By Sydney Bollinger | September 21, 2021
The world of Heathers (1988) is slightly tilted from our own, often filled with bombastic language and color that reminds viewers it’s not necessarily an realistic portrayal. There’s truth at the core of the film, though, and that truth is that teenagers are cruel, no matter the circumstance. When Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) brings Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) to a party at Remington University, it’s an official invitation not just to be school royalty — but to a lifelong club of “cool” kids. Veronica’s made it, as long as she follows in Heather Chandler’s footsteps. To accept the invitation, though, Veronica has to forgo her adolescence for adulthood.
For Heather Chandler, this Remington party is not just a chance to let loose and have a good time — there’s a mission involved. As Westerburg High’s HBIC, Heather Chandler has a facade of unattainable coolness to maintain, a coolness that keeps her out of reach from her high school peers and hip enough to consort with college boys. Dating a college boy has another benefit, too — it gives Heather a leg up over her peers who will be attending the university with her in the future. She already knows people, she has the lay of the land, she has her in. So for Heather to invite Veronica to the Remington party, she’s letting Veronica into this sacred transition space, a space that Heather has spent time and care crafting to protect and maintain her status with her peers and the college students.
When the girls arrive at the party, Veronica is immediately introduced to Brad (Kent Stoddard), who sees her more of a party plaything than a person with whom to develop a meaningful relationship. Veronica shows obvious discomfort during this interaction, whereas Heather is all smiles, putting on a performance for David (Larry Cox), the man she came to see. After this brief introduction, Heather and Veronica distance themselves, not just in space, but in actions. Even from Veronica’s introduction to her new man, she acts shy and removed, choosing to look at the ground, projecting discomfort at the situation, as if she doesn’t want to be there at all. Heather continues to play the part of cool girl, knowing that she can’t back down on her performance of confidence, because then she will seem too young. To stay at the party and stay with these people, she has to leave high school behind.
The Remington party is interspersed with Veronica’s narration as she writes in her diary post-party, unleashing all of her thoughts and frustrations with the fact that she went in the first-place. The diary itself is a hallmark of a teenage girl. She says she wants to kill, unselfishly—her self-reflection on this event is intimately aware of the damage Heather Chandler causes in her wake both to herself and others. Veronica consistently acts as the moral compass of Heathers, both at the party and elsewhere, as if she’s the only person who can see through the play-acting cruelty. Her admittance to wanting to kill Heather when reflecting on the party, is not just a desire to kill the person, but to kill everything Heather stands for, particularly the type of existence that asks to skip the naivety of adolescence. It’s adulthood, with its tantalizing independence, that Heather Chandler craves, so to get it, she subsumes her power to the only person who can help her achieve what she wants — the man at the Remington party.
Back at the party, Veronica continues to express disinterest and frustration with Brad, who admittedly just wants to get laid. His behaviour is both immature and demeaning; he implies that Veronica is only there to please him, as if there was some unwritten agreement before the girls arrived. Heather, on the other hand, finds herself alone with David, stuck in a performance in order to maintain her status. Though she shows glimpses of innocence — like when she asks David if they can get back to the party — she ultimately gives into David’s request, performing oral sex, from which she finds no satisfaction. For Heather, it’s a means to an end with lasting mental effects. Following her time with David, she swishes water in her mouth and spits at her own reflection in the mirror. Heather is disgusted by her own actions, but feels she has no choice but to carry on. The conflict between her and Veronica, then, stems from their disparate views on the propriety of maintaining “status”: Veronica doesn’t care, but Heather sees this as all-important.
In total, the scenes from the Remington party last only a little over four-minutes, but in those four minutes, Veronica and Heather are pitted against each other shot-for-shot. Though not a competition, the editing forces comparison between the two girls, whose reactions to the party are nothing alike. When Veronica and Heather finally meet up again, Veronica vomits on Heather’s shoes, expelling everything that she had to hold in to be accepted at this party. Veronica’s performance, though, does not receive a standing ovation from Heather, who risked her own social capital in bringing a friend. The film ensures that this is clear; Heather Chandler is not in the business of forgiveness. In Heather’s terms, this excursion was a favor to Veronica, a way for Veronica to cement her status as Westerbrook elite. Veronica needed Heather in order to appear more desirable and more adult in the eyes of their peers. In vomiting, Veronica physically rejects the toxicity of the Heathers for something else, able to see through the facade of high school hierarchy.
Outside the party, Heather once again reminds Veronica what she has sacrificed in order to give Veronica popularity: “You were nothing before you met me. You were playing Barbies with Betty Finn. You were a Bluebird. You were a Brownie. You were a Girl Scout Cookie.” While Heather’s intent is vindictive, her insults point out Veronica’s innocence, exposing the ways that Veronica did not fit in at the party, claiming her own adolescence. This assertion on Heather’s part is far from the truth, though, because following the party, Veronica and JD (Christian Slater) play strip croquet and have sex. With Heather’s attempt to remind Veronica of her less-than-cool origins, she focuses on Veronica’s past actions without looking at the person Veronica has become as part of the Heathers. She holds her last shred of power over Veronica and reminds Veronica that she can ruin her reputation by telling the entire school of her Remington party misdeeds. This backfires twofold: Veronica says “Lick it up, baby. Lick it up” in a display of defiance toward Heather and on the following day kills Heather, albeit unintentionally. Heather thinks Veronica carries a reprehensible innocence, but isn’t fully aware of Veronica’s own steps into adulthood; Veronica’s shrouds her coming-of-age from the Heathers and her peers, whereas Heather Chandler wears it on her sleeve. The Remington party, then, is an example of the larger conflict between the two stages of life, which plays out over the course of the film.
The Remington party, then, is the catalyst for the rest of Heathers, the first domino in a string of killings committed by Veronica and JD (Christan Slater). Veronica has to show up to Heather’s house the next morning to make amends, or she faces the consequences of Heather’s wrath. When she walks through the door of Heather’s house, she absolves herself of the previous night’s philosophical musings. She chooses popularity over being true to herself. JD, though, has other plans. Perhaps the only other person in the film to see beyond the high school facade — though not without his obvious faults — JD lets Veronica revel in adolescence. He has no qualms with her choosing to live the high school experience, as long as it means toppling those who try to hold power. So, he manipulates Veronica into killing her best friend.
Regardless of her decision the night before, Veronica is thrust into a world full of “adult” actions and decisions. She has to navigate dating JD and murder plots disguised as suicide pacts. As the film progresses, Veronica becomes more alienated from herself. Caught up in JD’s antics and contending with the remaining Heathers, she has to “grow up” and resolve a mess she had a hand in creating. At the end, when she seeks friendship with outcast Martha Dunstock (Carrie Lynn) and former friend Betty Finn (Renée Estevez), Veronica reclaims her innocence and adolescence, leaving behind the world of the Heathers for good. This choice provides resolve for the conflict that arose between Veronica and Heather Chandler at the Remington party. In choosing adolescence, Veronica pushes back on a narrative that asks her to give up her formative years in favor of social capital.
Veronica’s decision to let go of adulthood and be a teenager again is a decision that can only be made with insight and maturity, both of which Veronica demonstrates throughout the film. Though the party was a turning point, it was only a turning point for the dissonance between Heather Chandler and Veronica. Heather Chandler performs adulthood to gain acceptance and status, whereas Veronica knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want — as evidenced by the speech she begins to give Brad. In the end, Veronica excels at occupying the liminal space between the two stages in life; she sees beyond the confines of high school and adulthood performance to arrive at what’s truly meaningful, like her new caring friendships and familial connection.