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Thoughts on The VVitch

I finally got to watch a movie I’ve had on my watchlist for some time and I have some thoughts … So here are – without further ado – my Thoughts on The VVitch.

The VVitch

Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers
Year: 2015
Country: America, Canada

Thomasin – Anya-Taylor Joy
William – Ralph Ineson
Katherine – Kate Dickie
Caleb – Harvey Scrimshaw
Mercy – Ellie Grainger
Jonas – Lucas Dawson

Length: 92 min


The VVitch – Plot Summary

After being banished from their community a puritan family settles out to make their own future.
The seven incredibly devout family members settle near a dark, mysterious forrest and try to fend for themselves. After a while their crops start failing and what should have been a new life full of hope and success turns sour soon: The family turns on each other, blaming it all on the witch living in the nearby woods …

The VVitch – New England Madness

I have never been to New England. I know nothing about New England. But it sure feel like it’s a beautifully creepy place to visit. Why is that?

New England horro seems like a staple of American culture to me. Now, remember: I am not American and this is an outsiders view … But: Edgar Allan Poe was from Massachusetts, Stephen King from Maine, Lovecraft from Rhode Island.
The area seems to have a draw that no creepy crawler can resist. And to be fair: Whenever I look at pictures (Again: Never been) I see beautiful, almost fairytale-esqe architecture, vast oceans, gorgeous forests … And it all seems to hide deeper mysteries beneath. I see inexplicable depth, a close-knit, inpenetrable blanket of trees and fog, hidden corners …

No wonder the whole area seems not only mesmerizing but also very creepy. Mystery is always a flirt with the unknown and as – New England resident – H.P. Lovecraft once said:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

H.P. Lovecraft

Now imagine – me, having never been to New England – can just sit here, google up some pictures, do some research … I can take away some of its mysthique. Now imagine not beeing able to do that. Imagin having to set out into the unknown, having to forge your own path … Not knowing what to expect leaves room for ones imagination to run wild. And that leaves a lot more room to fear.

Religious Insanity

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.

H.P. Lovecraft

I am not particularly religious. In fact, I’d consider myself an atheist. And that’s cool. It’s also cool, if you’re not. All are welcome here.
You know what’s not cool? Considering yourself better than others because of your religion or lack thereoff. Excluding people because of not according to your beliefs. It divides communities, however close-knit they may be.
It can even become dangerous when people start putting their religion above their own sensibilities and gut feeling.
Wen rules become extremism, all hope will be lost.

Such is for this family. In the end, they end up killing each other, one by one, not being able to break out of the rule system they are caught in. Even with Thomasin who (watch out, Spoiler) in the end survives and wanders off into the woods to join a coven of witches, now being supposedly free, just joins what is probably going to be a new community with all new rules. Both witchcraft and satanism have turnt into their own religion or hat least have some religious influence these days.
Thomasin leaves her roots, the oppressive system she grew up in, just to follow a new set of rules. What seems like emancipation may very well be just a new form of enslavement.

We’ll never know. In fact we’ll never even know if all of her experiences were even real (More on that further down). Maybe she has not just lost her old community but will now be left allone, trying to manage the hurt and isolation with the only thing she knows, without returning what hurt her so in the beginning: Religion.

Seven Deadly Sins

The film’s family of protagonists consists of seven members, who are all devoutely religious, yet seem to let out a far darker, far less loving side of themselves as soon as the story takes hold …

Now, I’ll venture into some more interpretation-y territory here. These posts have never been intended to be full on essays, reviews or scientific papers but more to mix all of the above and as a chance for me so sort some of the many thoughts and feels I sometimes have about movies. And I had many, many thoughts on The VVitch and its characters particularly:

While watching I noticed something and got talking to my friend @pommes_de_fucking_terre.
There were exactely seven family members. Seven, being an incredibly symbol-heavy number in most mythologies; With all the religious imagery in the movie there was one set of sevens, that would come to mind instantely:

The seven deadly sins

Thomasin – Greed

Thomasin, the oldest teenaged daughter and – for the most part – the audiences stand-in.
She seems to be the least content with her puritan life, longing for more.
Thomasin is the one who has the most pressure pushed upon her, having to wokr hard, help her mother, watch the children … While getting the least payoff.
Being a girl and all, she is also the one with fewest opportunities for her and her family: They’re all cut-off from their community; Even if she wanted, there’d be no way for her to follow the path usually cut out for young women at the time: Marriage; since there’s no one around to marry.

Thomasin regularily butts head with her parent, particularly her mother and gets in trouble often, even if there’s little she could have done to change certain situations.

She is isolated even within her community – a situation that grows worse, after the baby vanishes – a fact that is even more exaggerated by the dress she is wearing:

The light purple gown seems to not really go with the grey, dark and dirty environment we find our protagonists in.
Usually clothes of puritans, farmers, people who’d work close to and with soil would be of darker shades. These were easier to clean, easier to dye and not seen as gaudy as more brightly coloured garments.
All the other characters do so. Thomasin stands out.

