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Hereditary (2018) & Inherited Mental Illness

Joined by our friends Captain Nostalgia and Black Nerd Magic of the Victims and Villains Podcast, Ghouls talk about Ari Aster's Hereditary. How does the film hold up when we wear our media-analysis glasses and how does it make people feel about inheriting mental illnesses?

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Hereditary (2018) Creator: Ari Aster

Summary by IMDB: A grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.


Hereditary: Inheriting Mental Illness & Becoming Your Mom

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

It’s not a secret that the Ghouls have a rough relationship with Ari Aster. Specifically his film Midsommar which we’ve covered twice. It’s a wonder we hadn’t covered Hereditary yet considering how much we liked it. When we first watched it, we went to our friend, Debbie’s house. (She is in our episode about David Cronenberg!). We had a spooky moment in her house before watching the film! Her house is huge and beautiful. She has these large paintings her husband has done all over the house. On her fridge, she had a photo of herself in front of one of the paintings. I grabbed it to ask when it was taken when we heard this loud crash. We all ran to her living room to find the real painting from the photo had fallen off the wall! It was wild. We ended up watching the film with her, her husband, and our friend Ariel (from our Black Women in Horror episode) in her upstairs room on a projector. It was quite the experience to watch it together. Back when it was normal to gather in each other’s homes to watch films together.

In this second watch wearing my media-analysis glasses, I can’t say I loved it as much. Specifically looking at the mental illness representation, I am once again upset with Ari Aster. Remembering that during this series we want to explore two questions: Does it appropriately represent the horrors of a mental illness? And does it inspire empathy & compassion towards an individual with this mental illness?

This film wants you to fear hereditary mental illnesses. As if anyone who is at risk of inheriting certain mental illnesses aren’t already worried, they now have to watch this film and feel triggered. So yes, in a way it does represent the horrors of a mental illness. However, it does not inspire empathy and compassion towards individuals with mental illnesses but that’s just Ari Aster’s MO.

Ari Aster really be like, “White people be in cults.”

Throughout the film we see Toni Collette’s character slowly becoming her mother. She goes from lingering over the diorama of her mother lingering in her doorway to herself lingering in her son’s doorway at night. She has an emotional dream in which she admits to trying to abort Peter (probably due to her fear of passing on the illnesses her family has suffered). The overall theme, hinted at by the discussion about Heracles and his doomed fate, that no matter how aware you are, no matter how many signs and foreshadowing moments you catch, you are doomed to this fate - you will become your mother.

In an article on Esquire, Hereditary Taps Into the Unique Terror of Inherited Mental Illness by Emma Dibdin, they explain how Hereditary taps into the mental strain of someone aware of the lingering possibility of mental illness and how even being precautious only contributes to the fated end,

Constantly watching yourself for warning signs is draining, and destabilizing, and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy—which is one way to read the increasingly surreal and horrifying events of Hereditary. In worrying that she will lose her mind, Annie drives herself insane; in worrying that her inherited madness will destroy her family, she destroys them herself.