Hereditary’s Illusions


Hereditary, A24, 2018

From The Paris Review:

Hereditary is really about the power of art-making, and the movie’s artists are all female. Their artwork is craft-based, works that have long been associated with female labor. Ellen Graham (perhaps named after the socialite photographer) knits beautifully creepy welcome mats for her family and cult family members. Annie has enjoyed some commercial success with her miniature work (a NYC art gallery is hounding her to finish her work for an upcoming gallery show). She uses her tableaus to control the traumatic events of her life. It’s reminiscent of the poet Susan Stewart, who wrote that a “miniature offers a world clearly limited in space but frozen” or “a materialized secret.” Annie’s daughter, Charlie, makes terrifying and fascinating “dolls” out of found objects, most of these objects being the heads of dead animals. In the movie, the females are the true masterminds, who attempt to control life and death, and conjure only as real artists know how to.

And yet, unfortunately, the depiction of female witches in Hereditary tends towards the cliché.  Witchcraft is demonized, and the witches represent our fear of anyone not practicing the one, maybe two, organized religions that we have deemed acceptable in this country. Joanie and her kindred use magick to conjure knowledge and wealth for themselves and kill several people in the process—the ultimate capitalistic act. The movie’s depiction of them is tied to America’s long history of persecuting women for witchcraft, such as in the Salem witch trials. Aster plays on our fears that the secretive rituals of women are always about evil, but many witches today practice in the occult world so as to help heal people. (Check out Mya Spalter’s new book, Enchantments, to find out more.)  I’d love to watch a movie by Aster about good witches one day. That is, if he’s into that.

The great female American poet and witch Joni Mitchell sends us off after the movie’s wild last scene (a scene you are sure to remember for at least the rest of your life.) As the credits roll, Both Sides Now blasts and, as in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, we are forced to reconcile how we feel about people sacrificing everything to a god (or in this case, a demon). It’s love’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know love/ At all …

Yes. Exactly.

“Witches, Artists, and Pandemonium in Hereditary”, Dorothea Lasky, The Paris Review