I’m still reeling in shock over the fact that the home video release of Hereditary doesn’t contain a commentary track. I initially chalked it up to pretentiousness by the filmmakers, only director Ari Aster has been doing a lot of talking since the film’s release. While we may never know why the commentary track was omitted, Aster did take the time to do a lengthy AMA on reddit in which he answered some of the film’s toughest questions.
Why Did Annie Try and Kill Her Son?
In the film, it’s revealed that Annie (Toni Collette) once poured
gasoline paint thinner over her children. It becomes a recurring theme as her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), believes his mother hates him and wants him dead, while her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), has never truly gotten over the traumatic experience. She’s the film’s protagonist and wants to save her family from whatever the hell is going on, so why would she also try and kill them. Aster explains that her subconscious knows exactly what is happening.
“I like the idea of divine intervention, but I saw it this way: Annie knows on some buried, suppressed level that her life is not her own, and she is the victim of unthinkable, Machiavellian scheming by her mother,” Aster revealed. “But she cannot look directly that this (let alone inquire about it). It would destroy too much of her inner structure. So, she lives in a kind of denial. But in her sleep, this part of her is acting out. She tried to set fire to her children to prevent the ‘resurrection of Paimon,’ as you say [in reference to the AMA question]. She even says, in the dream sequence, ‘I wasn’t trying to kill you, I was trying to save you.’ That said, it could also be read as Annie’s buried desire to kill her children taking hold. After all, she never wanted to be a mother. All her life she has simply being doing ‘the done thing.’ The role of a mother is never one she felt comfortable playing.”
Why Does Annie Saw Off Her Head?
The shocking finale takes place in the treehouse in which Charlie/Peter are introduced as Paimon. However, before the ceremony, Annie floats to the ceiling and saws off her head. Many felt this was part of the ritual, but it was actually a reflection of the grief of a mother’s loss. Interestingly, this was the film’s genesis.
“The first images that came to me (before writing) were Charlie’s head being knocked off by the telephone pole and Annie levitating while sawing off her own head (the concept of a mother so destroyed by what happened to her child that she has to do it to herself). I built the movie around that and the other.”
What’s interesting about Hereditary is that the cult isn’t trying to resurrect the Devil, but one of seven other demons. Aster explains why he chose Paimon and also reveals some other secrets, including why Steve goes up in flames instead of Annie when Charlie’s sketchbook is thrown into the fireplace.
“The devil has been done to death. Paimon was my favorite option that came up in my research. I’ve already been told by some that Paimon is an ‘obvious choice.’ Everyone’s a critic, it seems,” he jokes.
When asked about why Steve was set in flames when Annie throws Charlie’s sketchbook in the fireplace, Aster reveals that Paimon’s actually quite the jokester.
“I’ll say this: when Annie finds the book about Paimon, he is also described as being the ‘god of mischief.’ Steve going up in flames (re)announces the true, cruel logic of the film. Annie decides to sacrifice herself for her family, but that’s not her choice to make.”
As for the writings all over the wall, there’s a literal translation:
“Those are isolated pieces of an invocation spell that is suggested to be written all over the house. We only see three of these in the film, but there are many more (probably written behind furniture or otherwise hidden). ‘Liftoach Pandemonium’ has a special significance. It translates as ‘Open Up Chaos (or Hell).'”
Other Random Bits.
Aster confirms that the last shot of the treehouse was inspired by The Night of the Hunter.
Also, when asking if anything spooky happened on set, Aster shared this short anecdote.
“Yes. Alex Wolff told me not to say the name of William Shakespeare’s Scottish play out loud because of some superstitious theater legend. I smugly announced the name, and then one of our lights burst during the shooting of the following scene.”
Hereditary is now available on VOD, 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and Digital), Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), and DVD.