The Witch full movie review - How to drive people insane with guilt and fear? (A detailed manual)
((Disclaimer: Contains all sorts of spoilers))
Ever wondered where all those wretched creatures who lived solitary lives centuries ago at the edge of towns or deep in the woods came from? All the lonely (and dangerously insane) people known as witches and wizards, were nothing but the stray teenagers, or the stray housewives, driven totally insane by the accumulating sensations of guilt and fear encouraged by the morbid interpretations of the "Gospel of Love" which were common only a few centuries ago. Or so claims this wonderful marvel of psychoanalysis. social criticism, and cinematic excellence.
Witch is neither your average boogieman flick, nor the latest trick in survival horror, where the beast (in this case dear Ol'Georgie himself) hunts the hapless victims one by one. It is a much bigger offering than that; an art movie that mastered all the commercial tricks of survival horror, and hid within them a potent social message.
The movie's controlling idea is simple: The prevailing human desire to seek reassurance from a higher power can easily be twisted by ignorance, superstition, psychological insecurities and a horrendous misinterpretation of religion into a culture of self-flogging that nurtures guilt and fear until they become invincible beasts, then lets them lose on the mind to devour it whole. The result of this scary process is a flock of pariahs, known by the fancy, superstitious name of "witches" who live on the peripheries of society, devoid of any means of compassion, stripped of all sanity and civility, living in a world of morbid fantasies and diseased hallucinations in which they are left defenseless to their auto-cannibalistic minds that devour their sanity.
The movie camera never assumes, for a second, that the supernatural aspect of the story (AKA the devil and his incarnations) doesn't exist except in the disintegrating minds of the story characters. The devil does show up on the screen, and so does the "familiars" (animal incarnation of witches). A witch does transform herself into a pretty maiden for our horrified entertainment purposes, and all that is candy for the eyes of the cinema goers. Yet, it is all clear that what you see is but the truth as seen from the diseased minds of the characters, and not the truth as it is.
We are given a glimpse of what goes inside those guilty and ignorant superstitious minds, how the truth is perceived from their eyes. Through the hungry eyes of a depraved teenager who craves any female form(not excluding his sister's), we see how an ugly old hag could seem like a beauty, and her promise of a kiss (his very first kiss!) could be both irresistibly sweet, and revoltingly disgusting. And how the whole sexual experience afterwards (his very first) can be enough to drive him insane with joys he couldn't understand (and she kissed me, and went down, and then my bowels..oh, sweet Jesus take me in your lap, HAHAHA!) can drive him insane, feverish and howling until his little heart bursts.
We see the old and dry wife on the verge of menopause, unable to contain the effects of her grief for her lost son, her alienation from her homeland, her suffering in a new unforgiving world, and her fear of competition from her blossoming daughter who had just seen the first signs of puberty. How she ends up a victim of self-mutilating thoughts and actions (the suckling craw scene is a masterpiece)
We see the pious father, scared like hell from life (aka sin) and avoiding it whenever he can, escaping society whenever possible, flogging himself all the time and feeding his torturous, well-hidden feelings of unworthiness, xenophobia, and fear of a world much more powerful than he is, a world waiting for him, with its horrible evils, at every corner. No matter how hard he tries to vent off his anger on the farm animals or the logs of wood, no matter how far he tries to escape, no matter how he prays and cries and stuffs sand into his mouth to atone for his real and imaginary sins, his guilt and fear won't let him be, until he drives himself, and everyone around him(including the family goat), totally insane.
And above all, we have the most rational of all, the young girl who is trying , patiently , to keep her rationality, and save her innocence in a family that had gone completely bonkers. They are always accusing her and themselves of being worthless products of sin, frightening incarnates of evil, and fuel-to-be for everlasting hell. She watches them descend to madness, one by one, losing a little part of her mind every time; until she gradually and very believably, reaches the inevitable moment where she sheds off the last shred of civility and rationality, and runs amok into the woods, welcoming her ascent into the dizzy heights of absolute insanity. We all know what she would look like in a few decades. We have seen one just like her who had spend her life in the woods, nurturing her insane thoughts, becoming diseased, disfigured, ill fed, turning into a frightening form of serial-killer and baby snatcher. The movie has shown us her life, and her face. We have seen, and fully known, the witch. We have also , through the movie , seen and known evil, which is a form of insanity whose seeds are sown by ignorance and watered by guilt and fear.
A great movie. It had done exactly what another movie, "The Village" has failed to do more than 10 years ago. It had delivered a very touching message about ignorance, about how guilt, fear and xenophobia have the power to corrupt and destroy the mind and the heart,especially under the effect of misinterpreted religion. How the Christian "Gospel of Love" (or the Muslim "message of peace", if you wish) can turn into the voice of the Devil himself.
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