Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House is officially a trending hit, offering viewers a mix of rich family drama and frightening supernatural horror. However, what seems to be connecting with a lot of viewers is the almost literary level of narrative and thematic sophistication that showrunner Mike Flanagan brought to the show, which has allowed fans to peel back layers of meaning and connect a lot of thematic dots, to discover even deeper and richer levels of meaning to the story of the Crain Family, and the ghosts (literal and figurative) that haunt them from childhood into adulthood.
One of the latest theories about the thematic subtext of The Haunting of Hill House points seeks to connect the main characters of the Crain family children with a popular theory about grief and loss. Scroll down to check out that breakdown:
In the show, the main character of the Crain family is comprised of two parents (Hugh and Olivia Crain), and the following five children:
- Steven (Michiel Huisman) - The famous paranormal theory author who doesn't believe in ghosts.
- Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) - The stern mortician who has a family of her own.
- Theodora "Theo" (Kate Siegel) - The child psychologist with ESP powers activated through physical touch.
- Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) - One of the young twins, who struggles with drug addiction.
- Eleanor "Nell" (Victoria Pedretti) - The youngest twin who has a sleep paralysis disorder.
The working theory (posted over at Buzzfeed) is that each of these Crain children represents one of the "Five Stages of Grief" - i.e., the established psychological process for how (most) people deal with the intense grief and loss associated with death. If you don't remember, the five stages are (in order):
Not only that, but the theory goes further to say the ordering of the stages of grief is matched perfectly to the order of the Crain children's birth! Read on below to learn how each Crain child supposedly matches up to a stage of the grieving process:
Steven is a pretty obvious call, as the entire Haunting of Hill House series premiere pretty much deals with Steven's denial that the paranormal exists - a theme that he carries all the up until to the season finale, when Hill House makes it abundantly clear to Steven that ghosts can be very real.
Shirley is also pretty obvious when you think about it: most of her arc in the season deals with her anger towards her fellow family members - be it Steven for writing his tell-all book about their childhood; Luke for his addiction; Theo for her seeming refusal to grow up; and even for Nell after her death, for bringing the pain of suicide into their family. By season's end, Shirley has to let go of her anger in order to survive Hill House and move forward.
Theo's theme is harder to pick out, but when you step back and look, it makes a lot of sense. Theo is constantly trying to bargain her way into a better mindstate or point of view; whether its her intense intellectual rationalizations of her childhood; the very controlling terms of intimacy she negotiates with people around her; or (in later episodes) the bargaining with the universe to free her from a deep feeling of numbness. By seasons end, Theo learns she can't always control the terms of the bargains all the time, and must accept certain risks in order to live a full life.
Lukes story seems to be one of fighting addiction on the surface, but it actually does carry clear themes of depression, with the addiction being a function trying to escape that depression. Luke is depressed from his dealings in Hill House and horrific death of his young friend Abigail Dudley - a depression that nearly swallows hi when he leanrs that Nell is dead.
Nell's final words to her siblings in the season finale really sums up her thematic storyline: ""I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti." This is pretty much a signal of her being the symbol of "acceptance" in the seasonal storyline. It's through Nell's death that the rest of the Crain children are forced to confront their respective conflicts (those other stages of grief), and it's Nell who first returns to Hill House, and accepts the fate the house wants for her - and has always wanted. Nell accepts her place alongside her mom (and later her dad), and her ghost is the major catalyst to getting the rest of the Crain children to accept themselves, as well.
If you think this theory is intriguing, here's some good news: It's more than just a theory. When Buzzfeed posted its article about the Crain children's Five Stages of Grief connection, The Haunting of Hill House showrunner Mike Flanagan dropped the following post on social media:
Good catch... https://t.co/TtZ3OgbYQt
— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) October 23, 2018
So there you have it: one more mystery of Haunting of Hill House has been explained.
You can catch The Haunting of Hill House now streaming on Netflix.