Bonnie and Clyde days are over.” and the adolescent fantasy of
a great love pitted against society. “Our love is God. Let’s go get a slushie.” But JD’s god is not love—
he worships chaos “Chaos is great. Chaos is what killed
the dinosaurs, darling.” and he respects only
the rule of strength. “I want your strength.” JD only “loves” Veronica
to the extent that she submits
to what he wants. “I loved you. Sure, I was coming up
here to kill you.” Veronica’s anger at Heather Chandler
draws JD to her. He appears at her window as almost this instant response
to her throwing her diary, after she’s written the words
“I want to kill” so it’s as if he’s summoned because she wants to kill Heather
and the others — “You believed it because
you wanted to believe it.” But ultimately she sees
through the bad boy appeal and she rejects his choice
to turn against humanity itself. “You know what I want, babe? Cool guys like you out of my life.” Yes, Heathers is saying that high school and our society
are dark and meaningless. “I’ve seen JD’s way, I’ve seen Ms. Pauline Fleming’s way,
and nothing has changed.” But it’s not saying
that life is meaningless and not worth fighting for. JD’s nihilism leads him
to literally self-destruct. But Veronica finds real strength within. “You got power —
power I didn’t think you had.” She might begin the movie as
a “cool girl” in her school, but to us, this iconic shot
of her disheveled at the end is the real image of
the ultimate cool girl. “You look like hell.” “Yeah? I just got back.” At the end, Veronica reaches out
to the only other person who truly understands how stupid
and pointless social dynamics actually are — and that’s the girl that the students
cruelly call Martha Dumptruck. “I was wondering, if you aren’t
doing anything that night, maybe we can rent some new releases,
pop some popcorn.” “I’d like that.” It’s significant that Veronica
goes off with Martha and not her childhood friend Betty — sure, Betty’s sweet, but Betty totally respects the rules
of the social hierarchy. “I know I’m not as exciting
as your other friends.” “Do you think,
I mean do you really think, if Betty Finn’s fairy godmother
made her cool, she would still hang out
with her dweebette friends?” But Martha wouldn’t try
to be another Heather. She’s seen into the emptiness
at the core of high school society; and she’s experienced real pain,
so she has depth and character. Heathers isn’t just saying
that high school is a vacuum — it’s using the school
to represent society at large. “Now there is a school that self-destructed
not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.” Screenwriter Daniel Waters
said the film’s message is a variation on something
Ally Sheedy’s character says in The Breakfast Club. “When you grow up, your heart dies.” So, according to Waters,
the Heathers version of this is “When you’re 14, your heart dies.” Heathers observes that the reason our teen years are such
a dark, difficult time is because this is when
we start trying in earnest to approximate adulthood
and its social structure. There’s a recurring joke
of people blaming society for these teens’ problems. “I blame not Heather, but rather
a society that tells its youth that the answers can be found
in the MTV video games.” And JD gets away with everything
because he understands this blind spot in how society views adolescents
as if they’re strange freaks of nature. “Society nods its head
at any horror the American teenager can think to bring upon itself!” But the culprit here according
to Heathers isn’t youth culture — it’s youths imitating adult society. There’s a key moment
when Veronica says to her parents “All we want is to be
treated like human beings.” and her mom’s answer
tells us everything. “Just how do you think adults
act with other adults? You think it’s all just a
game of doubles tennis? When teenagers complain they
want to be treated like human beings, it’s usually because they are
being treated like human beings.” Veronica even compares
her friends to coworkers. “It’s just like they’re people I work with
and our job is being popular and shit.” The girls play croquet throughout the film,
and this represents the civilized facade hiding a cutthroat game of domination. “Go ahead, knock me out. It’s the only way to win.” It doesn’t matter which individual
is in charge, because they’re all slaves
to the toxic structure. “I’ve cut off Heather Chandler’s head
and Heather Duke’s head has sprouted back in its place.” The hierarchy and desire for power
corrupts people. “Heather, why can’t you be a friend? Why are you such a megabitch?” “Because I can be.” The question that Veronica
is wondering all along is — why does it have to be like this? Why can’t her friends just
be friends instead of monsters? And the best answer is probably
that a strict caste system distracts everyone from
the realization that it’s all meaningless. Popularity is a proxy for things
that we think would make us happy. “I’d probably miss my
own birthday for a date.” In the same way in the adult world,
we fixate on status, money, and career achievement, and we try to climb the ladder
instead of reflecting on what it all means. The real question of our existence
is captured in the lunch poll Heather Chandler conducts
near the beginning. “You win $5 million in
the Publisher Sweepstakes and the same day
that whatshisface gives you the check, aliens land on earth and say they’re
gonna blow up the world in two days. What are you going
to do with the money?” And this is is echoed in JD’s
question to Veronica near the end. “Now that you’re dead, what are you going to do
with your life?” So the constructs that we fixate on
are pretty worthless if we think about the fact that we’re going to die
a relatively short time from now. In the end, the movie
gives us a little bit of hope that there could be a new
rule of law in the school, and by extension,
a better society could be possible. Veronica seizes the red power scrunchie
