Monday 2020-10-19

The Haunting of Hill House by Mike Flanagan, based loosely on Shirley Jackson's novel.

A Midwinter Night's Scream version of This is Us, but with more social satire.

Indeterminacy and Subjectivity

How many nights did they stay in Hill House?

Told in a series of flashbacks and parallel memory streams, Hill House makes it quite difficult to answer even basic questions about it. This inability to talk coherently about the past fuels the family's failings and internal discord -- which is a drama that plays itself out everywhere, metaphorically scary house or not.

With easy questions difficult, we can either skip the difficult questions,1 or we can try to learn something by amending the story and compare / contrast'ing the differences. Let's toe the story line, and attempt the latter.

Alien Technology

Instead of our Home being a broken house of horrors, imagine it set in a Level III Trauma Center.

We would see similar kinds of broken people, with some being fixed on the spot, and with others stabilized and shipped. The story would then become an episode of (Unhaunted) House, M.D., wherein we iteratively poke and prod to understand what's happening.

Of course, this never happens in a haunted house (or even in a ``normal'' one). Most of what happens transpires firmly behind a veil of indeterminacy and non-comprehensibility. For example, take the housekeeper couple of the Dudleys: we are never sure whether they are henchmen accomplices of the house with their own dark bargain, or innocents trapped like the (perhaps not so innocent) others.

Throughout the stories, we are reminded of the deep duplicitousness of the house and its lotus-eater inhabitants ( cue the `watch repairman' monologue by Hugh, challenging us to pull the stories apart ).

If we believe the last episode, then the house becomes even more alien as it has granted a set of magic goods: a `forever house' to Liv, Cyclopsean foretelling to Nell, and psychometry to Theo.2 Do we trust this Strossian Festival bonanza? Is this house evil or not?

This crux provides the gut-punching satire at the end.

The Red Room's Single Window

We sit in judgment of people and their actions all the time. The Hill House problem is that we cannot say whether something is good or bad until we understand what has happened and how all the pieces fit together. In order to do that, we have to continually postpone judgment while we seek to understand.

Intellectually, this seems correct. Except that there will be times when you wish you had run at first fright.

The world today seems to be veering away from fortitude and towards impatience and fright. When was the last time you witnessed the ideals of this series?3 i.e.

We should not jump to conclusions based upon our priors and scanty evidence,4 we should not ignore the evils of duplicity and avarice, and we should not trust the words of others just because we love them or like them.

With a technology-driven news cycle that is far faster than independent investigations can proceed, these are not the ideals of our ``Modern Society''. These are the ideals of time now long-gone.

Perhaps, though, they will return.