The Witch is an interesting movie. I have avoided reading any reviews lest my own writing here be corrupted. I will say I saw the Rottentomatoes scores and they were fun – 87 percent of Top Critics liked the movie as opposed to just 56 percent of viewers.
This is because the viewer was tricked into going to see what they thought was a horror movie and what they got was a pretty cool inversion of a morality tale – like an evil version of Pilgrim’s Progress, complete with 17th century English.
The movie is the stuff of glory for a reviewer who typically has to sit through some pretty formulaic crap again and again and again. With The Witch they were given something to sink their teeth into and really ruminate about.
Do I need to warn about spoilers? If you saw the headline for this post you must know there are going to be spoilers ahead.
The story is definitely is rooted in the narrative of the Creation at the beginning of Genesis. Specifically it seems to take place with the fall – the expulsion of our protagonist and her family from Eden and into the wilderness. We do not know why but there has clearly been a transgression related to belief. In this instance expulsion may be self-inflicted.
Life outside of Eden is difficult (understatement). There is the death of the youngest (not unlike Abel though we are left to puzzle over whose responsibility this is).
The land is clearly cursed for the patriarch and it’s yield is minimal. Everything is toil and darkness.
The matriarch’s pain related to childbirth is definitely increased – in this instance through death and loss and distrust.
God is not present in this place. There is no sense of God despite their prayers. There is no sense that they bear God’s image at all. If God is present in this at all it is as the unyielding, unforgiving judge who is not moved in the least by this family’s plight.
We see lust in a form that one might consider normal for a boy moving into puberty but this lust somehow seems excessively judged by the world. A boy who dies after revealing a partially eaten apple from his mouth. No small or subtle symbolism here – the knowledge of good and evil he had just received was carnal and deemed corrupting.
There is the recitation part of the very interesting Milk for Babes, a 17th century Reformed Protestant catechism written by John Cotten for children (though I would bet most adults would struggle with it today).
The presence of evil is palpable as the family journeys closer and closer to it. Our young protagonist eventually and in desperation calls out to the goat Black Phillip aware that he may be the source of all their struggle, a vessel for the devil and the devil responds.
In the end another great reversal comes as our protagonist embraces the role she has been accused of – Witch – and journeys deep into the wild forest to be with her peers. As she goes she goes naked.
This is interesting. In the story of the fall humans go from naked to clothed; from shameless to ashamed and from innocent to guilty. Not so in The Witch. The entire brutal journey ends with a sudden shedding of guilt and shame and a new found joy and innocence.
Ultimately the movie presents the story of humanity suffering under the yoke of a brutal and controlling God (religion?). It show’s our protagonist throwing off the yoke and being literally lifted in ecstasy from the earth – she is light and free.
The film is a scathing critique of conservative Reformed Protestant Christianity, perhaps all Christianity and perhaps even all belief and the resultant religious morality.
Solidly and unapologetically humanist in its tone, the source of the real horror in the movie is the absence of God and the self-destruction of people refusing to accept this absence.
I should also say the film is also about women. It is about women in relation to belief – again I do not think it is an accident the conservative Reform Protestantism is the vehicle that is used to explore these themes especially given the rise of Neo-Reformers today.
Women in the film, as seen predominantly through the protagonist Thomasin but also her mother, do not thrive within the context of Christianity. If unything they live under constant suspicion, guilt and judgement just for being female.
If you can stand the imagery and themes the film is a worthy one to see as a group for discussion afterward by Christian and non-Christian alike; believer and atheist and everyone in between. I certainly want to see it again with other people (let me know if you do too).
While I may not completely agree with its conclusions I understand them. A great film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Interestingly this is director Robert Eggers’ first full length effort and fourth film (including three shorts) overall. I certainly look forward to what comes next.
The film cost $1 million to make and is really a marvel of focus and effort. The commitment to 17th century English, the costuming and cinematography are all on their own worth seeing the film for.