from Heather Duke, and she says “Heather my love,
there’s a new sheriff in town.” But it’s worth noting that the filmmakers originally
had a much darker ending in mind, where Veronica killed JD,
blew herself up, and the movie ended
with a prom dance in heaven, just like JD envisioned. “The only place different social types
can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.” Heathers also plays on
our cultural fascination with the spectacle of teenage darkness. The movie involves bulimia,
date rape, bullying, and suicide. It might be true
that some of Heathers’ humor would be hard to pull off today
in the post-Columbine era and in the wake of
the Parkland shootings — but it’s worth noting
that the humor in Heathers is never really at the expense of
victims of bullying or cruelty. Instead, it’s frequently using
its dark topics to poke fun at society’s flippant, ignorant
attitudes towards teen problems. “Whether to kill yourself or not
is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make.” With Heathers, Waters was
actually making fun of the way that some 80s shows and documentaries,
in his view, made suicide seem attractive. “She was so pretty. And so popular. I thought she had everything.” The high school performs concern
about the wave of student suicides, but really everyone’s enjoying
the drama and excitement of it all. We can even connect this sick fascination
to the problematic impact of a current show like
Thirteen Reasons Why, which was accused of
inspiring copycat suicides. “Can’t you see these new programs
are eating suicide up with a spoon? They’re making it sound like
it’s a cool thing to do.” One of the most profound moments
of Heathers is when we see
Martha actually attempt suicide. After all the comedy that’s come before
it, this moment is a reminder that teen pain
and the risks of suicide are incredibly real and tragic. And amidst all of its humor
and farcical pageantry, the movie drops in some
kernels of truth about teen anguish. “Her soul was in Antarctica,
freezing with the knowledge of the way fellow
teenagers can be cruel… the way that parents
can be unresponsive.” It’s a ridiculous moment,
but there’s some truth in the words. We’ve seen nothing but
teens being cruel, and parents being unresponsive. “Turn that back on.” But what happens in the society
of Heathers is that real pain and problems
are co-opted by the powers that be and they get turned into spectacle
to reinforce the status quo. It’s a huge giveaway that none of the popular kids
actually killed themselves, but everyone is obsessed
with their supposed pain, while nobody cares that Martha
actually did try to kill herself. “It’s just another case of
the geek trying to imitate the popular people of the school
and failing miserably.” It’s still about popularity—
there’s no genuine concern for people who are suffering. “Heather Chandler’s more
popular than ever now.” The film’s memorable style
comes from juxtaposing bright, cheery All-American surfaces
with a dark underbelly. This is epitomized in
the climax sequence, which intercuts Veronica’s and JD’s
brutal fight in the boiler room, and the All-American pep rally
that’s happening right above them. The recurring references
to the croquet and paté “Great paté, but I have to motor
if want to be ready for that funeral.” emphasize the frilly, trivial surface
of Veronica’s life, compared to the anger
and discontent she feels. And you might be surprised to hear
that Waters actually conceived Heathers as a teen movie in the style
of Stanley Kubrick. The screenwriter even wanted
Kubrick to direct it. The film definitely does reflect
a Kubrick-ian view of society as rotten to the core. The cafeteria scene was influenced
by the barracks sequence at the beginning of Full Metal Jacket. “Sir, yes sir!” “Bullshit, I can’t hear you.” and Christian Slater was channeling
Jack Nicholson in his performance as JD. “You’re distracting me. And it will then take me time
to get back to where I was.” “Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag!” Heathers was one of the first movies
to really investigate the trope of the pretty, popular mean girl. “Does it not bother you that everybody in this school
thinks you’re a piranha?” “I could give a shit. They all want me as a friend or a [BLEEP].” We can see the film’s influence
on so much that came after it in the comic portrayal of superficial
or cruel girls who run their high school, in stories about the darkness
of teen female friendships. The most obvious descendant of Heathers
would probably be Mean Girls — which was actually directed
by Waters’ brother Mark. “Hi Courtney, love your cardigan.” “Oh my god, I love your skirt. Where did you get it?” Gretchen trying to make “fetch” happen “So fetch.” reminds us of the characters in Heathers
making “very” a stand-alone adjective. “How very.” The slang and dialogue in this movie
is endlessly quotable. “What is your damage, Heather?” Waters actually invented the lingo because he thought that copying
actual teen expressions of the time would make the movie outdated before long. “Why are you pulling my dick?” But as much as Heathers
has influenced everything since, the film was daringly dark
in a way later movies haven’t been — to this day, no high school comedy has really matched Heathers
in fearlessly going there, and pulling no punches
on the popular kids, high school, and society itself. “I just killed my best friend.” “And your worst enemy.” “Same difference.” Hey guys, it’s Susannah and Debra here. Thank you so much for watching. If you’re new here, please subscribe,
tell all your friends, and please consider clicking the bell
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  1. Support ScreenPrism on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=7792695
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  2. I like the songs in the musical, but I don’t like how they seemed to have romanticized/changed JD. I liked the little psychopath lol 🥴

