In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Hereditary, we will discuss the meaning behind the movie’s title.
- Annie Graham – Toni Collette
- Steve Graham – Gabriel Byrne
- Peter Graham – Alex Wolff
- Charlie Graham – Milly Shapiro
- Ellen Taper Leigh – Kathleen Chalfant
- Joan – Ann Dowd
- Bridget – Mallory Bechtel
- Written by – Ari Aster
- Directed by – Ari Aster
Why is the movie called Hereditary?
Single word titles like this almost always demand a dictionary definition. Merriam-Webster gives us four meanings.
- Biology: genetically transmitted or transmittable from parent to offspring
- characteristic of or fostered by one’s predecessors
- a received or passing by inheritance of required to pass by inheritance of by reason of birth
- having title or poressions through inheritance or by reason of birth
- of a kind established by tradition
- of or relating to inheritance or heredity
In case you’re curious about the difference between hereditary and heredity, heredity is “the sum of the characteristics and potentialities genetically derived from one’s ancestors” or “the transmission of such qualities from ancestor to descendant through the genes”.
In context of the movie, the title has several applications, one grounded, one less so.
The grounded explanation
When Annie goes to group therapy, she details her family mental health history. “[Her mother] had DID, which became extreme at the end. And dementia. And my father died when I was a baby. From starvation. Because he had psychotic depression and he starved himself, which I’m sure was just as pleasant as it sounds. And then there’s my brother. My older brother had schizophrenia and when he was 16 he h*nged himself in my mother’s bedroom and of course the s**cide note blamed her, accusing her of putting people inside him.”
Mental disorders are often hereditary. Or the conditions that give rise to them are hereditary. For instance, Dissociative Identity Disorder is not officially hereditary but certain genes may allow it to trigger more easily in one person than another. Depression is another example. Anyone can suffer from situational depression in the aftermath of a traumatic event or being stuck in a bad situation. Situational depression is often short-term. Whereas clinical depression is genetic and isn’t necessarily situationally triggered and can be far more invasive, pervasive, and devastating.
In Hereditary, we have a character in Annie whose mother and father both had severe mental disorders that sabotaged their lives. And a brother who seemed to inherit those difficulties. It would follow then that Annie probably also has some kind of struggle with mental health. And that her kids would as well. That’s what plays out in the film. After Charlie’s accident, Annie completely falls apart. And that eventually leads to Peter suffering from a similar “psychosis”.
You can read Hereditary as metaphoric for the way in which an episode of an untreated mental disorder, activated by extreme tragedy, can tear a family apart.
The in-world explanation
In the world of the movie, we have to accept things as they are presented. And in this world, the afterlife is real. Spirits are real. Demons are real. And it seems the cult of Paimon actually succeeds in transferring the soul of a demon king into Peter’s body.
This wasn’t the first attempt, though. As Annie noted, her brother accused her mother of “putting people inside him.” Which means Ellen had probably attempted the Paimon transfer with her son. It seems before it could work, he ended things. Whether Annie believed him or not, she rightly kept Ellen away from Peter, protecting Peter from becoming Paimon’s vessel. But then caved with Charlie. So the soul of Paimon went from Ellen’s son to Ellen’s granddaughter to, by the end of the movie, Ellen’s grandson. Making Paimon’s soul this inherited thing.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. I can’t imagine Paimon will just lead a normal life? But it’s likely that via his cult he’ll procreate and continue to transfer his soul from heir to heir. Which gives a more forward-looking view of the title.
What are your thoughts?
Is there more information about the title that you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Hereditary? Leave a comment below and we’ll consider adding your thoughts to the guide.