A strange movie. When I first watched it, I greatly admired the care taken with it, the historical accuracy in set and costume design, dialogue that sounded perfect for the 17th century New England, and characterizations both in writing and performance that made you believe that these people actually are living at that time. But I can’t say that I enjoyed it or liked the finished product much at all. The mindset and attitudes of the characters and the circumstances in which they lived oppressed and depressed me too deeply. Too claustrophobic, you might say.
But people whose opinions I deeply respect had liked the movie hugely. As is my wont when that happens, I felt the need to take another, possibly more than one, look. I decided to purchase a copy on Blu-ray when the price went down so that I could watch it when I felt like it and without any time constraints.
Perhaps I liked the movie more by be being better prepared for what I was seeing.
As you might assume by the title, the movie does involve a witch. More than one, actually and ultimately. A true witch, not one that can be explained away by psychological interpretation. An evil witch, not a White Witch of nature-loving Wiccan. In what I recall as the only time the movie cuts away from the ingrown family to something outside, we see this naked witch as she disposes of an infant child in a seriously grim manner, thankfully more implied than shown.
The family. A father and mother. He seems to be even more extreme in his beliefs than the Puritan community (which takes some doing) and is banished with his family from the plantation. She loves her husband and family and endures privation for his sake, until tragedy begins to happen. That baby. Twins, a boy and a girl, perhaps 6. An older son, approaching puberty. A daughter, 16 or 17. Her name is Thomasin.
That name. I thought of Doubting Thomas, and I thought of Sin. She is the family member who seems to be questioning the beliefs that surround her, and to her family that doubting would be a sin. When she is accused of dire actions, what she says cannot be believed or even the words understood by her parents because of their mindset.
The movie bears a subtitle: “A New England Folktale.” If you recall your folktales, children do wander into the forest, finding witches and bears and wolves and ogres and all manner of unpleasantness. A house the son comes upon when lost in the woods seems to be right out of one of those old stories, with a touch of Kubrick’s “The Shining” thrown in.
The first time I watched the movie I wasn’t frightened. That second viewing scared me more. But the fright that I experienced was not so much what happened to members of this family as the fact that it was their deeply held beliefs and convictions that led to their disaster. In fact, it seems that these deep beliefs actually help create the evil which they had feared.
There is a lazy belief out there that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something.
It does matter.