    And I love Barrett but movie Veronica is better too ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  3. Heathers is too smart, dark and clever for most people. Clueless and mean girls are more popular movies because they’re fluffier and funnier but Heathers was making a statement. Several statements

  4. Heathers really did influence so many things when you think about it. Like the way Cher and Dion are dressed in Clueless they’re basically Heathers, Mean Girls is basically heathers of the 2000’s and I remember watching this cartoon when I was kid called Recess and they had a group called “The Ashley’s” which was clearly inspired by the heathers

  5. Heathers showed us that high school is just as dark as the real world. No High School Musical, no Saved by the Bell, no Grease, no Mean Girls. Some of the hardest memories for me came from high school. Heathers was probably the first high school movie to not have romanticism. It is as if Stanley Kubrick had directed a John Hughes film.

  6. I adore heathers but what no one is realising is that this movie wasn’t the first teen high school movie that is dark and twisted and makes high school seem like hell just like it is. The first movie/book in my opinion is Carrie. The movie came out in 1976 . This channel also made a review on Carrie so I recommend to watch it. I’m not saying that I hate heathers it’s my favourite teen 80s movie of all time. Thank you and I hope you research Carrie. It’s way more violent and is a horror movie so if your not into that kind of stuff it’s ok but heathers is pretty dam violent so yeah. :-l

  7. J.D. was raised to believe destruction was the answer to all problems. His father (probably) manipulated his mother to commit sucide as he bombed a building, right in front of J.D.

  8. The Series Remake totally Misses the Mark,with it's casting of Outcasts(in this time,not really outcasts,in the old school sense anymore) as The Oppessors.And Heathers was way ahead of its time in predicting White Woman Agency in Society (as I call it) and how threatening it can be perceived in the age of President #45

  9. "DID NOT"
    "DID TOO"
    "DID NOT"
    "DID NOT DID NOT DID NOT DID NOT DID NOT"
    "DID TOO-"
    "MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB LITTLE LAMB LITTLE LAMB LALALALALALALALA"
    that is my favorite scene 🚫🧢

  10. "When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it's usually because they are being treated like human beings."
    my favourite line in that entire movie

  11. The way they actually wanted to end it I feel like would make more sense but I actually think both endings are possible.

  12. Gee, so very. I thought the color code for the Heather and Veronica was interesting too. Veronica representing peace by wearing blue and preventing an actual teen suicide. Heather duke wearing green and representing resilience and greed by surviving cruelty as shown in the croquet game and finally becoming "queen" Heather Chandler and gaining strength in red. Don't forget Heather McNamara wearing yellow that ironically represents prosperity. JD obviously wearing black and being consumed with the idea of power and chaos. Betty wearing pink while nursing societies rules. And lastly the final scene where peace[Veronica] stands on strength[the red carpet].

  13. I just realized, the priest in Heather Chandler’s funeral is also Otho from Beetlejuice. Just thought I’d point that out.

  14. Kay, so I knew Winona was Veronica, obviously, but how am I only NOW realizing that the priest is Glenn Shadix??? Heathers had Lydia AND Otho XD

  15. I always knew Mean Girls was like a new millenium version of The Heathers! Except Mean Girls is less dark. I love them both though!

  16. I don’t agree with what you said about people not having hidden depths, in the movie Heather C. It’s at her self in the mirror, and if you look in the musical there’s a song called “me inside of me” that is a song about her suicide note, but from the way Heather acts on stage and sings the song you can tell that there’s an element of truth behind it

  17. Shit…I'mgonna be a freshman this year and I'm terrified. every single adult says "It will be the best years of your life."
    To that, i call bullshit. they said that stuff about middle school, and they were dead wrong about that!
    WhenI saw this movie for the first time, I saw my shitty middle school in Westerburg High. Is thiis what high school is like?!

