The Skeleton Key (2005) Poster


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  • Home health aid Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) takes a job caring for an aged stroke victim Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), at first against the approval of Ben's wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). After young lawyer Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) convinces Violet that Caroline is best suited for the job, Violet accepts Caroline into her employ and gives her a skeleton key that opens all the doors in the house. Caroline finds a secret room in the attic that contains hoodoo items linking to a couple named Mama Cecile and her husband Papa Justify who were hung in the 1920s as witches. When it seems that Ben may actually be being held prisoner by Violet, Caroline starts to dig deeper into the workings of hoodoo. Edit

  • The Skeleton Key is an original screenplay by American screenwriter Ehren Kruger. Edit

  • Hoodoo, very loosely related to Voodoo, is an occult system associated with 18th century black Africans in and around the Caribbean or other parts of the Americas. While Voodoo is definitely considered a religion, Hoodoo is more concerned with the magical practices, perhaps analogous to the relationship between paganism and alchemy. Much like the broader topic of folk spirituality around the world, it's an arcane subject without a great deal of reliable sources or verifiable claims. Edit

  • Viewers have, so far, offered three possible reasons as to why the door was shaking: (1) it was a very old door that could be loose on its hinges and move around easily with enough wind, (2) there may have been a shaking spell on the door so Caroline would be curious and try to investigate, and (3) Luke may have been inside the room shaking the door to evoke Caroline's curiosity. The third explanation is most likely, because Caroline later finds a skeleton key in Luke's desk that is missing the piece she pulled out of the keyhole suggesting that, at some time, he used that key to get into the hoodoo room. Edit

  • The brick dust makes it so that anyone who means harm to the person inside cannot cross the line. Neither Caroline nor Luke meant harm to the blind lady in the store, so they were able to cross the line. Edit

  • The reason that all the mirrors have been removed and stored in the attic is never fully explained. At first, Violet says simply that old people don't like mirrors because they don't like seeing how old they look. Later, she says that it was Martin and Grace who took down the mirrors because the servants (Cecile and Justify) could be seen in them. Ben freaks when Caroline holds a mirror in front of him, and she assumes that he is seeing the ghosts. Viewers have suggested, however, that the reason Ben freaked is because he either saw himself for the first time after his stroke or it is the first time Luke has seen himself since his soul was transferred to Ben's body. When Caroline looks in the mirrors, she sees only herself. It's not until the end of the movie, during the Conjure of Sacrifice spell that Caroline does see ghosts in the mirror. At one point in time, people believed that mirrors were able to capture the souls of people, so various viewers have suggested that (1) the mirrors contained the souls of the vessels that Justify and Cecile used in the past, (2) Justify and Cecile didn't want to look at those souls, (3) Justify and Cecile didn't want some other hoodoo practitioner to trap their souls in a mirror, and (4) Justify and Cecile simply did not like looking at themselves in their new bodies. In the Conjure of Sacrifice scene, it appears that the mirrors are used as temporary places for the soul to reside before entering another body. If you watch closely, the large mirror that Violet/Cecile is standing behind, shows the ghost of Grace, then the soul of Violet appears, and then the soul of Cecile appears in the mirror. With the way Violet reacts when the soul of Cecile appears in the mirror, it looks like it left her body, and was kept in the mirror until it crashed into Caroline. Edit

  • No. In the ceremony discovered by the party-goers in the 1920s, Mama Cecile and Papa Justify transferred their souls to the Thorpe children, Martin and Grace. So, it was really Martin and Grace who were lynched and burned in the bodies of Cecile and Justify. In 1962, Violet and Ben came to the house, and Cecile and Justify transferred their souls from the bodies of Martin and Grace to Violet and Ben. Violet and Ben then, in the bodies of Martin and Grace, died shortly after. Edit

  • According to the old blind woman, the "Conjure of Sacrifice" spell, heard on the record by Papa Justify, is a spell that keeps a person from dying. However, it does not last forever. To keep the spell working, you must sacrifice another person so that you can take the years that the victim has left. Edit

  • Violet explains that Ben's "remedies" contained coumadin (a blood thinner) and other medicines for managing his stroke, but it actually contained medicines that kept him paralyzed and unable to speak. Edit

  • In order to do so, they needed for Caroline to believe in hoodoo. Much of their plan had to do with making Caroline, who was not from Louisiana and therefore disinclined to believe in hoodoo, believe that hoodoo was real. Edit

  • Caroline drugs Violet and loads Ben into her car, but the locked gate prevents her from leaving, so she hides Ben in the garden shed, takes a rowboat across the swamp, and hitches a ride to Luke's house. As she is explaining to Luke that Violet tried to kill her, Luke receives a phone call from Violet. When he takes the phone into an adjoining room, Caroline snoops around his desk, noticing his law books for beginners, several photos of herself, the three-snake ring from the attic, and a skeleton key missing the piece that she pulled out of the hoodoo room keyhole. Suddenly, Luke sneaks up behind her and slips a cord around her neck as though to strangle her. When Caroline comes to, she finds that Luke has brought her back to Violet's house. Violet forces Caroline to tell her where she hid Ben. When Violet goes out to the garden shed to bring Ben back, Caroline breaks free from Luke and runs into her bedroom where Luke can't follow because of the line of brick dust she had previously put in front of the door. Caroline climbs out the window, but she's confronted by Violet. Caroline runs back into the house and starts spreading brick dust in front of all the doors. Unfortunately, Violet climbs through a window, and Caroline is forced to toss her down the stairs, breaking her legs. As Violet pulls herself up the stairs, Caroline races to the attic where she sees a circle of burning candles in the hoodoo room. She quickly draws a protective circle around herself, copying a circle of protection spell that she stole from Violet. Caroline points out that Violet cannot enter her circle of protection, but Violet laughs and tells her that the only thing the circle stops is her...from getting out. Luke joins Violet, and they put the mirrors into position and turn on Papa Justify's Sacrifice record. "We've been waiting for you to believe," Violet says. "The spell only works if you believe." In the mirror, Caroline can see the ghosts of Grace Thorpe, Violet Devereaux, and Mama Cecile. "I don't believe!" Caroline starts screaming. Suddenly, the mirror crashes into Caroline, knocking her to the floor. When she comes to, the first thing she does is to take a cigarette from Violet's bag and light it. Luke puts his arms around her, and Justify and Cecile admire their new bodies. "It gets harder every time," Caroline/Cecile says. "They just don't believe the way they used to." In the final scenes, the paramedics carry off Ben and Violet, and Luke/Justify explains to Caroline's roommate Jill that Violet really liked Caroline because she willed the house to her. Edit

  • This is another question for which there is no good answer. If the "remedies" they were being fed are what keeps them in a state of paralysis and unable to speak, it would seem that they would rapidly improve and start to talk about what happened to them. Some possible reasons for letting Ben and Violet go that have been offered include: (1) they had to because of the 9-1-1 call that Caroline made, (2) Cecile and Justify were going to cast a spell on the ambulance to cause it to crash, (3) such a scenario would be a good starting place for a sequel (e.g., Violet would find a way to reverse the spell), and (4) who would believe their stories anyway? Edit

  • While this was a box office success and many fans would welcome a sequel, the creators apparently have no intention of making one and feel that the ending was a satisfying enough conclusion to the story. Edit



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