We Have Always Lived in the Castle Movie Plot Explained: The True Meaning of the Film

By Richard Nebens Posted:
Alexandra Daddario in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Movie fans are revisiting 2019’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, wondering what the actual meaning of the film was by the time the credits rolled.

Based on Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel of the same name, We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the tale of two sisters and their uncle who take their cousin in to live with them, although that cousin threatens their entire way of living.

Starring Alexandra Daddario and Sebastian Stan, the film boasts an impressive 88% Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although it only grossed $80,000 worldwide at the box office (per Box Office Mojo).

What Happened in We Have Always Lived in the Castle?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood lives with her older sister Constance and their ill uncle, Julian, in an isolated mansion a short distance from a nearby village.

Six years prior, Merricat and Constance's parents died after being poisoned with arsenic, and although Constance was arrested and charged with murder before being acquitted, the town believes she is guilty and shuns the whole family.

Used to their isolation and feeling the villagers' wrath regularly, Merricat soon feels a change coming as she and Constance's estranged cousin Charles visit the mansion. Things take a turn for the worse quickly as Merricat is hostile to Charles, with Charles also chiding Julian for his weakened state due to arsenic poisoning, and he seems to be in search of the huge fortune located at the mansion.

Charming his way into Constance's good graces, he finds himself constantly arguing with Julian and Merricat, with Merricat seeing Charles as a threat and trying to get him out of the house any way she can.

Eventually, Merricat throws Charles' lit smoking pipe into a trash bin full of newspapers. She and Charles then get into an ugly physical fight as the house catches on fire, and the entire town comes to the house and adds to the horror, vandalizing and ransacking the mansion as Merricat and Constance flee.

Returning to the house to salvage what they can of their belongings, Charles comes by to renew his relationship with Constance, forcing his way into the house to find her. Merricat then smashes him in the head with a snow globe and kills him before the siblings bury their cousin, and as other town kids come by to taunt Merricat, Merricat scares them away as Constance tells her sister she loves her.

Did Merricat Kill Her Parents?

In the final moments of the movie, Merricat admits to Constance that she killed her parents by poisoning them with arsenic, which comes after Constance revealed that fact earlier when their home caught fire.

However, there is also a case to be made that either one of them could have been the killer. Constance was neglected and treated like a servant rather than a daughter while Merricat was ignored or sent to bed without dinner for simply commenting on what was going on in the house.

The more likely option is Merricat, however, when taking into account that Constance thanked her and expressed gratitude for saving them from their horrible father.

Also important to remember is that Constance is seen being afraid to act for herself at all in her interactions with Charles and her uncle whereas Merricat often acts without thinking much about her actions.

The Big Takeaways of 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle'

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Along with the more easily discernible themes of female empowerment and family, We Have Always Lived in the Castle also features themes of isolation and human emotions like guilt and punishment.

The idea of isolation is seen throughout the movie as Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian are completely cut off from the outside world for years after Constance's trouble with the law.

She fears the outside world and barely pushes the edge of her family property, and Merricat embodies the same theme as she is happy to isolate herself from the villagers who constantly berate her and her sister.

The theme of guilt is a much more complicated one to decipher in this story, as the guilt Merricat feels regarding murdering her family is incredibly ambiguous throughout the story. Constance also keeps her knowledge of the crime to herself and likely feels she and her sister deserve the town's wrath, although both of them show signs of guilt on a few rare occasions in the 96-minute film.

Along with the theme of guilt is the idea of punishment, with the villagers seeking punishment for Constance after she was acquitted of the murder charges. Merricat also dwells on that idea as she was sent to bed without dinner the night of the murder, and she even fantasizes about being able to get whatever she wants with no punishment coming her way.

Are Merricat and Constance Mentally Ill?

Many who read the original book and saw the We Have Always Lived in the Castle movie have questions about Merricat and Constance's mental health and stability, with signs pointing to them possibly both being hindered.

Due to Merricat murdering her parents at only about 12 years old, it's quite likely that her emotional development was stunted as she poisoned her family. That combined with her clear Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tendencies (shown by repeating phrases over and over) puts her in quite a difficult position mentally as she handles the aftermath of what she did and her new situation.

Additionally, Constance is regularly described in the original story as agoraphobic, which is defined as having an extreme or irrational fear of being in open/crowded places or leaving one's own home.

This is an easy part of Constance's personality to see, as she is heavily against leaving the house until she is pushed and prodded heavily by her cousin. Even when that happens, she does everything in her power not to leave her house, which is even the case as she holds back from leaving her home as it goes up in flames.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is now streaming on Peacock, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, and Pluto TV.

- About The Author: Richard Nebens
Richard Nebens joined The Direct in March 2020, now serving as the site's Senior Writer and also working as an assistant editor and content creator. He started his journalism career as a hobby in 2019 and is passionate about sharing news and stories from the entertainment industry, especially comic book movies, comedy, and sci-fi. Richard looks to expand his knowledge about movies and TV every day, and he is eager to stay locked into the latest releases and breaking news at every opportunity.