I think maybe ten of you guys, THiNC. readers, have come up to me in public, at the library, at the local Starbucks, and groveled on the floor, arms wrapped around my ankles, just to tell me I need to do a walk through for this movie. And it’s starting to get a little embarrassing really! OK, emails, texts, and messages in Discord. But basically the same thing. So that is why today we are here to do: We Have Always Lived in the Castle explained!!
Let’s just dive in on this one, because I’m excited to walk through that ending that is just so baffling. Right? So, if you haven’t already seen it – please go check it out right here. But don’t continue on without having already seen it, because man, I’m going to gut this thing and toss its innards across the table. Okay?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle Walkthrough
Three people live on the Blackwood family estate. We have Mary Katherine, the 18-year old who goes by the name of Merricat (played by Taissa Farmiga). We have Constance (played by Alexandra Daddario), Merricat’s older sister. And we have the sick older uncle Julian. And when the movie opens all we know is that Merricat despises going into town to get groceries. Why? Because the town hates them and wants them to move. And Constance? She has not left the estate since she was tried and acquitted for killing their parents six years earlier. We also learn that Merricat is fairly partial to her own form of protective magic. She steals items from people and buries them in order to ward their evil power off. Got it? That is our setup.
Constance sees no visitors, save for one friend…Helen Clarke. They have tea together once a week. And during one of these regular teas that Helen attempts to convince Constance that she should leave the estate, and rejoin the outside world again. But Merricat? That doesn’t sit well with her, like at all. So much so that Merricat creates her own brew of magic spell in order to keep Constance from leaving the estate. Now, the next Thursday, Constance has Merricat go into town again on an errand for her. But Merricat is out of her mind terrified of going this time. Why? Because the normal day to go for groceries is Tuesday. This is a THURSDAY. Her standard buried totems and shibboleths (or whatever you want to call them) can’t be validated, updated, and primed for a THURSDAY! Well, regardless, she heads into town and successfully completes the errand for her sister. But when she returns all her magical items have been excavated and are now as good as dead. So when she rushes back she is very thankful to find Constance still in the house with their cousin Charles.
Now – Charles, over the next several days, attempts to talk Constance out beyond the estate gates by luring her with promises to see the world. But their cousin’s real motive is to get his hands on the Blackwood fortune which happens to be locked in a safe there in the house. And boy, is Constance charmed by Charles. (CHARLES IN CHARGE BABY!) But he’s also a jerk Julian and he’s rude to Merricat. It’s really obvious that he fully intends to steal away Constance and the family fortune as well. And what does Merricat do? Magic. That’s right. She begins casting spells on Charles. She tears up his room. And she speaks to him cryptically by only using the wild descriptions of poisonous plants. Eventually this hatred escalates with Merricat flipping out and chucking everything on Charles’ desk into the trash. Problem? His lit pipe was also on the desk – which catches his room on fire. Which forces Charles to stop beating his cousin and race back to figure out what to do with the fire.
When the fire department arrives, the villagers are close in tow. They are all demanding that the fire department let the house burn. Why? (Were you not paying attention at all?) Because everyone in town hates the Blackwood’s! Now try and follow along a little more closely will you?? Thank you.) Constance and Merricat hide in the basement as the villagers take it upon themselves to trash large swaths of the house. And ultimately, it looks as if the mob are going to turn on the sisters until Helen Clare’s husband puts a stop to it. He informs them all that Julian Blackwood has actually died of smoke inhalation. And with that bit of killjoy news, the crowd disbands and leaves the sisters to hide in the woods. And the next day, the sisters barricade the front doors to the house as best as they can.
Merricat, incensed with what has just happened, announces her desire to poison every single person in the village. A little while later, a few of the villagers come and leave food at their door and attempt to apologize for destroying the house. But the girls don’t say a word in response. And when Charles comes back to the house again, he appeals to the sisters to let him in. They don’t, but he physically forces his way in to the house and begins attacking Constance. This causes Merricat to go utterly bananas, and bludgeon him to death with a snow globe. After which, the sisters bury their cousin in the garden. (Great fertilizer!)
