During the months of fall, while most people associate the coming of Halloween with costumes and candy, my mind always drifts to more magical elements. It summons the thoughts of black cats and cauldrons, pointed hats and striped stockings – but not in the commercialized way these beings are typically portrayed in film.
Witches, for the women of my family, are always a primary representation of femininity, mystical nature, the darkness and the light – often looking to Griffin Dune’s Practical Magic as a source of comfort and nostalgia. Like the Owens women, we too are a little different from the people of our town. Luckily few stones have been thrown at us, but we always find power and love within one another. We have gained some pretty important morale from this classic spooky, romantic tale. Practical Magic was released on this day 1998, 20 years ago. For 20 years, we have believed in sisterhood, inner power, curses, female intuition, and, of course – magic.
Practical Magic, based on Alice Hoffman’s classic novel, stars Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality) as Sally Owens, Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) as Jillian Owens, Stockard Channing (Grease) as Aunt Frances, and Diane Weis (Edward Scissorhands) as Aunt Jet. Together, these powerhouse actresses make up the mysterious Owens clan. The women are beautiful, captivating, strong-willed, and… indirectly fatal. The Owens women, born with a variety of magical abilities, live under a curse, one that brings death to any man who dare love them.
The Aunts work their power to meddle with the lives of others – particularly the love lives of others – in their quiet town. Jillian has a wild side, often using her magic to control those around her and manipulate her own love interests. Tired of being a town pariah, Sally suppresses her gifts and instead focuses on living an ordinary life despite her elders believing that being normal “denotes a lack of courage”. When Sally finally finds serenity in her practical existence, her husband falls victim to the Owens Curse as Jillian suffers the consequences of abusing her own power to attract the wrong kind of man. When the wheel of fortune spins south for these two sisters, they come to each other’s aid to fight against the evil force raised from a world of the unnatural. In the end their love for one another and the courage they use they accept themselves and their family drives out the dark and brings in the light.
There are some very distinct workings at play behind this enchanted film, a spell with which the Owens use to cast on us. What elements bind us to this story? What are the ingredients to this bewitching spell? Bubble bubble toil and trouble…
Practical Magic’s Owens Family History
Like any good recipe, this one hails from an ancient family history beginning with Maria Owens. This particular spell may be considered an Owen’s family heirloom as Practical Magic is built proudly upon the women’s heritage. Maria, a young witch known for making the men of their Massachusetts town fall in love with her, is exiled to an island with her unborn child. She waits for her lover to come, but he never does. To keep herself from ever falling love again, she casts this spell. Sadly, this spell turns into a curse if cast under conflicted emotion, so caster beware.
Two Witchy Women
Sally and Jillian, two sisters who couldn’t be more different in looks, personality, and magic, are necessary objectives. Sally is conservative, modest, and quiet. Jillian is wild, fiery, and blunt. No matter their differences, these two sisters are always there for one another creating a bond that is unbreakable, even by death. Their relationship with one another as well as their developing self acceptance adds the juice to this potion. They are the stabilizing agents, the ying and yang that create a perfect sweet and savory balance.
Two Wise Aunts
Aunt Jet and Aunt Francis, the local “witches” the townspeople shy away from, yet seek out for their dirty desires, are akin to Sally and Jillian in many ways. They are eccentric, self-indulgent, and wise.They are tuned in with nature and with the emotions of their family members. Despite how grown up Sally and Jillian are or how crazy they think the Aunts are, it is Jet and Francis who take the lead and save the day.
All potions and spells require physical symbolic representations as ingredients to add to the mixture…
1 Silver Ring
One thing typically necessary for the occult to operate usually involves Satan himself or an evil entity of some sort. Jimmy Angelov, played by Goran Visnjic (ER) is one dark, unnatural, handsome devil. His infatuation with Jillian goes from unhealthy to hostile in a few short weeks. The silver ring he uses to brand his female victims, one that keeps showing up to unearth the sister’s dirty secret from the police, is a symbol of pure metal evil. It is a representation of the bad and the malevolent side of the occult. Regardless of how a witch uses her magic, the occult invokes some portion of the dark.
