Practical Magic was released October 16, 1998. The story is about two sisters who break a curse that had been placed on their family for over 200 years, by their ancestor Maria. Throughout the movie the theme is magic. Practical Magic helps to break the false images placed on witches and magic throughout time, but at times, the movie, still upholds some of the negative views of witches.
There are many stereotypes that are set upon modern witchcraft and magic in today's society that Hollywood has helped to maintain. In society there are people that are the selected voice of the general public in critiquing movies. I will be looking at Practical Magic's use of magic to see how they break or perpetuate the following stereotypes: physical appearance of a witch, the witch as an outcast, and the types of magic and how they were shown throughout the movie. When looking at the main characters: Sally, Gillian, Jet and Frances, the viewer will see different physical appearances of how Hollywood views the possible appearance of a witch A witch throughout history is usually a hag, old, poor, handicapped, or ugly (Guiley 371). In the movie, the Owens women are what most people would consider quite beautiful. They are just like normal people with the exception of the fact that they have a gift.
The aunts: Jet and Frances in the movie would be considered to follow the typical stereotype of a witch that is old but even though they are typical old woman that lives on the outskirts of town they break the stereotypical medieval image of a witch being ugly and a hag but they also perpetuate other stereotypes by dressing in lavish 19 th century clothing. Their style screams "I'm different." The aunts seem to be aging quite well. They appear to look young for their age. In one scene, when the detective goes in to town to ask about the Owens's sisters, he gets an ear full about how the aunts don't age.
Many in the town believe this is due to the fact that they are witches. There is one more image of a witch portrayed in history. This image is from the other end of the spectrum. Instead of being a hag or ugly, she is beautiful and a seductive woman. Sally destroys the image of both of the stereotypes of what a witch looks like. Sally, out of all the characters, appears to be the most normal.
She dresses within what society deems as normal. Most of the times she is seen wearing a dress covered by a sweater. She also wears more baggy and concealing clothing. Gillian on the other hand upholds the image of a witch being a beautiful seductress. If you look at the meaning of witch it is "derived from the Old English terms wicca, wince, and wiccan, which means "to work sorcery, bewitch" (Guiley 376). Gillian dresses in a provocative way that is very sexual.
Her character is known for being bewitching. In most scenes she is showing off her body and showing skin. The movie is based on the book Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman in the book Gillian has the ability to boys so dizzy "'they had to be rushed to the emergency room for a hit of oxygen or a pint of new blood,' Ms. Hoffman wrote of Gillian, the family flirt'" (Maslin par. 4).
Maslin wrote this in her review to show how the character of Gillian is portrayed. Here you can clearly see that she is bewitching. In the scene where the detective comes, Gillian wears a tight provocative green dress to try to seduce the detective and distract him from the cased. They still break both typical images of what a witch is. From the beginning of the movie it is known that they are outcast from the town "Taunted by schoolmates and shunned by the townspeople" the sisters and aunts are considered outcast, ignored and rejected as being different (Kempsey par.
5). In the beginning of the movie the aunts explain that it is not that they hate them, it is just that they are different (Practical Magic, 1998). In Practical Magic they use a variety of ways to show how each of the main characters deals with the fact they are outcast because of being a witch. Sally strives to be normal. She wants a family and a typical life without magic. You can see this when she is walking through the town and explaining to the aunts how she craves to be average.
She almost achieves this in the beginning when she marries Michael. She goes on, in the movie, to explain to Gillian through letters that she is finally happy. The people of the town have stopped taunting her and treat her and her family as if they are one of them. She had achieved a simple normal life but the curse put on her family causes her ordinary life to fall to pieces when her husband dies and the town goes back to treating her as they once did. She breaks the stereotype once again by trying to fit. Gillian's way of escaping her being an outcast is to flee her simple town and branch out.
In one scene she describes that she wants to go where no one is going to know her and how she has been able to branch out and became her own person (Practical Magic 1998). If you look at the aunts though, they find being an outcast funny and don't worry about it. Jet, even though she doesn't care how others feel about her, is still very polite and nice to the town's people. Frances doesn't care. She walks around and wonders why Sally wants to be ordinary, when people that are normal are not happy. Though the aunts break the classic appearance of what a witch is, they still uphold Hollywood's view that being a witch means being an outcast.
In the eyes of most people, being a witch means you are different, which means you act and dress differently. The aunts do not feel the need to follow what society has deemed as standard. They embrace being seen as an outcast. They dress in brassy clothing from the 19 th century. If you look at how they live you can see that they do not follow society norms on raising children or acting a certain way.
When Sally and Gillian are children, they offer the kids no bed time and chocolate cake for breakfast. They can practice their spells any time instead of doing homework. Their house is located on the outskirts of town. Each of these women has dealt with the fact that they are outcasts due to being a witch in different ways. In Practical Magic there are two forms of magic being used, high magic and low magic. The movie contains mostly low magic.
Low magic deals with herbs and simple magic. The form of low magic in Practical Magic is the consistent use of herbs. The aunts have a garden and throughout the movie Sally tends to the garden. Sally makes a business out her use of magic by making certain remedies that she knows using certain natural herbs. She uses them to help the average person cure themselves of such things as dandruff and acne. Gillian displays her use of low magic when she drugs Jimmy with belladonna to make him sleep.
Herbs are also used by Gillian and Sally's children, when they try to banish the detective with laced pancake syrup. Low magic may also be seen when the aunts perform the love spell for payment and they pierce the dove or winged animal. Low magic is seen in how Gillian use her tiger-eye for protection. In Practical Magic, low magic for the most part is depicted not in a negative manner but it is also not truly accurate. Some witches would be offended by how they used the herbs or spells. Therefore the basic concepts were true but if you look at the finite details, they have been changed and over dramatized by Hollywood.
High magic in the movie can be seen when Sally summons the detective. Even though she did not make him fall in love with her, she still called him. He existed on his own but he was just what she wanted as a child and she called him to her in the end. Another time high magic was used was when Gillian and Sally brought Jimmy back from the dead.
The exorcism that was performed on Gillian was high magic. The two examples above are high magic because they dealt with spirits and called upon a large amount of power. There were other instruments and applications of magic in the movie. The book of shadows is found in witchcraft. The book of shadows can be for just one person or a family or coven. It is a book full of personal material that contains spells, chants, herbs, ethics, and laws (Guiley 32-33).
The magic circle seen in the end of the movie is another thing that is expressed correctly and can be found in Wicca. A magic circle is "a sacred and purified space in which rituals, magical work and ceremonies are conducted. It offers a boundary for a reservoir of concentrated power and acts as a doorway to the gods" (Guiley 217). Even though there is such a thing as a magic circle found in Witchcraft, a magic circle is "not to conjure or control spirits" it is to "serve to keep out negative energies" (Guiley 218). The movie uses the basic idea of the magic circle but they do not depict it accurately. Here we see it when the witches and a group of women hold up their brooms to create the circle.
The magic circle is created to help Gillian when she has become possessed by Jimmy. Even though the use of magic is evident there are critics who feel like magic was not used at all. Jack Mathews from The Los Angeles Times even went as far as to say: "You promised magic, you expect magic" (Mathews par. 11). Even though the film did have magic in it, it did not have the typical stereotypes of magic that are found in most witch movies. Practical Magic included things that can typically be found in modern witchcraft.
In conclusion I think the movie did do justice in breaking the stereotypes of witches but had some minor kinks or mistakes. Though the movie is not negative towards witches, there were many things that are found in modern witchcraft that were not accurately depicted. This would only be noticeable to someone who studies witches and magic or someone who is a practicing Wiccan. Overall the movie was good and I would recommend it.