Now, with the movie finally looping back to where the movie started, we watch as the sisters do their best to clean up the chaos and mess that is their destroyed home. And when two children from the village arrive in order to make fun of them and call them names, Merricat goes outside and the children run for their lives. When Merricat comes back inside, Constance lets her sister know that she loves her. And that is when, for the first time over the past 90 minutes, that Merricat smiles. Roll credits.
WAIT WHAT?!?!? That’s the end? What the heck?
The Ending of We Have Always Lived in the Castle Explained
Yup. I did that same double take when the movie ended. And I immediately found my trusty companion, The google…and I found a copy of the book, and I read it. And somewhere around 3am this morning I think I had an idea of what was actually going on in the movie.
In the book, we learn from Uncle Julian’s crazy ranting exactly what happened six years prior. You see – John and Ellen, Merricat and Constance’s parents, as well as their younger brother Thomas, were murdered. How? What happened? Well, we learn that they were all poisoned with arsenic; arsenic that was placed in the sugar bowl. Not only were John, Ellen, and Thomas all killed, but Uncle Julian was also poisoned, but he survived the attack. Uh. If they all died via arsenic aren’t your survivors the culprits? You really only have two suspects to choose from. Merricat or Constance! Pick one of them would you! Well, they did. They went with Constance because she didn’t put sugar on her blueberries. But eventually Constance was acquitted because she didn’t actually do it. She didn’t have the knowledge of the poisons or the methods. And Merricat? Why didn’t they arrest Merricat? She’d be the natural next best bet. Well, she happened to not be at dinner that night. She was in her room because of some punishment or other being meted out. So she couldn’t have done it.. It couldn’t have been her.
Which leaves us a little bit an an impasse. Right? WRONG.
Both the book and the movie are abundantly clear what happened. It may be a little opaque in the viewer’s mind. But there was plenty of information there in the movie to determine exactly what is going on here. But it may take more than a little investigative mental gymnastics to pull all the disparate pieces together in order to make heads or tails out of the story. JUST SPELL IT OUT FOR ME, MAN! GAH. Okay okay. Let’s do it this way:
How The Murders in We’ve Always Lived in the Castle Happened
Merricat and Constance grew up in the overbearing and oppressive home that was the Blackwood Manor. They were subject to unrealistic expectations, and unreasonable firewalls between the estate and the outside world. Blackwoods’ always thought of themselves as better than the rest of the world. But this in turn caused them to be embittered against their parents. Worse, John Blackwood, the overbearing father, particularly enjoyed being rude and overbearing to Constance constantly. And the abuse that Constance regularly received caused Merricat to go off the deep end… searching for answers in sympathetic magic of her own making. Fake magic based in the burying of symbols. But her enjoyment of this magic drew her close to a very real magic, and that was the magic of nature. The magic of poisons.
Merricat came to the realization that her “magic” would be the only thing that could save them from their oppressive lives. And that what they needed was to be finally ridden of her family’s controlling natures in their lives. To be allowed to live there in the castle…the fortress, the place that wards off all outside harm and influence. So she took some arsenic from the cupboard, or purchased some from the pharmacy, or heck, maybe she found a way to distill it herself. I wouldn’t put it past her. Regardless, Merricat took the arsenic and placed it in the sugar bowl. Why? Because she knew everyone BUT Constance would put sugar on their blueberries. And everyone but Constance would die as a result.
Now, remember when, in the film (or the book, they are both extraordinarily similar), we watch as the girls hide in the woods, and Merricat says that they should poison absolutely everyone in the village. Immediately afterwards we see that Constance indicates she knows that Merricat is the one that murdered their mother, their father, their brother, and injured their uncle. And it is in this moment we learn that Constance has known all along. She’s known that her sister is a homicidal raving lunatic – that murdered her family six years prior. Not only that, but she has protected her insane sister. Kept the villagers at bay, and taken the brunt of their hatred and vitriol. So, with that knowledge, we can see the sisters for what they really are. Constance is complicit in the murder of her family, but Merricat is the real perpetrator of their deaths. And with everyone now dead, they are happy to find a small place, deep in the bowels of the castle to hide away from the rest of the world. They are happy. And they are also completely stark raving mad.
Did you enjoy the film? I’ll admit, it didn’t really do anything for me. I was intrigued by the puzzle of it. I was fascinated by the people and why they were so broken. But we never really got that backstory spelled out for us. Not really.
Edited by: CY