Author Topic: The Witch  (Read 5767 times)

Junior

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #20 on: October 03, 2016, 01:03:00 AM »
Cool article. A nice one to prove (well, you know) that it is a horror movie indeed.

I also want to agree with you that showing the witch early on is completely necessary to the whole thing of the movie. It is a folk tale after all, and the witches need to be literal if the ending (and really the whole movie) is going to be as scary as it is.

I'd have to watch that scene again to see what you're talking about. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something cut there to make that bit a little muddier. I think the inkling is supposed to start there but not be a full thing yet, so cutting out a bit of dialogue would cloud the water nicely.
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Re: The Witch
« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2016, 10:34:00 PM »
I thought the whole mood of The Witch was effective, and I like it, mostly, as a horror movie, but as I indicated on the podcast, when Adam and I discussed it briefly, I had a hard time accepting the world as authentic. The film has been touted as being thoroughly researched and authentic, using language of the time and so forth, but it seemed to me to be peddling in the same tired stereotypes of Puritans as witch-hunting, prudish, hysterical, hypocrites that Nathaniel Hawthorne and others have peddled for a long time. (Though to be fair to Hawthorne, it's more the perception of his work than his work itself that has promoted stereotypes - Scarlet Letter is great as are his short stories of the Puritans; "Young Goodman Brown" and "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," for example, are complex and superb.)  I was attacked on Twitter for having the gall to say a good word for the Puritans, people who, the Twitter user said, "would have killed people like [him] back in the day" (he was gay).  And I'm sympathetic to his point of view, but I'm less interested in defending Puritans as a whole or defending everything about them - obviously, they were biased and limited (as, indeed, we are today in various ways) - as I am in wanting to complicate the boring stereotype. And I think every stereotype, if there's a human being underneath it, is worth complicating.

I give one lecture on the Separatists and Puritans in my Intro to American Literature class when/if we study John Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity" sermon (the "city on a hill" sermon, still so disturbingly applied in American politics) and William Bradford's writings (eg. Of Plymouth Plantation). And prepping for the lecture has rather soured me on Puritan stereotypes of the kind in The Witch. I get that the family in The Witch was, in some sense, outside the community, so perhaps not representative of the community, but when, as 21st century Americans, that's the only kind of "Puritan" we ever see, I get a bit annoyed.

Don't know if this is remotely interesting to anybody, but here are my lecture notes for my intro to the Puritans/Separatists (in the actual class session, it'd be peppered with more content and class discussion though this "intro" still hardly covers the complex expanse of what we might call "American Puritanism"): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PGWBfscvLbPTCmaDjUGSRqhguxvQ2E3v_Bsb_7xmU64/edit?usp=sharing

Or, here are a few quotes from some of lecture sources as food for thought:
From The Puritan Dilemma, Edmund S. Morgan: “The Puritans of New England are not in good repute today. Authors and critics who aspire to any degree of sophistication take care to repudiate them. Liberals and conservatives alike find it advantageous to label the measures they oppose as Puritan. Whatever is wrong with the American mind is attributed to its Puritan ancestry, and anything that escapes these assaults is smothered under a homespun mantle of quaintness by lovers of the antique.  17th C Massachusetts has thus become in retrospect a preposterous land of witches and witch hunters, of kill-joys in tall-crowned hats, whose main occupation was to prevent each other from having any fun and whose sole virtue lay in their furniture.” (xi)

Puritanism required that [Winthrop] work to the best of his ability at whatever task was set before him and partake of the good things that God had filled the world with but told him he must enjoy his work and his pleasures only, as it were, absent-mindedly, with his attention fixed on God . . . Puritanism meant many things, but to young John [Winthrop], it principally meant the problem of living in this world without taking his mind off God.  It would have been easier to withdraw from the world, as the monk and hermits did, to devote oneself wholly to God, but that was not permitted. Puritans must live in the world not leave it.” ( 8 )

Of John Winthrop: “He was a countryman of simple tastes who liked good food, good drink, and good company. He like his wife. He liked to stroll by the river with a fowling piece and have a go at the birds. He like to smoke a pipe. He liked to tinker with gadgets. He liked all the things God had given him, and he knew it was right to like them, because they were God-given. But how was one to keep from liking them too much? How love the world with moderation and God without?” (9).

