Spoilers lie ahead. Beware.
Bare (ha) with me while I state the painfully obvious: all movies have color – unless it’s in black and white, of course, and even then there’s something to be said about shades and lighting. In any case, color is an inherent aspect of film and television, and one I feel deserves to be talked about. Color is a valuable tool for setting the mood, it can define the aesthetic for an entire work, it can even serve to develop character.
If we’re going to talk color in film, we have to talk Heathers. I can think of few films that are as heavy handed in their color symbolism. That isn’t to say the use of color in Heathers isn’t visually stunning or interesting; it only emphasizes how significant color is as a narrative device to this movie.
In the world of Heathers, only four colors might as well exist: red, blue, yellow, and green. These dominate the movie’s palette and each is associated with a different character.
Red is Heather Chandler’s color, the leader of the clique. Historically associated with power, the transfer of the color red via Heather C.’s scrunchie (which is the most 80’s thing ever) after her death indicates the transfer of her power.
Yellow, traditionally the color of friendship, is Heather McNamara’s color, and she’s generally considered the nicest of the Heathers.
Heather Duke is green, since she spends essentially the first half of the movie being “green with envy” (Heathers, subtlety is not thy name).
Veronica’s color is blue, a cool contrast to Heather C.’s controlling red. The intensity of blues in Veronica’s scenes increases as she further breaks out of Heather C.’s regime.
Color in this film works in an incredibly straightforward way, and I love it. Heathers is unashamed in its use of huge blocks of bold color. Entire scenes are abrasively lit in red or blue, often with no real natural explanation as to where this light comes from. Heathers doesn’t care if it’s obvious, it wants you to get the point, it wants you to be able to identify characters (and what they stand for) at a glance. Because each color is so clearly designated, you take note when Veronica is lit in red rather than blue, when Heather C. stands in an entirely blue bathroom. You know what it means when Heather D. starts wearing red, when the drain cleaner JD pours is bright blue.
Heathers is the best evidence I can offer you that color serves a purpose. That purpose may not always be so obvious, but it’s always there because color is always there. Directors can easily rely on color to make a point because of all the pre-existing associations we have towards certain colors in our collective psyche. We have an emotional response to color, whether or not we can explain how or why.