  18. I was going to type a comment disagreeing with this video, but then I remembered something a classmate of mine said when we were talking about college application essays earlier this year and were told to write what makes us unique: “I don’t have anything unique about me, I just try to be like everyone else.” Which is probably the saddest thing I have every heard anyone say in a high school setting, and I have heard people discuss suicide, death, and a weird rap track a kid who graduated last year put on Spotify. Like dang, our teacher didn’t even know how to respond to that.

  19. I like the movie more because in the musical martha is a lifelong friend of veronica which kinda makes you wonder if shes being nice or she just trying to help her friend
    In the movie martha is a random girl that gets bullied not a friend so it kinda has more of an impact for me

  20. id argue heather chandler is misunderstood . in the beginning of the movie she believes she can't say no to anyone. she treats everyone the way she allows herself to be treated. look at the party scenes.

  21. Well I guess I learned how to summon JD just write a diary entry about wanting someone to die and then he'll come to your window- xkkfrjigjdjdjgjdj

  22. This is a great analysis and touches on many issues I and my brother have endlessly talked about at times. I had no idea Kubrick was considered for this but can totally understand that.

  23. I think HBO's Euphoria is the new generations "Heathers", daringly dark as well with going into uncomfortable topics, and showing more realistic relationships with one another, i hope you guys do an analysis of Euphoria as well! I thought it was really good and a different yet closer to life portrayal of hs life

  24. Honestly I've only listened to the musical before watching this so it's interesting to learn how different it is

  25. Im 28 and Heathers still holds so much truth for me. Even years after high school it's message still resonates with me.

  26. i really enjoyed this film because it combines two things you'd never thing would actually go together in a film: high school and murder

  27. Please please make an análisis for the characters in 13 reasons why!!! Like you did with Friends. I would looove to see them

  28. The first time I saw this movie I was 13 and it took me forever to realize how fucked up it was, I guess cuz I was a pretty fucked up kid

  29. High school is shit and you gotta help me conquer it.
    If you know understand this reference, then I love you.

  30. Yeah high school sucks but it's the greatest time of my life since I met my friends there. In the end it's all about who you befriend that makes things all worthwhile

  31. Everytime I see a 80s high school flick, I'm reminded of just how different my high school days were.

    High School wasn't society. High School was a job. You go in, punch in your hours, do the work, have some coworkers you chatted with during lunch, and that was it. There was no recess anymore. No parties. No events outside of sports and that only happened during the fall when the weather was nice enough for it. School wasn't something you lived in, it was something you worked in. Your teachers were your bosses. Some were nice, some were irritating.

    There was none of this caste system social hierarchies. Maybe it was because our entire grade fit inside 2 classrooms at most (and even then, but senior year it was a single class max) so maybe we just didn't have enough people to break into castes, but even then, we didn't even really have the time to form cliques outside of breakfast and afterschool clubs. And people barely paid attention to who was what club. (Cheerleaders only wore their uniforms before a game, and even then you could never remember who was or wasn't one until they all started wearing the outfit.

  32. There was another even darker ending where Veronica was stabbed to death by Martha and would’ve had the heavenly prom too. Both dark endings are pretty twisted

  33. I very much amply this philosophy in my life. I endure very much in my youth (and had many similar experiences with the Heather Trott), and I came to a point of my life (Around 2-4 years ago) that I don’t really give a shit in society anymore bc it is pointless, neither in fame nor in status I care about. I feel so free yet at times demolished by this joy I find myself. For even though I see no meaning in society/status/fame I understand there is a meaning to life, which is a problem. For human beings we see all in literature and classical movies (even in our own lives) that a human being will never be pleased, our minds keep changing no matter what our philosophy, money, power, status, and other forms of survival instinct and nature we must face. Now in my point of my life I no longer seek a worth nor a place in the society, but finding my own place of who I was. Bc for a long time I lost myself and became a person that I slowly am wondering if that was ever me to begin with. So in the end it all seem bittersweet, as we raise joy that we are free from the pressure of society, we are left with finding ourselves in an lonesome island.

  34. And to think the musical brilliantly conveyed exactly the opposite of what “truth” y’all claim the movie told. Which is the inner turmoil that these kids went through, the grotesque tragedy was in their lashing out at each other because of their lack of communication and blindly going along these pre-established rules. Not that they were those blind archetypes this is the kind of conceptualization the musical criticized.
    The movie on the other hand is a dark parody but I think y’all missed the point completely

  35. If I have to choose a character that could be me is obvy JD, of course without the sociopath and killer instinct. He is the one understanding the rules of that society, high school I mean, but he hate those so he looks like a crazy rebel, and the fact is when someone try to break the stereotype everyone seem that person as someone not really in his, her mind.

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