To please God the Puritans demanded of themselves a standard of behavior not far different from that required by most modern codes of morality. They did not think it necessary to be either prudes or prohibitionists. They did not dress in drab clothes or live in drab houses or speak drab words.  The people who appear in the pages of Winthrop’s journal, the good men and women who showered him with venison and partridges and fat hogs to celebrate Margaret’s [his wife’s] arrival [from England], the boys and girls who skipped rope on the decks of the Arabella the men who build ships and caught fish and planted corn were all human enough.” (69)


Anyway. It's a fine movie. But I do think the Puritans have gotten a bum rap. :)  (Marilynne Robinson is really good on the Puritans in something like Death of Adam, her book of essays.)

oldkid

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #22 on: October 04, 2016, 12:15:33 AM »
I don't have a problem with anything you are saying, but The Witch isn't really about Puritans.  It is about a family of Puritan heretics, of people who were more judgmental than Puritans were, which we see happen in the film.  This is a cautionary tale, written from a Puritan perspective, of those who judge the community as being unpure, and so find themselves separated from the community.

Witches, from the Puritan viewpoint, especially from a folktale viewpoint, were real, were to be found in the deep woods (like spirits were found in the wilderness throughout the Bible), and were a danger.  For most Puritans, witches weren't the next door neighbor, but the isolated.  In the end, this is tale against isolation, even as the idea of witches themselves were.

This is not a problem with the Puritan folktale in and of itself.  We have such cautionary tales ourselves, such as Into the Wild or Grizzly Man, we just use different motifs. I think The Witch is a very different take than Hawthorne or The Crucible, although the Puritan critique is wise when it shows how inbred communities can become when they reject the outsider.
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Junior

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #23 on: October 04, 2016, 12:34:09 AM »
You make several good points there. We've been reading stuff from the beginnings of Puritanism in 2 of my classes and it's pretty interesting to see where it comes from (specifically its attachment to the bible in English contra Catholicism's desire to keep bibles out of the vernacular). As you say here, the Puritans were often just people, like anybody today, who are probably a bit more religious than most of us (or at least think about it more - as in all the time) who went about their daily lives thinking about God. I think, though, as you pointed out here, this family is not the typical Puritan family. They get kicked out of the town for being too religious and go off into the woods to practice their super-version of their religion. While I agree that most movies have put forward that kind of boring stereotype, this one does so with at least some understanding that they are presenting a special case.

It's that special case, actually, which makes the movie better than it might have been had they stuck with the stereotype without complicating it. If the movie is (partially) about the way that extreme religion can cause a rift in a family/society, they need to come from a society where people are generally quite religious and who kick them out for being so extreme (sorry for the not-prettiness of this, it's late).

I would like to see a movie that portrays the Puritan life in a positive way. I'm not sure if it exists yet, and I don't know what would happen in it. Movies about religion are often about how hard it is to live within their bounds.

Oh, also what oldkid said.
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Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #24 on: October 04, 2016, 10:34:20 AM »
Anyway. It's a fine movie. But I do think the Puritans have gotten a bum rap. :)  (Marilynne Robinson is really good on the Puritans in something like Death of Adam, her book of essays.)
My dad keeps telling me to read that. One day.

As for the Puritans, I understand they get a bad rap, but I didn't really view The Witch as a critique of Puritans, but more of a critique of humanity in general.

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #25 on: October 04, 2016, 05:55:07 PM »
I don't have a problem with anything you are saying, but The Witch isn't really about Puritans.  It is about a family of Puritan heretics, of people who were more judgmental than Puritans were, which we see happen in the film.  This is a cautionary tale, written from a Puritan perspective, of those who judge the community as being unpure, and so find themselves separated from the community.

Right, but as I noted,
I get that the family in The Witch was, in some sense, outside the community, so perhaps not representative of the community, but when, as 21st century Americans, that's the only kind of "Puritan" we ever see, I get a bit annoyed.
And if, for example, you listen to the most recent ep of Filmspotting SVU, they take as a given that this family represents "what the Puritans were like." They say as much. So that's my problem - that that only version of the Puritans we get is this heretical or radicalized version. And if that's the only version we ever see, even if I agree, oldkid and Junior, the attempt is to make it here, a "special case," we begin to associate those versions with all Puritans.

