There’s nothing better in the horror movie genre than a classic gothic ghost story.
Along with the scary story, the exceptional aesthetics, and the supernatural romance, the 9-episode series includes elements that allow social commentary on a variety of topics.
For this article, I want to focus my analysis on the psychology of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” on three subjects that I consider to be the most significant in the series: Routine, Sacrifice, and Legacy.
- SPOILERS AHEAD •
“She would sleep, she would wake, she would walk.”
This is Viola Willoughby’s spirit routine after her violent death at Bly at the hands of her envious sister Perdita.
Trapped in the attic of the manor, in a chest filled with clothes and jewelry meant as an inheritance for her daughter Isabel, Viola, who refused to perform the last rites saying that she “will not leave”, is compelled to perform the same actions over and over again, as her spirit is seeking to reconnect with her child.
While waiting for Isabel to grow up and open the chest, Viola would sleep, wake, and walk in her new “room”.
But it is Perdita, now married to Viola’s husband, and not Isabel who unlocks the trunk, hoping to sell the items and solve the family’s financial problems.
The defiance regarding her last wish and the previous history of the sisters made Viola kill Perdita in return.
It is this event that made Isabel’s father believe that the chest is cursed and as a result, he decides to throw it in the lake near the manor.
Viola thus becomes “The Lady of The Lake”. And once again, for centuries this time, she would sleep, she would wake, and she would walk to the house in an attempt to find her daughter.
The curse becomes a reality as Viola starts taking the lives of those who would cross her path and also those of the children she’d mistaken for Isabel. The spirits of her victims would also become trapped at Bly, in similar routines.
With time, their faces would fade away, along with their memories of their previous lives and the place’s memory of them.
Sleep, wake, walk. Repeat.
Becoming trapped in a senseless routine. Forgetting one’s purpose and losing one’s identity in the process.
To me, this seems eerily similar to the monotonous lives many people end up experiencing, with days that repeat the same patterns over and over again.
Jobs we no longer enjoy, relationships that no longer make us happy, behaviors that take us further away from our significant goals. Everything eroding our self-esteem, determination, and sense of control over our lives.
Dragging others with us as we sink into meaningless lifestyles.
All because “we won’t leave” — the job, the relationship, the poor goals.
In the series, it takes the courageous act of a person, their sacrifice, to break the curse.
In real life, we need to remind ourselves that the power to break the cycle already resides in us.
And it all starts with not allowing the irrational connection to random, trivial things to happen in the first place.
Viola bound herself to luxurious clothing and jewelry. She also tied herself and her happiness to a goal that involved someone else — Isabel.
Yes, Isabel was her daughter and there is some beauty in the connection that is supposed to survive physical death, but Viola’s last wish conditions Isabel’s life and her own fate: She would need someone else to set her free.
She locked herself in a memory that would mainly harm those she loved the most.
We have the option to avoid that outcome, for ourselves and for those around us, thus preserving the independence of each party and the connections between them.
Dani’s sacrifice is what breaks the Bly Manor curse. With her death, a new Lady of the Lake emerges, one that would no longer take lives or trap souls.
But there are two types of sacrifice that occur at Bly:
- One is the honorable, needed, meaningful self-sacrifice performed by Dani. Hannah’s death falls under the same label, as she died while protecting the children and the manor.
- The other one is the useless, narcissistic, apparent sacrifice of the previous au pair, Rebecca Jessel. She was willing to die to follow a toxic love interest, Peter Quint. From a love story point of view, this sacrifice can also be seen as honorable but the truth is that Rebecca was acting in her own interest when she agreed to join Peter in death. She redeemed herself later by saving Flora from becoming yet another trapped soul at Bly.
What we can learn from here is that acts that on the surface seem to bear the same type of significance may be driven by very different motives.
Depending on the driving force behind them some sacrifices are acts of courage, while others simply remain stupid decisions.
“What do we leave behind?” — This question seems to me the most important takeaway of the series.
We all die. There’s nothing that we can do about that.
Some think that there’s a soul that will survive our physical death and may have the ability to somehow continue the person’s life work by assisting others in fulfilling it.
I don’t believe in the soul theory. I’d need more evidence for that.
But I do believe that we can either leave a mark on this world or simply fade away in nonexistence like the faces of those who died at Bly Manor.
So… What do we leave behind?
Individually, and as a community.
Will we go for the destruction scenario and annihilate everything in our path leaving the world barren for the generations that will come after us, or will we be the ones stopping the destructive cycles already active and replace them with elements that can allow others to thrive?
Will we be the evil ghosts or the caretakers?
Time will tell, but we need to make our choices now.