Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Witch (Robert Eggers): Trailer & News

I've been binge-watching Season 2 of Penny Dreadful, and the thesis, Evil Takes Many Forms, is shared in the series as well as this new film. Why, as one commentator asked, do so many "folk tales" seem to take place in New England? We could say it's because that was the American Garden of Eden, when those who came were somehow innocent of the corruption and worldliness they left behind in their mother countries, and in the "desert" of the American wilderness, their demons easily exposed themselves. Then again, another answer would be, and I rather think this is more appropriate, that it's not that so many folk tales take place in New England, but that the last decade has drawn artists' attention to that realm because of current events; when whatever impetus ceases the creative impulse for folk tales as a source of both inspiration and solution, then another source will be found. The trailer definitely has notes of M. Night Shymalan's The Village, the ultimate American story The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, The Blair Witch Project the animated, pro-socialist film based on the school play and folk lore of hanging a witch, ParaNorman, and some might get the feeling of The Conjuring, which claimed the witch Bathsheba who was persecuted during the Salem Witch trials, not to mention the TV series SALEM. Why does the goat often symbolize the devil? The goat is notorious for his appetites and willingness to "eat anything," whether that is more myth than truth isn't relevant; likewise, the devil will "eat anything" because getting people addicted to an appetite is what sin is all about. Additionally, the goat is an opposition to the lamb, and it was as The Lamb that Christ came, so his adversary the devil comes as the goat. 
Sometimes we can believe the Sundance film festival,... sometimes we can't. Everyone has their favorites and dislikes, but I have got to say, I am genuinely interested in this film. The Witch, written and directed by Roger Eggers (his very first) follows a New England colonial family who leaves their community and "go west" into the wilderness to start their own farm there; they quickly find that someone or something has found them.
Why would this "New England folk tale," as it bills itself, be relevant today? Well, this will be Eggers' own interpretation of how he understands why America was settled and who those settlers are. It's easy to make Christians a target of hysteria and ignorance, as we see in the cannibal film We Are What We Are. The move to go back to "folk tale," rather than try catching the media's imagination with something "original" (the strategy most film makers attempt) suggests analyzing the map of the American psyche, that which lies buried within our collective identity. The film takes place in 1630 when hundreds of new immigrants were arriving in Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony area; this is the same year the city of Boston was founded.  The question the film will pose, and then attempt to answer is, why did they come? Did they come to get free handouts and live on welfare, as socialists would have us to believe, or did they come for freedom and independence?
This is a great shot in the trailer: playing peek-a-boo with the child, then the child disappears, is a moment of blindness as Jacques Derrida might say (the scene is reminiscent of Minority Report, when Tom Cruise's character is at the pool with his son and he goes under water for a few seconds and, resurfacing, can't find his son who is completely gone).  Being blind is like being asleep, so this invoked what Gandalf says in The Hobbit, "In our blindness our enemy has returned," as well as in Divergent when half of Dauntless is put under a hypnotism and Tris tells them, "Wake up!" We have been blind.
The figuring of the goat in the trailer, which is a traditional form the devil takes in art, and which has just been displayed as a statue "in honor" of Satan in Detroit, USA, suggests that our appetites, too, have gotten out of control. In the film, the family loses their crops, the child disappears, the goats start giving blood instead of milk and then the family begins turning on one another as things get increasingly bad. Thomasin, the girl, is blamed, and her behavior becomes increasingly strange throughout the events. What is interesting, is that, the casting credits includes numerous witches, including one labeled as The Witch, meaning, it's not a family member (as with Noah [Adrian Brody] in The Village dressing up as one of "Those of whom we do not speak, but can't seem to stop talking about,"), or a figment of their imagination, and--since the word "coven" is used in the credits to describe some of the Brides of Satan--we know they are real devil worshipers, instead of a fringe group mis-understood who wants their 1st Amendment rights.  
The name "Thomasin" is not a popular one today, not like the male name "Thomas," but both mean the same: "Twin." During this time period in history, twins were not particularly well-liked, and regarded with superstitious caution. For Thomasin, she will probably find her "evil twin" in the witch(es) that she will have to battle and overcome, so she can be made whole, like all good art.Her fair complexion and light-colored hair contrasts starkly with the dark and forbidding forest.
The family settles on the edge of the forest; why? The forest symbolizes the opposite of the Garden of Eden: Edgen was the place where man communed with God, cultivated the earth for food and necessities and grew in wisdom. The forest is the place that hides things we don't want discovered. For example, in Dante's The Divine Comedy, his journey to redemption begins with him being lost in the forest and more recently, in the TV series SALEM, Tituba takes Mary Sibley to perform her abortion in the woods: the woods are tangled and dark, and it's where we get lost, but it's a metaphor for how we are spiritually lost. When someone is lost in the woods, or goes deep into the woods, it's because they have, in some manner, deviated from the "right path" and don't realize the sin they have committed. What sin has been committed?
The goat standing on its hind legs is an unnatural posture, and might POSSIBLY (although even I admit this is a stretch) refer to the George Orwell book Animal Farm, when the animals, in an attempt to separate themselves from humans, created the song, "Four legs good, two legs bad," and then had to immediately begin making amends because of birds, etc. By the end of the book, the pigs have begun walking around on two legs. The Witch is going to the Toronto Film Festival next, and can be expected to be released nation-wide some time next year.
While Thomasin plays with little Samuel, Thomasin covers her eyes and, when she opens them, Samuel is gone. Someone hasn't come up behind her and covered her eyes for Thomasin, and she isn't protecting her eyes, rather, she has willingly become "blinded" and closed her eyes to "The Name Of God," baby Samuel. How have we, as a country, willfully closed our own eyes so that the Name Of God has been taken from us?
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner