SPOILER ALERT. I will be discussing plot in this post, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, wait to read this post.
Today is Beltane, a Wiccan holiday celebrating the springtime and fertility, however today is gloomy, cold and rainy. I was doing chores outside until it started raining, so I figured I would warm up by making soup and watching a movie that I have been dying to see: The Witch-A New England Folktale.
I’ve heard a lot about how well done the movie was, so I have been waiting to see it. However, once the movie was over, I realized that I had to blog about it.
The synopsis of the movie reads: New England, 1630: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life, homesteading on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops fail, the family begins to turn on one another. ‘The Witch’ is a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own fears and anxieties, leaving them prey for an inescapable evil.
I’d like to delve a little deeper into the plot. The eldest daughter, Thomasin, is the main character of the movie, and the main person that everyone thinks is the witch, despite how innocent she seems. In the early part of the movie, she is playing peek-a-boo with her baby brother when all of a sudden, he disappears. After his disappearance, we see a naked woman with the baby, then all of a sudden she is rubbing blood all over her body, and one can conclude that she has murdered the baby.
Father William and son Caleb spend days searching for her, and mother Katherine is so grief-stricken that she doesn’t sleep and can’t stop crying. Emotions are high, and everyone blames Thomasin for the baby being stolen. The smaller children, Jonas and Mercy, seem very mischievous, always chanting and running around and giggling. They say that the Black Phillip (a black goat) talks to them and is the devil, but since they are so little and full of energy and mischief, no one thinks much of it.
Bad things continue to happen, including crop failure and the family silver comes up missing. Katherine believes that Thomasin has sold her soul to the devil, but William does not. Caleb ventures into the woods on his own, and he comes across the witch’s house. Needless to say, she takes him. The family is devastated by another loss, but then Thomasin finds him laying naked in the rain, and he is “bewitched.” By this time, William has started to agree with his wife: Thomasin must be a witch.
Eventually, Caleb dies after a psychotic episode.
After this, William can’t decide which of his children or the goat is the witch, so he locks them all in a barn outside. That night, the witch comes into the barn and starts to feed off of the cow. As this is happening, Katherine has a vision that her deceased children are there with her. She starts to breastfeed the baby, and then it turns out to be a crow pecking at her breast.
When William goes outside, the side of the barn has been destroyed, the two little children are dead, and Thomasin is the only one alive. Then, the Black Phillip charges William and he dies. Katherine begins to attack Thomasin, and in self-defense, she takes a knife and kills her mother.
Thomasin then goes in the house, covers herself in a blanket, then falls asleep. She wakes up and begins talking to the Black Phillip, asking him to talk to her like he talked to her little brother and sister. And just when you think she’s gone off the deep end, he does start speaking to her. The Black Phillip is indeed the devil, and then she indeed signs her soul away to him.
She then walks into the forest, naked, and finds a group of other naked witches dancing around a fire. They all begin to levitate high among the trees, and Thomasin is laughing as she begins to levitate too.
End of movie.
I really enjoyed the movie, but the ending really pissed me off. I don’t always get pissed by inaccurate portrayals of witches, but this one really got me.
The horrific truths of life as a Puritan in the 1600s made this inaccurate portrayal of witches especially terrible. Let’s take a look as to why a folktale like this was created in the first place.
When the pilgrims came to America, they did so in order to practice their religion freely. They believed that the Church of England was no longer following Jesus’ teachings, and so they left. Most of the pilgrims practiced Calvinism, or the denomination of Christianity that followed John Calvin’s teachings. So, one can imagine that since the pilgrims risked their lives to find a new place to live where they could practice their religion, clinging to their religion would be of utmost importance. Furthermore, trying to survive in a new world where the group of people completely rebuilds their culture and society requires extremely rigid societal roles to be kept. Folktales like the one presented in the movie helped to keep people within their societal roles, and provides a scapegoat. If something bad were to happen, it gives the people something to blame and it also gives a sense of control. When things go wrong, you can pray or do a sacrifice to God, allowing you to feel like you are being proactive in a chaotic situation. It also keeps people safe: If you believe there is a witch in the woods, you’d stay out of the woods, which would also protect you from real evils, such as wolves, bears, hurting yourself and getting infections, which was a huge cause of death, etc. Finally, folktales like these also serve as a good boogeyman story to tell your children in order for them to behave or to buy into the religious/societal rules that they need to follow.
I guess the main reason I am so upset about this movie, though, is not just because it doesn’t accurately depict witches, but because up until the end, the movie is a great psychological thriller highlighting the horrible truths of Puritan life. The death of livestock and the failure of crops are legitimate causes of death in the 1600s. Children being snatched by wolves or bears, children dying from exposure or from being lost in the woods too long are real dangers. But a young girl signing her soul away to the devil is not real. The sudden change of direction does not sit well with me, and I am really tired of that being how witches are portrayed.
Here is the truth about modern witches. We are just like everyone else. We are your neighbors, your committee members, we are daughters, sisters, mothers. We worship (a term I use lightly) nature. We feel connected to the Earth and the natural rhythms of the Earth. We believe that all things are one and that we are all connected. We find power through creating. We in fact do some “witchy” things, like creating our own products, or potions, and hold ceremonies, or do spells. We find strength in sisterhood and the lineage of the women who have come before us. We are sexually liberated. We do, on occasion, dance naked under the moonlight or around a fire, but only as a celebration. Witches do not worship the devil, or even acknowledge the existence of the devil. We believe that there is good and evil in the world because nature is both. Sometimes, one creature must die in order for another creature to live. It’s the circle of life.
Overall, the movie is actually incredibly amazing. The plot elements are wonderful and the story is told so well. It’s intertwined so perfectly, and the more I think about it, the more wonderful it becomes. Perhaps I’m being too critical of this one aspect of the movie, especially since it’s not the first movie to capitalize on the inaccuracy of witchcraft, but these are my true feelings, and I just couldn’t keep silent this time.
Have you seen The Witch? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!