1 Silver Star
To offset the smoky flavor of evil, a silver five-point star works best. Aiden Quinn (Legends of the Fall) plays Officer Gary Hallet, a righteously fair man of the law hot on Jimmy Angelov’s murderous trail. His hunt leads him to the Owens, more specifically Sally. As it turns out, he is the one Sally conjured up in one of her spells, a man she wished for made unique with specific qualities she was certain she’d never find. This spell was meant to protect her from loving, but it is in Officer Hallet that she finds that protection. Luckily, the death-watch beetle has no effect on him in this mixture.
1 Bag of Toads
Jimmy Angelov’s presence haunts the sisters using a few different outlets, but none as prevalent as the buckets of toads that plague their property. The toad, in some cases can mean good fortune, prosperity, and fertility, however these particular toads represent cyclic destruction and rebirth being his unnatural rise from the dead. The appearance of a toad can mean transformation, which makes a lot of sense when dozens leak from under the chair before the Jimmy Angelov possessed Jillian undergoes the spell to cast him out.
Copious Amounts of Roses
Though often associated with the meaning of a secret admirer or protection against an envious lover, the ever-growing rose bush in the Owens’ garden translates directly to Jimmy Angelov’s insincere romantic obsession. The red roses that continue to bloom over Jimmy’s grave mock the sisters and remind them that he is not at rest. His love for Jillian will only continue to grow stronger. Like Jimmy, the rose is beautiful to look at, but riddled with thorns. Each bud that regrows from the earth of his grave is stemmed with more thorns than the last as his undead soul transitions to the living.
1 Teaspoon of Belladonna
A little belladonna never hurt anyone… well, appropriate amounts of belladonna never hurt anyone. When Jimmy becomes too overwhelming for Jillian, she decides to use the deadly nightshade to subdue him in order to get some sleep. Unfortunately, Sally gets a little overzealous with the dosage when Jimmy attacks them eventually killing his human body. Remember not to add more than the recommended serving!
1 Death-Watch Beetle
To add a little kick, one death-watch beetle will do the trick. These insects are the superstitious embodiment of impending death, one that taunts the Owens women for days before the untimely death of their mate. This creepy crawly cannot be caught and ticks away the time before death occurs. Poor Sally has her experience with one as this is a necessary ingredient to the plot.
A Dash of Lime
Dance is an important factor of a invocation should you want it to work right. Ritual dance is a physical interpretation of your spell’s makings. Should you choose to include this part, grab the tequila, blend up some margaritas, turn “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson up real loud, and ritualize your dance around the room.
No spell is complete without an incantation. Lucky enough for lovers of Practical Magic, the white witch herself, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac stardom, provides her vocals for some perfectly fit songs. Her earthy tone and well written lyrics to “Crystal” and “If You Ever Did Believe” really set the mood of the film and seal all the magic up in a harmony.
Stir in a Round Bowl
Practical Magic mixes up the many thematic representations and coming full circle. Just like the broomsticks used to form a circle around Jillian when her body is possessed by Jimmy, everything in this film creates a metaphoric circle. The way the curse passes down through the Owens family acts like a cyclical trend, the same way the neighborhood children taunt them with chants. Jillian and Sally are like their Aunts, the same way Sally’s daughters, Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) as Kylie and Alexandra Artrip (Touched By An Angel) as Antonia, are similar to her and Jillian. A bond is often represented by a circle, and luckily for this, the bond between sisters and the Owens family women is strong enough to keep evolving.
As a perfect send off, the Owens women all jump off of the roof and fly at the end of Practical Magic. Dressed in the typical ensemble of a Halloween witch, the women embrace one another and land on their feet. They allow the town to look on, no longer fearing their judgement or their magical powers.
We are exposed to, and enjoy, a lot of heavily terrifying content especially this time of the year. Sometimes we need a palette cleanser so this concoction can double as a great remedy to horror over-stimulation. It has its spooky moments – Jimmy Angelov is a terrifying being alive and in death – but is mostly family friendly. It is a quality film depicting string family bonds, characters embracing their differences from the norm, and a real romantic lesson in love.
One thing you should keep in mind, something Practical Magic invites you to remember: There’s a little witch in all of us.