Witches, from the Puritan viewpoint, especially from a folktale viewpoint, were real, were to be found in the deep woods (like spirits were found in the wilderness throughout the Bible), and were a danger.  For most Puritans, witches weren't the next door neighbor, but the isolated.  In the end, this is tale against isolation, even as the idea of witches themselves were.
I'm not sure what you mean by a "Puritan viewpoint."  At the time of Winthrop/Bradford, when this film is supposedly set, no, they didn't have that viewpoint. The witches thing came much later and among only a certain small group. They did, certainly, associate the "wilderness" with heathen wilds they should stay away from - and they associated the indigenous groups with that wilderness (sadly - though the Separatists with Bradford had a very good relationship with the Wampanoag in the beginning), but you won't find any witch talk in Bradford, for example.  Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" has lots of witches. :)


Anyway. It's a fine movie. But I do think the Puritans have gotten a bum rap. :)  (Marilynne Robinson is really good on the Puritans in something like Death of Adam, her book of essays.)
My dad keeps telling me to read that. One day.

As for the Puritans, I understand they get a bad rap, but I didn't really view The Witch as a critique of Puritans, but more of a critique of humanity in general.
I wish I could see more humanity in the family in The Witch - they seem so thoroughly otherized to me (to use an annoying term, sorry) that there's very little to relate to, and I think if we don't see ourselves in the father and mother, that's a problem.


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Re: The Witch
« Reply #26 on: October 04, 2016, 06:34:09 PM »
So would it be fair to say that your issue isn't so much with The Witch as with films that depict the Puritans?

oldkid

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #27 on: October 04, 2016, 07:24:31 PM »
I don't have a problem with anything you are saying, but The Witch isn't really about Puritans.  It is about a family of Puritan heretics, of people who were more judgmental than Puritans were, which we see happen in the film.  This is a cautionary tale, written from a Puritan perspective, of those who judge the community as being unpure, and so find themselves separated from the community.

Right, but as I noted,
I get that the family in The Witch was, in some sense, outside the community, so perhaps not representative of the community, but when, as 21st century Americans, that's the only kind of "Puritan" we ever see, I get a bit annoyed.
And if, for example, you listen to the most recent ep of Filmspotting SVU, they take as a given that this family represents "what the Puritans were like." They say as much. So that's my problem - that that only version of the Puritans we get is this heretical or radicalized version. And if that's the only version we ever see, even if I agree, oldkid and Junior, the attempt is to make it here, a "special case," we begin to associate those versions with all Puritans.

Witches, from the Puritan viewpoint, especially from a folktale viewpoint, were real, were to be found in the deep woods (like spirits were found in the wilderness throughout the Bible), and were a danger.  For most Puritans, witches weren't the next door neighbor, but the isolated.  In the end, this is tale against isolation, even as the idea of witches themselves were.
I'm not sure what you mean by a "Puritan viewpoint."  At the time of Winthrop/Bradford, when this film is supposedly set, no, they didn't have that viewpoint. The witches thing came much later and among only a certain small group. They did, certainly, associate the "wilderness" with heathen wilds they should stay away from - and they associated the indigenous groups with that wilderness (sadly - though the Separatists with Bradford had a very good relationship with the Wampanoag in the beginning), but you won't find any witch talk in Bradford, for example.  Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" has lots of witches. :)


Anyway. It's a fine movie. But I do think the Puritans have gotten a bum rap. :)  (Marilynne Robinson is really good on the Puritans in something like Death of Adam, her book of essays.)
My dad keeps telling me to read that. One day.

As for the Puritans, I understand they get a bad rap, but I didn't really view The Witch as a critique of Puritans, but more of a critique of humanity in general.
I wish I could see more humanity in the family in The Witch - they seem so thoroughly otherized to me (to use an annoying term, sorry) that there's very little to relate to, and I think if we don't see ourselves in the father and mother, that's a problem.

I do not think that Bradford or Winthrop represent the folk religion that most Puritans experienced.  They were the intellectuals, the leaders that explained the straight and narrow way, but they didn't speak for the majority of their people.  I agree that the intellectual/theological path of the Puritans were something quite different.  But Hawthorne was expressing his rather telescoped vision of what he experienced of Puritans, and the Witch's first scene is the family being rejected by the mainstream Puritan camp.

So would it be fair to say that your issue isn't so much with The Witch as with films that depict the Puritans?

It seems that you are saying that the Witch didn't do enough to distance itself from "real" Puritans.  But this story wasn't about real Puritans.

Bradford and Winthorop were real Puritans, but they weren't everyday Puritans.  The everyday Puritan believed in folk tales and spiritual mythologies that the pastors and theologians didn't hold to.
http://katewoodbury.blogspot.com/2009/09/folklore-puritans-magic-and-witches.html
The Salem witch trials were those folk tales run amok, with the leadership of a small town allowing the judgments and tales to be the rule of law, which almost never happened among the Puritans.  But everyday judgments and witch-pointing did occur, just not very often in the courts and from the leadership.

