Ari Aster’s Hereditary looks at the idea of loss and trauma. At the core, the film tells the story of a family that falls apart when facing the impact of a traumatic event. In traumatization, each member of the family dynamics has a unique place. The film deals with trauma and loss, broadly translating both themes into narrative ideas that horror drives with effectiveness. It might not have been introduced by an artist in mainstream horror since The Exorcist or Don’t Look Now.
The perception that Hereditary often expresses is not only in the reactions the audience gets. However, it is because of the theme that Aster discussed. The concept of loss Aster introduces in the film without hesitation if only to highlight that loss is relative. What happens if a loved one dies, the loss of life, of course, is not felt by the individual who loses a life. The whole extent of the loss is that people feel surrounded or close to the person who died.
They leave, but who stays alive? In this case, people can say that the person who died did not lose their own life. However, they lose their presence so that those alive, loving, and caring about them feel them. At such a moment, the vibe of Hereditary inhabits the family by keeping a memory. The title itself has a fragrant parallel not only from physical ancestry or inheritance. However, it is also a form of genetic memory.
The meaning behind such living’s definition in the film’s fiber, being played and facing problems that have permeated the older generation. In the end, it came back to spook them too. The form of collective family memory across generations dominates the film. From a narrative perspective, the memory comes back to haunt the family rather than just a supernatural entity itself.
The First Shot
The setting of Hereditary centers on the grassy hills and acres of forest surrounding the mansion. In the first shot, the audience peeks out of the tree house’s window. In addition, it turned inward between the ornaments of the artist’s workshop. The ornament is built elaborately to imitate the interior of the house. The next shot moves towards a small bedroom model until the frame does the same witchcraft trick.
The scene in the dollhouse turns into reality. The symbolic implications reveal much of the film’s world beyond the impression of visual transitions. However, something greater beyond character was watching over them. Home became one of art and ritual where Steve Graham, who insisted on taking off his shoes at home, remained an outsider beside his artistically inclined wife and children.
Annie, the mother, dominates the house with her mini art creations. At the same moment, her unshakable emotion has a bad history. Their teenage son, Peter, plays music. However, he never trusted Annie because of the betrayal from the past. Their teenage daughter, Charlie, carries haunted features. She is weird and always chews chocolate bars, assembles crooked little figurines, or draws crazy pictures in a sketchbook.
The Graham family may be cursed with misfortune following them from generation to generation. In the first scene, the Grahams attend the funeral of Annie’s mother. Annie’s mother is a woman whose domineering presence has tormented Annie over time. Therefore, Annie always hated and tensed because of her mother after Charlie was born. She insisted on breastfeeding her grandson.
To Annie, Charlie was always more like her mother’s daughter. On the other hand, her relationship with Peter remains distant. Annie begins to learn more about her mother, looking through her belongings to find a book on spirituality to cryptic quotes that say sacrifice. She tries to find solace in support groups for people who have lost a family member.
Despite her initial doubts, she conveys an outpouring of her family’s troubled history with deaths, mental illness, and unexplained tragedies.
In the twist when it borrows the same expectation from Hitchcock’s Psycho, a strange, disturbing accident makes such horror move. It builds on Aster’s slow pace towards the present time, avoiding one of the cheap trick fares of many mainstream horror films such as jumpscare. Manipulative sound design artificially heightens the audience’s fear and has no place in the film. The lingering fear continues to build for most of the film. It is because the nature of the film becomes clearer. At the same moment, Joan, a friend of Annie’s mother, comes into Annie’s life.
She also mourns the loss of a child and offers Annie the opportunity to contact a missing loved one via seance. Assured by the experience of meeting a ghost, she tries to force her family members to believe what she sees. The sequence leads to a familiar mix of horror tropes, which Aster expertly uses without the usual gimmicks. The frightening appearance of the figure watching from a distance, the images related to magic, to the attic with disturbing secrets are in the threads of the audience’s mind.
When the audience thinks they understand the rules of horror films, the rules always change. It develops into something much more disturbing than the audience imagined. Instead of introducing horror elements as the Graham family’s oppressive power, the horror in the film emerges from the emotions of each character. There is a complete psychological breakdown and broken family relationships. Aster does borrow many moments from the most famous genre films. Throughout the audience’s discovery of what happened, he creates the same sense.
