Practical Magic

Practical Magic ★★★★★

It's proven very difficult for me to write about some of the films I love the most here, mostly because I guess I've put more and more pressure on myself to write something that somehow meets my giant emotions, does them justice somehow. Those emotions in many cases have been built up over many years, each successive viewing of the film in question adding to my immense love and appreciation, making it increasingly difficult to review them objectively. Also, it's tough sometimes to share what's really in your heart. Being earnest is being exposed; it's opening yourself up to rejection and vulnerability. Practical Magic is a film so personal to me, talking about it makes me immediately vulnerable. But what's the point of writing about film if you can't be truthful, not just about what you dislike, but about what really moves you, and why?

Practical Magic is a film I watched often with my sisters while I was growing up, and remains one of my favorite films about sisterhood ever made. Later, when I started to explore my own witchcraft, those aspects of this film took on a whole other meaning for me: it's one of the only films about witchcraft that lacks the patriarchal tone and hand of stereotype, rather it rejoices in the craft that all women share, one that is innately tied to the power of womankind, a power all women are born with. That craft is about the natural world, the esoteric, and freedom of the soul; the autonomy of the spirit that is essential to being. As Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) come to realize from their ancestor Maria's curse, that power can be used for good or for ill--but it does not bear being ignored. How fortunate they are to have been raised by two powerful, independent witch women in their aunts Frances (Dianne Wiest) and Jet (Stockard Channing), in a house as huge and magical as women of their beauty and power so deserve. The craft encompasses so many things, but a great house holds a special power, one that immediately jumps from the screen and imprinted itself on my memory forever--it reminded me not only of my grandma's huge Victorian house, a house that still haunts my dreams and lives in my heart, but in the context of the film it creates a powerful space wherein our witches can play out their story, surrounded by energy.

I was always the Gillian of my older sister and I, the sibling I was always closest with. I too reached a point in my young adulthood when I needed to leave, to live, to experience a life outside the one I knew. Like Gillian, I made stupid mistakes; thankfully none of my boyfriends ever tried to kill me, and none ever came back from the dead after I killed him in self defense, but I'm confident if I asked my sister to help me bury a domestic abuser/murderer in the backyard, she'd do it. The men in this film, from Sally's first husband Michael (Mark Feuerstein), to the dark and unnatural Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), to dreamy Hallet (Aiden Quinn) have very special and strategic places in this story--they are never allowed to take too much screen time away from the Owens sisters, rather they are side-characters in Sally and Gillian's story, as it should be--and the good men, Michael and Hallet, are indeed truly good. They reinforce the power of the women rather than ever subtracting from it. Women are utterly powerful in their own spheres, and this film knows that with a deep certainty.

Every time I watch this, it's a downright magical experience, for lack of a better word. The Stevie Nicks songs help--no witch movie in a perfect world would be without a few songs by the White Welsh Witch herself--and there's a deep romance to the story that isn't tied so much to sex as it is the innate romanticism that exists in women and their individual magicks. Women are just everything--women give our pitiful human race boldness and beauty and dynamism. The dichotomy between Sally and Gillian is an important one; women are not powerful only when they are childbearers. Each individual woman has her own destiny, and some, like Gillian and the aunts (and myself), have a destiny that differs from motherhood. Alan Silvestri's beautiful score is deeply feminine, dramatic, and mystical. I'm always amazed this film was directed by a man, Griffin Dunne (yes, Jack in Landis' An American Werewolf in London), and can only devise that he has known the powerful, magical women in his personal life that are reflected in this film (as he was a close friend of the late Carrie Fisher and is the nephew of Joan Didion, I believe it). Witches are women; women are witches. The day I realized my craft wasn't about making frog stew and hexing my enemies was the day I became my truest self; it was the day I embraced the witch within, a woman beyond the person I had been told I was allowed to be, both bright and dark, full to bursting with the most overwhelming energy.

"I want to be seen," Sally writes wistfully to her sister in the letter Hallet reads a thousand times. This film is special--it sees us. Its spirit is genuine, because it loves us for who we are. Long live the spirit of the witch.

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