That’s right, I made a new blog site! Nobody asked for it, but they GOT IT!
This is now the companion blog to the other one, Political Ideas and Education! However, this one is a slight variant because I’ll analyze films and determine their political value. THAT’S RIGHT, I’m starting a blog that looks at films politically — now, I bet you never saw that coming, RIGHT!? Well, believe it comrades. This is an extension of my other blog, and I’ll still be linking between one another — I’m simply expanding my writing universe.
And to kick off this new endeavor, I’ll analyze The Witch, which (ha, witch which) is an amazing, and notorious, little film about witchcraft and witch lore. It’s a super-interesting film, and even got the promotion of the Satanic Church — SAY WHAT!? So, right off the bat, you know that it’s a serious film. Some people say it’s boring, but I wholeheartedly beg to differ. The film is like nothing I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen a lot of movies.
… anyway, for these analysis ditties, I’ll only explain what you need to know about the film (none of that boring condensing the plot into three sentences nonsense). For the most part, I’ll treat the reader like they’re actually interested in the substance of the film. Then I’ll connect the dots between politics and film, and explore what each movie says about political life. You would be surprised what a lot of these films say about political life.
… so check it out, you might find it interesting …
Imagine you’re a pilgrim. There is no United States, only free land to grab. You have no idea what you’re getting into, and you’re taking a boat from England to some alleged “new land.”
… Upon arrival, you find some little community to live in. They take you in. However, these small communities are deeply religious, and each community has their variant of religious practice and law (because, after all, secular law doesn’t exist, and the only law is biblical law and norms). So, these communities are DEEPLY religious, and this whole religious “tolerance” concept that we have today, does not exist.
Now, imagine that you have differing views with your community about the role of God in your life, and how you should live your life. Well, that difference of opinion is enough to get you kicked out.
… And this is where the film actually starts (all that other stuff I speculated about is never shown). But, in the film, there is a family man (the head of the house) who has different views about such subjects; hence he, his family, and whatever animals he owns leave their biblically-rooted community, and instead build their own home on a plot of land surrounded by a forest.
Another note for this time: Nature, during this time, in general, was not viewed as kind, or something beautiful. Bambi didn’t exist, and people genuinely had a fear of nature. In fact, throughout history, humans have conceived of various methods attempting to cope with nature. Prior to any natural science, Greeks had multiple gods to explain why weather occurred and how the natural world worked. The Romans revised those gods and updated them. In reaction to religion all together, the Romantics (post-pilgrims) wished to embrace nature as beautiful and such. … but the pilgrims, I’m quite certain, were troubled by nature. They were especially frightened of those who worshiped nature (the witch-ly heathens), and genuinely believed that demonic forces could be harnessed, and certain practitioners control evil forces that exist in nature.
… And what you get in this movie isn’t quite like anything ever put on film. Politically, there’s lots of stuff going on. Thematically, there’s plenty to say. And although a deep, devout religion is present in the film, it only feeds the evil in the film (which may, or may not, be orchestrated).
Feminism, Paranoia, and Hysteria
The film does many things, but one of the most important aspects of The Witch is that it establishes, quite early in the film, and quite violently, that the Witch does, in fact, exist, and that witch is obviously aware of the family’s presence.
In addition to nature, one of the most frightening forces, for people of this time in general, was feminine power. That is, the power to seduce and sway men, their power to give birth (life), and their inherent ability to control and influence decision making.
At this point in human history, (mostly white) men dominated all aspects of power, and generally shut down any attempts otherwise. However, in private, wives, girlfriends, and female partners swayed decision-making (which is seen in the film between husband and wife). This form of “soft” power, ironically, is more powerful than the decisions themselves.
For men, politically speaking, that isn’t desirable. Hence women were commoditized as a political product. They could be married into desirable families, and their sexual lives could be regulated as to not sway other, perhaps unclean, or less-desirable people of society. Thus women weren’t granted free will. Partly because of politics, and partly because men were skeptical of,and perhaps frightened by, feminine power. In the end, male power was easy to see — either it was physical, or seen in decisions. But, behind closed doors, women held the invisible power to change outcomes.
