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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Heathers: Watching American Cult Classics with my Turkish Husband

Heathers, 1989

Last week, I watched Heathers with my Turkish husband. For those of you who don't know, Heathers features a young Winona Ryder along-side a brooding and violent Christian Slater with a bonus appearance by a teenaged Shannen Doherty. He had never seen Heathers or ever even heard of it, so I was really excited.

I highly recommend the movie if you haven't seen it.

**WARNING – spoilers ahead**

"In order to get out of the snobby clique that is destroying her good-girl reputation, an intelligent teen (Ryder) teams up with a dark sociopath (Slater) in a plot to kill the cool kids." - IMDB

It's a weird to watch these old "classics" with someone who can relate to the story (there's only 7, right?), but really shares none of the same cultural touchstones. "Oh do you know who that is???" I am always asking him. In this case, "It's Shannen Doherty, she was on 90210. Oh, you don't know that show. Don't worry, I'll tell you all about it later." Needless to say, he can't understand the full power and symbolism of the red scrunchie in Heathers like a girl who was in 6th grade in 1990.

First of all, I know he liked it because he watched the entire thing without falling asleep. The next day I asked him what he thought.

"I don't know. A good movie."

OK...So, we're getting warmed up....

“Try to describe Heathers."

“I don't know, it's hard for me.”

“Ok, pretend you are describing it to Torro.” (his best friend)

“Um. Hmmmmmm......He wouldn't like it." A pause, while I look at min, annoyed. “It's a teenager movie, little comedy, little tragedy - I wouldn't go see it in a theater.”*

*author's note - he hates going to the movie theater and never goes with me even though I ask him at least once a week for the last 60 weeks.

“Was there anything that you found surprising?”

“Yeah, they would never kill a main character like that now. She [one of the main characters] was the first to die and so early in the movie! It's like, who will be the bad person now? Today they would kill the fat one. In movie language [now] fat people are a character only to die or be sad for.”

“Hmmmmmm, this overweight character ends up in the very last scene with the main character, so that's pretty good. What about the language? They use a sort of exaggerated slang-of-the-moment in the film. For example, 'That's so very.' Or 'What's your damage?'”

“Yeah, I can tell it is slang, but I have never heard it before. It's easy to understand the meaning though. You say things every other day that I have never heard before. So it (the language) doesn't effect me a lot.”

“Wow, really? I say that much stuff you haven't heard?”


“OK, you're doing great!! So, what do you think was the most unusual thing in the film?”

“I was surprised that they would show a student with a gun in a school.”

Early in the film, Slater's character pulls out a gun in a crowded school cafeteria. The scene is cut in such a way and it's early enough in the film where one might think it's a dream sequence. We soon find out that he has fired blanks in an effort to scare and humiliate his adversaries. Later, he shoots and kills two people, tries to blow up the high school and finally, blows himself up with a suicide vest. For the first time, sitting next to my husband, I was self-conscious watching these scenes.

“This is really interesting,” he goes on, “because that is happening right now in the States. Today, I don' think they can do that scene.”

While Turkey sees violence along the Syrian boarder and the occasional violent political flare up, school shootings like the ones becoming ever more common place in the United States, are basically unheard of hereGun violence in Turkey is not a day to day threat. As I am from Chicago, my husband and I talk a lot about the large number of people shot and killed there all the time (the Chicago Sun Times even does a sort of weekend round up). It's hard for him and really, most people, American or otherwise, to wrap their brain around it. "They have a problem in their society," I have heard people say, in regards to the news of gun violence in the States. And I have to agree.

“This was before the school shootings started.” I lamely explained.

“Do you think the movie influenced it?”

I had never thought about it. Often times, art tells the future in eerie ways. Once made, it becomes part of the lexicon and a hitherto reference point. We agree that the movie was not a direct influence on future school shooters and on no conscious level encourages it. But watching the movie here, in Istanbul, when Christian Slater in a trench coat appeared to open fire in a crowded high school cafeteria I think, "Columbine." In previous viewings this was just a crazy scene in a dark comedy. As that first violent scene ended, I looked at my husband, a Kurd whose family had fled violence when he was a young child, and I could tell he was shocked. I was briefly embarrassed that I had laughed at Slater's clever line and ultimate one-upmanship.

“The humor is different now.” he said “The whole thing changes it's meaning in the last 25 years.”

It sure does. I ask him to rate the movie and he says, after some thought, “7.2”

“For reference, what is a ten?”

“The Shawshank Redemption,” he says without pause. “But I give it a NINE. I can't think of a ten...Ten is perfect.”

“Ok, please, now name 'a zero'.”

“Snakes on a Plane” he says with no hesitation.

“You should pick a movie that you have seen," I say, "Have you seen that movie?"

“No way, but I'm sure it is horrible. Just look at that name.”

And there it is. Somethings are not lost in translation. They seem to be accepted essentially the same way by him and by my self. Other things get thrown into a stark new perspective.

Heathers - a solid 7.2 - if a little hard to watch these days.

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