A Reflection on "Heathers" by Valerie Vollono

The gates of hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way.[1]

Easy is the descent.

Easy is the descent into hell.
It’s a simple matter to watch Heathers and believe that you would never act like the characters. It’s a satire, after all; it’s exaggerated. Why let it make you feel too uncomfortable? But every horrible action in this story stems from natural, human impulses. Fear. Vulnerability. Self-preservation. Revenge.

And the murders? Those stem from the purest impulse of all – to protect those that we love, to protect those that are weaker than ourselves.

Many of the characters in this show do not have bad intentions. After all, J.D. simply believes in “making the world a decent place for people who are decent.” That goal is a hard one to argue with. But it also is a goal that culminates in death. Good intentions can easily become destructive. And thus, Heathers forces us to confront our own impulses and consider our own capacity for evil.
So all in all, Heathers is an odd choice for a show to perform during Thanksgiving week. At a time when we’re supposed to be counting our blessings, this show dredges up everything about humanity that we should NOT be thankful for.

And yet, somehow, I think it fits.

Because above all else, Heathers is a contradiction, a show at odds with itself. Even as it reminds us that there is no easy way to break down social barriers, even as it lays bare the horrors that pervade human relationships, even as it tears apart the fa├žade of a “civilized” society, it also finds ways to lift us up.

It’s important to see the good in these characters. It’s important to recognize Veronica’s reminder that “they still had room to grow.” We can imagine a version of this story where Kurt and Ram mature. A version where Heather Chandler regrets her actions. A version where J.D. overcomes his past.
Heathers assures us that while we may be damaged, we are not beyond repair, and that there is always a way for us to choose to make things better. To be kind to each other. To make life beautiful.

Easy is the descent.

But we don’t have to walk the way alone. That is what pulls us back from the precipice, and keeps us human. And what more could we ask to be thankful for?

[1] The Aeneid, translated by John Dryden.


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