February 24, 2016
For Christian horror fans, The Witch functions as a provocative consideration of the ways religious extremists may be particularly susceptible to the devil’s whims.
This film also has a lot to say of the protective nature of community for Christian living. Proverbs 18:1 says, "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."
I was listening to a discussion of this film (the Film Stage Podcast) and someone asked an interesting question, they asked what the original sin of this family was that would open them to all the evil and judgment that befalls them? I think they struggled to pinpoint it, but for me it was the husband and father's pride in allowing them to be expelled from their community. Once outside those protective walls temptation was free to prowl around the family at will.
Almost immediately we get shots of the son gazing lustily at his sister, without fear of others in the community catching him. We have the baby stolen because there were no walls or watchers to protect him. We have the increased influence of Black Phillip over the twins and the mother's grief that is allowed to go unchecked by anyone outside of the grieving family. The father has already spurred the correction of his community so his ideas are now unbound from anyone's challenge or correction.
The last 30 minutes of the film explore the culmination of a Satanic attack that is surprising in how closely if follows a biblical warning. Satan is referred to as a lion who is seeking who he can devour, the Witch ends up being a henchman of the main villain in this film. In the end, Satan has won in his only goal, he is now able to devour Thomasin. It is not a triumphant ending, no matter what the marketing from the Satanic Temple wants you to believe.
I could completely see how this would be a Puritan folktale, one that is expressly meant to reinforce the protective ideals of a faithful community and the power of the Church as the body of Christ which is able to offer protection from all outside influences.
I have a lot more to say about this film and it's commentary on the Church and Christ in a Post-modern society, but I am tired of hearing myself talk. Thanks for the thoughtful review.
In Reply to Keith Krepcho (comment #27949)
Great stuff Keith. Thanks for sharing. I'd agree that the father's pride appears to be the "original sin" here, though I also like how the movie also makes an effort to make the father a sympathetic figure. Another podcast I'd suggest on this is The Next Picture Show, which compared The Witch to The Wicker Man and spent a lot of time on both films' handling of Christianity: http://thenextpictureshow.tumblr.com/post/140274492236/episode-017-is-now-available-here-or-via-your
Interesting thoughts, Keith, and thanks to both of you for your podcast recommendations. Definitely agree with the exploring of the theme of leaving the Christian community and the trials and temptations that befall those who do. Rather than pride, however, we might read Williams' character as that of a zealous desert father, with one of the possibilities of his banishment being his arriving at a more literal reading of the Bible. He believed the plantation community to have strayed from pure devotion to the gospel and called them "false Christians." This may have also led him to refuse to baptize his infant Samuel (which his wife laments later in the film), thus bringing him under church discipline, which in that time resulted in civil punishment as well. In this reading, his flight into the wilderness leaves him susceptible to the onslaughts of the devil, as we know well from Jesus' own wilderness experience and the stories of desert fathers and mothers in early Christianity.
I think the film is an indictment on religious fundamentalism, and its anti-patriarchal theme is patently obvious. From a Christian perspective, however, I found the theology of the film to be rock solid. The unencumbered devotion to Christ in the midst of persecution, the affirmation of God's sovereignty in salvation, and the daily battle with indwelling of sin are masterfully explored. The ending is, unfortunately, a very sad one and does depict the triumph of satanic powers. Thomasin's degeneration came quite abruptly and was therefore ineffective in my opinion. Much more should have been done to make us suspect that her faith was never genuine, whereas whole character arc did not give that impression. Perhaps, then, the writer/director wanted to make a point about the devastating nature of her puritanical upbringing.
In Reply to Dennis Oh (comment #27996)
Great point about Thomasin's character arc, Dennis. That also played into my reservations about the ending. Anya Taylor-Joy gives a very reactive performance, meaning we mostly see her responding to outside horror, but don't get a real sense of how she feels about all of this (both the religious intensity and the supernatural threat). And so, for her to impulsively and enthusiastically - SPOILER! - join the witches without much consideration of her slain family does indeed seem abrupt. The film certainly could have still ended that way, but also could have done a better job of setting up that turn of events.
The original sins: lack of love and absence of compassion and forgiveness. Pride and prejudice, also, two elements of egoism.
Thomasin: a great actress for a difficult role. She sleepwalks through the movie, as in a dream. She falls into the dark abyss of the material goods, reminding us of the Temptations in the desert. Maybe she falls out of desperation, maybe out of fascination, or just curiosity. But she falls.
Although look closely at the disturbing last images: while ascending (physically, an ascension, spiritually, a descent), Thomasin starts to laugh but finishes sobbing, crying and her last rictus is of desperation.
As if she sudden realizes what consequences exist for her choice.
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