The Pigeon in “Hereditary”
Peter and Charlie are both distracted in school.
At her school, Charlie plays with a doll she’s making instead of focusing on her test. On the wall behind her, the words ‘CRITICAL THINKING’ stand out in red.
A pigeon suddenly crashes into the window; Its fate determined by what it was unable to see.
The flight of birds leads them, naturally, to serve as symbols of the links between Heaven and Earth.
The bird represents the soul escaping from the body. Intelligence, according to the Rig-Veda, is the ‘swiftest of winged creatures’.
Next we see Peter in his class. He pays no attention to the lecture. Instead, he’s gazing down at his crush’s butt. Peter is well aware of her butt. However, perhaps like the bird, he is oblivious to something unseeable directly ahead of him.
As Peter stares through space and time, his teacher is heard asking the class about Herakles (Hercules), the classic hero in the Greek mythos.
[ The hero is part god, part mortal, and so signifies the ] marriage of heavenly and earthly powers. The hero symbolizes the development drive, the confrontational situation of the human soul in its battle with the monsters of perversion.¹
Again, the notion of the human soul arises. The movement of the soul in the flight of the bird, and the soul’s conflict with corruption and entropy.
Teacher : “What is Herakles’ flaw?”
A student answers:
S: “Because he literally refuses to look at all the signs that are being literally handed to him the entire play.”
T: “So he thinks he has control.”
“The characters had no hope. They’re all pawns in this hopeless machine.”
The monsters of perversion, what are they? It depends on who you ask; one of many sources of contention in any culture…
(of a person or their actions) showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.
We can change ‘person’ to ‘society’, ‘culture’ or ‘the spirit of our time’, anything that seems to have a will of its own. A will made of millions of little tiny wills (or a few very powerful tiny-wills), like little tiny Peter, all pushing in the same direction.
The very idea of ‘perversion’, though, denotes not something wrong, but rather a necessary and inevitable confrontation. Peter’s ogling can demonstrate: By not restraining himself — and its hard to argue to what degree he’s actually restraining himself — he would become a monster right there in the classroom and be escorted out of school in handcuffs. This self-restraint is not necessarily a conscious choice, and only becomes so when the urge towards action (or undesirable inaction) rises up from the basement into the daylight of his awareness, where he can confront it with his ego.
On the other side of this “confrontation” is someone who has no desire at all. I’m not suggesting a restrained desire; nor challenged, transformed, or faced in any mirror. Absolutely non-reflective; a walking, mumbling expression of the omnipresent void… that’s assuming this being is walking or making any noise at all.
Sleep is the twin brother of death.
So, confrontation is necessary; without it the subject would swing wildly to one side or the other. It is up to the hero to reveal the need for this struggle, and show viewers and listeners how manage it on all levels — above us, below us, and among us. This stresses why being ignorant to the subtler meanings behind what Peter’s teacher is talking about is symptomatic of an approaching calamity.
The students in Peter’s class are not completely clueless. However, the cryptic meaning behind the mythology remains foggy and obscured. The lecture reaches some of the students in the classes, but unfortunately the words are flying over Peter’s head.
Charlie removes the dead bird’s head with a pair of scissors at recess.
Annie works on one of her miniatures. On her laptop, an article titled “Norms on Discerning Presumed Apparitions”. Through her lens we see that she is painting a tiny laptop.
A little later, a glimpse at Peter’s computer monitor. There’s an article on career direction partially covered by a page full of photos of the girl he’s crushing on. There’s a bong in the foreground, and a book covered in cannabis. Little bits of weed are sprinkled on the keyboard. There’s a world history encyclopedia and a textbook on economics (5th edition).
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols
All images from https://movie-screencaps.com
The Pigeon in “Hereditary”