Huh, I seem to be writing reviews on socially critical movies and book adaptations more often lately. I assure you, it’s not deliberate – I enjoy light-hearted movies just as anyone – it does appear though that the list of movies I find worthwhile to write about has developed a slight bias. It does make it feel more important that I put down my thoughts if the movie has something really important to say. However, I take my time writing reviews – sometimes it has been up to a month since I watched a particular movie, but short notes are enough to spark a decent post. It doesn’t hurt to get some distance – my reviews a less emotional this way. 😀
The movie is based on a play ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller. I won’t go into detail about the background of the play since you can always read the wiki article about it (and it is quite illuminating, so you should do so), I’ll focus rather on history and the story itself.
Salem witch trials this movie is based on were a devastating consequence of a society too focused on finding a guilty party than actually engaging some common sense. There is a very un-evangelical level of greed and envy present, not to mention a desperate need to appear more holy than the neighbour. A wrong look and a harsh word and… “You’re a witch!” Ouch. Hysterical Puritans are not a pretty sight; children frightened to death of punishment for meddling with supernatural powers even less. Blaming witchcraft for their rule-breaking is an easy way out, but one that can get you into even more trouble if it comes out it is all lies. So what started out as a cover up for innocent fun turns into a power play between parents and children. Feeling elevated and getting what you want became more important than the truth and being a good person. I think they should have stopped as soon as the first convictions were made – they should have just taken their punishment and that would be the end of it (and we would have no story to talk about, heh).
I was sickened at the way the girls follow the lead of a mentally unstable teenager (Abigail Williams) and condemned innocent people to death. Of course adults carry some blame for that as well – so quick to jump on the witchcraft band wagon it makes your stomach churn. And even though there are voices of reason to be found, people quickly realise there are certain advantages to declaring your neighbour a witch. What happened to ‘thou shalt not covet’ and ‘thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’? Never mind, I’ll take that patch of land, and your house…oh, you don’t agree, well – here’s the witch!
From pretend coma of two of the youngest children (one, I believe, is genuinely ill due to the shock of seeing Abigail kill the chicken and drink blood) to being possessed is a short way. I could have spanked the little devil who pretended to be cursed just to spite her sister. Those two were seriously crazy each in their own way, but nobody seems to seriously consider that and when they do, Abigail has all the girls under her thumb.
Not soon after these pretend comas the witchcraft expert is called in (rev. John Hale); everyone is scrambling to save their hide and lies get bigger and more elaborate. Poor Tituba – you were such a convenient victim, though it doesn’t help that you showed the little trollop Abigail how to manipulate the situation. Still, there is little she could do as a slave to save her life, so I don’t exactly blame her. She doesn’t actually accuse a particular person of bewitching her, but only says she was resisting the devil with all her might.
Ann and Thomas Putnam are at first scared for their only child lying ill, but the wife is also feeling some serious resentment for having lost seven children while Rebecca Nurse had all her children survive to adulthood (a rare feat in itself for that time period). Of course there must be witchcraft involved since Nurse is also a midwife. Ah, the sweet taste of denial. Her husband is quickly accusing people left and right, bagging their possessions and land. I think they are the only ones to profit from these trials.
Then there is the story of John and Elizabeth Proctor. I can understand her coldness and stiff position – he had cheated on her with Abigail, although he denies having to do anything with the girl after she is sent away. There is still doubt left since it takes a long time to trust your partner again after such a betrayal, but I was rooting for them. John certainly tries to save the situation by confessing the adultery to the judges in order to destroy Abigail’s credibility as an innocent witness. It is a bold and dangerous move for a Puritan, but then again innocent people are declared in league with the devil and condemned to death every day. I believe him a foolish man who fell for a young face, but one who does everything to make amends and do right by the people of the town.
The judges are appalling. When first doubts about the nature of these accusations appear, they have the power to put a stop to everything. But since these trials would go a long way to a great political career, they shut up even the expert rev. Hale. Judge Hawthrone is one such character. No wonder his descendant (writer Hawthorne) felt guilty and ashamed. I would too.
There are other characters in the movie that are worth notice, but I don’t want to spoil everything for you or reveal too much. We know that many were dead at the end of this horrible time, so let’s keep it at that. It is certainly a great movie – recommended.
Oh, one more thing – I read in the wiki article that these false convictions were revoked only recently (I think in the 1960s), after the descendants fought for a long time in court. Really? Is there a law that calls for the death of a witch in the USA? Why such resistance? Is there something I don’t know?