Cursed by a Legacy of Violence
You’ve probably already seen the trailer for the upcoming movie about Sarah Winchester and her infamous mansion. You may even have visited it for yourself. I’ve never personally witnessed it, but I’ve been fascinated by it ever since I saw a documentary about it years ago (I forget the name of the production). Legend has it that Sarah was haunted by the spirits of those murdered by the very instrument that was said to have won the West – such “winning” came at the bloody expense of the Native American tribes doomed to stand in the way of Manifest Destiny.
As a result, there’s a lot of social commentary to unpack here, and I’ve found one such article that has done it better than I could. Was Sarah was building her house to appease the spirits who haunted her now that she had inherited her husband’s $20,000,000 stake in the Winchester fortune? That’s obviously the theory that is dramatized for the upcoming film starring Helen Mirren. Others assume she was merely keeping carpenters and artisans employed out of a sense of noblesse oblige. Her reclusive and eccentric nature coupled with a nation grappling with his legacy of violence helped fuel the stories of a cursed woman. In my opinion, such a story would have been a powerhouse in the hands of someone like Guillermo del Toro; his early movies are a master class in using ghosts to portray collective national trauma (the linked video is well worth a watch). However, it doesn’t look as though that will be the approach. Jump scares and a terrorized Sarah Winchester a la Insidious or Poltergeist seem to be on the menu. Hopefully, I’m wrong. The subject matter and leading actress are enough reason to draw me to the theater. But I would have liked a telling that left me unsettled and sad. Because we have yet to exorcise our nation’s ghosts.