In this film, such politics erupt.
At the end of the day, witches are nothing more than manifestations of feminine power, and they helped produce a complex paranoia that ultimately degenerated in mass hysteria. Kind of like today, when people get scared, look to Trump, then are reduced to masses of nonsensical, violent mobs. This is chaos and hysteria.
But female politics isn’t the only thing fueling evil in the film. There are a set of completely unfounded assumptions that each family member makes about one other that are ONLY POSSIBLE because of their deeply held religious beliefs. In essence, their religious devotion fuels paranoia, which ultimately leads to chaos. Allegations are thrown about that indict certain family members of perpetrating evil despite evidence to the contrary. When an explanation could be possible, these people look for otherworldly explanations, and ignore the consequences of both their allegations and actions.
Perhaps the most-frightening aspect of this film is that these family members ultimately have no respect for the lives of one another. The prioritization is religion over life. There’s scapegoating, and ultimately their paranoia hardens, which sets the stage for hysteria. There’s all of this combined with the fact that this family has zero societal support in a foreign land with little food and supplies. No group to help them if they fall on hard times. They’re left alone, outside a demonic-filled forest with themselves, armed only with their religious convictions.
THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS, so beware of that …
At the end of the film, I find myself wondering: Was this all orchestrated by the evil itself? Was the goat responsible for everything? Did the Devil guide and sway human actions? If so, then free will doesn’t exist, and we’re merely pawns of the Devil. If the Devil didn’t pre-plan such actions, then perhaps God did. And if neither God nor the Devil pull the strings, then perhaps, most frighteningly, people themselves pull the strings. And if that’s the case, then perhaps we’re all wrong, we make awful choices, rely heavily on false truths, and, if we were to actually own up to our decisions, we would find that, inside us all, we’re looking for an excuse to gain power. And that may be the scariest part about the film — it leaves the answers entirely in your head. It’s uneasy, difficult to think about, and just plain uncomfortable.
This film is certainly worth a re-watch based on those questions alone. No doubt that Black Phillip guided Thomasin to female liberation. No doubt the twins represent something evil (and perhaps are now cooked on a skewer). And, in the end, there’s no doubt that this tale highlights the frictional relationships between parents and children of the same sex, and is critical of immovable convictions.
But, the larger, and perhaps macro-political questions, remain. Does evil truly exist, or are they constructed by human actions? In the Witch, we obviously see the witch herself, and multiple forms of her; thus, at least in that universe, she does exist. We even see a coven, demonic animals, and perhaps the Devil himself.
So was this tale a manifestation of pilgrim imaginations, or does evil genuinely exist?
Politically, this has repercussions. If evil exists, then it validates the need to live ethically sound, “good” lives. However, if evil is constructed, and perhaps hardened by devout beliefs, then perhaps politics needs to accept that premise, and mediate evil impulses. I would say, questions like this helped inform the American constitutional framers to separate church and state.
And finally, there’s the ever-present condition of paranoia, witch devolves into mass hysteria. This film perfectly contextualizes how the Salem Witch Trials could have got started. It precisely captures hysteria in such a way that I’ve never seen. Hysteria is insidious, slow to develop, but quick to act once groundwork is laid.
These days, politicians like Trump are capitalizing on fear. Fear produced from economic uncertainty, the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, police militarization, global instability, and old-fashioned white fears. They are laying the groundwork for hysteria to develop. This rallying anger could set the stage for something dangerous, and if history, or even this film, tell us anything, it’s that paranoia can devolve rather quickly under the right conditions.
So to you politicians: be careful which passions you invoke, because you could be opening a box that’s difficult to close once open.
But really, go see the film if you haven’t. It’s very much worth a watch.