The sense is doubt and paranoia, as Polanski portrays in Rosemary’s Baby. Moment by moment, it makes sense for Annie’s belief in the supernatural that the audience justifies. Once again, the audience will not be surprised if it turns out that Annie’s biggest fear is in her head. Aster’s approach is a clear use of a touch of horror as an influence, especially in the ending, which has a similar situation and tone to Rosemary’s Baby.
Trauma and Grief
Initially, Hereditary examined the effects of trauma and grief on the human psyche. However, it also deals with the problem of representation. From the film’s marketing materials, Aster points out that the main antagonist is Charlie. However, it is unclear when Charlie’s character and her ordeal are to die a cruel death. In the end, her soul was placed in her brother’s body. At first glance, it is a representation of femininity in modern society.
As the world flatters more interconnected over time, newer technologies mean that people, as a variety, can cross the orb in less than a day. By many estimates, the human race is at its most advanced point in recorded history. However, when it comes to fundamental biological questions, humans remain very primal. They are animalistic in a global society with widespread discrimination between women and men.
The film analyzes such a theme perfectly. However, reflections related to Aster’s political principles are told through the use of a supernatural being, namely King Paimon. Towards the film’s end, Annie finds a passage in one of her mother’s books. The audience learns who and what Paimon is. The such part says that Paimon is a male entity. Therefore, it is greedy for the male body. Once Charlie inhabits Peter’s body, both the cult and the devil can accept her.
In one analysis, it only serves as a commentary from the filmmaker about the nature of biological differences. By making it the central point where the film revolves, Aster comments that gender exploration is not something that many mainstream films always discuss. However, the film with a heavy heart on representing gender makes an excellent piece of political commentary.
The Hereditary aesthetic choice that Aster uses carries equal weight in translating a theme of trauma and loss. In narrative choice, the film uses aesthetic elements in creating the theme, developing it to simulate each character’s inner emotions. There are key examples, such as the use of transitions from day to night to dull colors. They all work together coherently to exaggerate the sadness the central character feels. When it comes to aesthetic decisions, the director uses transitions from scene to scene.
Audiences may find the best use of transitions when Peter moves between location and time without physically moving at all. It happened soon after Charlie died, and Peter sat on the edge of his bed brooding. The way represents the emotional turmoil that occurs in Peter’s character. When the individual is grieving or in a depressed state of mind, time becomes relative to the individual. Almost all Lars von Trier films use the method of showing the main character suffering from a depressive episode.
Using transition after transition, Aster creates the same effect as von Trier. He has brought viewers into the minds of grieving characters suffering the trauma of losing a close family member. The effect expands the scope of feelings of depression instead of seeing only one character as an audience. It sees the whole house as time revolves almost around the characters. Inherently, it shows that Peter’s trauma and loss are not singular. In order to illustrate the close relationship’s complexity between realism and the supernatural, the point in the narrative becomes temporal.
In other words, realism in cinema comes from the protagonist’s existential relationship with the physical world. Photographic emulsions preserve the same light.
Political and Narrative Perspective
From measured speeds to the ubiquitous moonlight, Hereditary delivers crystal-clear night views. Aster’s choice reflects memorable scenes, not using them as inspiration in creating a whole new trope. While at the moment, the audience expected surprise, horror a satisfaction from the start. Thus, the film’s purpose, which Aster builds gradually, always leads to disturbing revelations and scenes. He demonstrated with a very confident first film that he was a promising new talent. In conclusion, the film is one that the audience is absorbed in, even infatuated with memory.
While the cornerstone of the whole piece, the memory always dominates every aspect of the main character, influencing the plot substantially. Aster discusses ideas and themes that are part of the heart of grief from both a political and narrative perspective. Apart from the main aspect of the film, which is the excellent social representation of the state of gender in the modern world, Aster can properly examine what it means to be depressed in a haunting memory. Ultimately, it will devour the individual if the power is granted to the individual after the individual does it.
Aster can show the audience a model he recreates from the protagonist’s memory. However, the director has shown how memories of certain events have devoured the protagonist. It works just to keep it in the same state of sorrow.
- Holder, L. (2021). Film Analysis: Hereditary (2018). Deptford Cinema.
- Koresky, M. (2018). Family Reunion. Film Comment, 54(3), 40-44.
- Millar, B., & Lee, J. (2021). Horror Films and Grief. Emotion Review, 13(3), 171-182.
- Murphy, B. M. (2018). Hereditary and sharp objects. Irish Gothic Journal, (17), 179-185.