I think that the family in the Witch is one of the condemners of the innocent that the Puritans were weeding out.  They were the kind of people who believed in the folk tales and jumped to conclusions when they saw someone different than they.  The very family dynamics that destroyed the family were the reasons why they wouldn't be safe in a community.

It would be great to have a movie that explained real Pilgrims.  The people who got drunk, went bowling, had their children who were planning on getting engaged sleep together night after night to see if they were "compatible", i.e. got pregnant.  I agree that Americans have been sold a bunch of lies about their forefathers.  But it seems as if you paint this movie with the brush of being one of those films that told lies about the Puritans.  I think they very carefully didn't do that, even though SVU and others misunderstood it.  I'd love to see the movie about the real Puritans.  But I don't blame this movie for not being it.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2016, 07:30:06 PM by oldkid »
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Re: The Witch
« Reply #28 on: October 04, 2016, 08:03:03 PM »
So would it be fair to say that your issue isn't so much with The Witch as with films that depict the Puritans?

Often knowing too much on a particular subject ruins a film if they do not get that particular subject correct. 
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Re: The Witch
« Reply #29 on: October 04, 2016, 09:43:21 PM »
I do not think that Bradford or Winthrop represent the folk religion that most Puritans experienced.  They were the intellectuals, the leaders that explained the straight and narrow way, but they didn't speak for the majority of their people.  I agree that the intellectual/theological path of the Puritans were something quite different.
I disagree, if you are talking about the early Puritans. Check out Anne Bradstreet's poems, letters and also Mary Rowlandson's lengthy captivity narrative. Both women, obv, so not trained as intellectuals like the men who would have had access to formal education, but writing from a more domestic POV. They both apply what you call a minster-only/intellectual-only theology to their daily lives.


I think that the family in the Witch is one of the condemners of the innocent that the Puritans were weeding out.  They were the kind of people who believed in the folk tales and jumped to conclusions when they saw someone different than they.  The very family dynamics that destroyed the family were the reasons why they wouldn't be safe in a community.

It would be great to have a movie that explained real Pilgrims.  The people who got drunk, went bowling, had their children who were planning on getting engaged sleep together night after night to see if they were "compatible", i.e. got pregnant.  I agree that Americans have been sold a bunch of lies about their forefathers.  But it seems as if you paint this movie with the brush of being one of those films that told lies about the Puritans.  I think they very carefully didn't do that, even though SVU and others misunderstood it.  I'd love to see the movie about the real Puritans.  But I don't blame this movie for not being it.
But how do we know what the "Puritans" of this movie (those that you are making distinct from the family) were doing and why? It's a very brief scene of the family's trial and there's very little information about or context for why they were being kicked out.

You're still missing my main point I think. On one level, no, I don't blame the film. It's an effective horror film.  I don't find it compelling, personally, because the people in the film are so wholly Other, and I'm frustrated with it for offering such a narrow vision that falls in line with everything else we've seen before, confirming the worst stereotypes about Puritans. How can I explain? It's a bit like showing a film depicting an ISIS group to people who believe all Muslims are linked to ISIS - the crowd will not come away thinking any better of Muslims; it'd just confirm, for them, what they think they know about Muslims.  (Perhaps that was a bad, too inflammatory analogy, but you see my point.)   And, for this film, it's all the more tempting to believe it's an accurate picture of what "all those people" were like because it's so very period detailed and because the director himself has been talking about how accurate and authentic it is.  It's great, honestly, that you can see more in it, but I think the reaction of the FS SVU folks is the norm. Should I blame the film for that reaction? Maybe not, but  I'd be happier if, say, we'd had 15 minutes of time in the town they were being kicked out of, where we might see the human, humane, if fallible people the Puritans were.  (Honestly, I'd be really surprised if the director thought the Puritans were as humane a group as you and I do, Steve.)  But we get a trial - which is incomprehensible and cruel from a 21st century perspective (kicked out of town for some vaguely incorrect religious views! imagine! how terrible!) - and then it's the family for the rest of the time. That's it.


So would it be fair to say that your issue isn't so much with The Witch as with films that depict the Puritans?

Often knowing too much on a particular subject ruins a film if they do not get that particular subject correct. 
I'm not trying to rain on anybody's parade. It's an incredibly well made film and Black Philip and the bunny (!) are particularly effective. Acting is all great, too.
So yes, it's probably a "knowing too much" kind of thing, bit like loving a book so that the film can never be satisfying. :)