Purple is also a colour that is very closely associated with spirituality and the supernatural. A lot of clerics wer deep purple accessoires, in fantasy stories they’re usually reserved for more magically inclined characters.
By wearing such a colour – even if just in a very light variation – Thomasin is commiting blasphemy by wearing a colour that is usually only reserved for higher clerics. She bites of more than she can chew; greedily thinks she could long for more, put herself on the same level as the free and highly spiritual people, yet she reaches to far, gets to greed and is ultimatively the downfall of her family.
The only way she could ever become a spiritual being ist to fall off to the wrong side and completely give into her greed.

The Baby – Gluttony

Birth control wasn’t really a thing in 17th centuary America. Even if: I am most certain a deeply religious family would not make use of it.
Therefore pregnancy was an often occurrence for women. And a dangerous one at that: Pregnancy and birth could both be very comlicated events and the survival of mother and child was never guaranteed.
Even if: Not always was there room for another family member to be fed, clothed and taken care off. Infanticide was a surprisingly wide-spread crime.

And there can be something quite parasitic about fetuses and newborns: The leech off their family and their mother while still in the womb. They need energy to grow and their hunger seems neverending.

The baby is the first family member to vanish and the reason for Katherine and Thomasin’s relationship to turn hostile … Or is it?
Thomasin was the one watching her sibling, before it vanished into thin air … Or did it?
Maybe somebody was just trying to get rid of an ever-hungry nuissance.
To finally satisfy the simple and sole representation of gluttony.

William (Father) – Pride

The man of the house. The lion of his pride.
The father is – even in our modern society – often and exclusively seen als the head of the family. The person leading, the one everyone should be able to trust with their lifes. But what if it’s him who leads his pack astray?
It’s William’s pride that ultimately has the family cast out. And it is his pride that keeps him from admitting their dire situation.

Katherine (Mother) – Wrath

Katherine likes to keep up appearances but can be incredibly vile underneath. Instead of having everyone come together after the disappearance of her youngest, she starts austracizing her oldest.
Her wrath gets the better of her.

The twins – Mercy and Jonas – Sloth and Envy

The twins are by far the creepiest characters of the entire move. They are almost never seen to be alone and run around the farm, chanting nursery rhymes; seem to be surprisingly uninvolved with most of the goings on at the farm. They don’t particularly help much, like Caleb and Thomasin. Weird, considering that they seem to be old enough.
They also never seem to get into trouble for either not working or making life harder for Thomasin.
Both of them always seem to get excused for their laziness, for their sloth.

Mercy in particular – seem to have it out for Thomasin. There seems to be something unspoken between the sisters. Mercy badmouthes Thomasin at any given moment and acts incredibly hostile towards her.
She sews the thoughts of witches and devils and is the first one to blame the eldest.
It’s not sure where her hate stems from but chances are she is very much green with envy.

Caleb – Lust

Caleb’s the second-born and eldest son of the family. He seems very young still but is about to enter puberty.
Like many young boys his age – Even though I don’t really know much about being a young boy – he develops what his religious community would probably consider very uncouth thoughts.

The camera sometimes takes his place, oogling Thomasin, taking on an incredibly male-gaze-y perspective, purposfully.
On one hand, it is very understandable – he, too is lonely and doesn’t have anything to compare his experience to – on the other hand, we as the audience are shaken to our core, uncomfortable, disgusted.
And Caleb himself seems to try to hide his impure demeanor, takes hushed look only, tries to distract himself.

His lust is being pushed away into the darkest corners of his mind, yet it only takes the correct spell to bring it forth again.

The VVitch and the use of language

We recently watched La Grande Illusion for film history class and took a specific look at how the movie uses language, foreign tongues and dialects and how that shapes the relationships between the characters and between the film and the viewer.
The characters speak three different languages and different dialects within those three.
While, sure you can turn the subtitles on, you are likely to lose some information in translation – Plot Points as well as subtle information.

Now, I am no expert – so I cannot fully judge on the genuity of the dialect – but I like how The VVitch uses historical language.
By doing so it does something similar. Though English is my second language, I like to consider myself a ver fluent speaker and great listener. I understand and can immitate some dialects and I’ve never had issues understanding a film … Yet I struggled with the old New England dialect.
That adds to the films mysthique. There’s no way to gather all the information, first time watching.

The VVitch – Magic or Madness?

As with The Lighthouse Eggers plays beautifully with the idea of madness and adds a magical, fantastical element to it.
With The VVitch, one could think, that the resolution is fairly obvious: There lies true magic within the woods. Thomasin, the eldest has been corrupted, taken, turnt into the title-giving witch.
I feel like, things are never that simple, though. Maybe that’s my brain, making things way more convelluded, than they actually are but … Isn’t that the point? To confuse, to engage, to make the viewer go through something, even if it’s the madness the characters face themselves. Imaging being in such a situation as to not know, what is true and what is wrong anymore. Imagin being caught between your convictions and your family. What if there’s no one left to trust, nowhere left to go? That’s scary, isn’t it.

The VVitch takes a lot of its inspiration from actual, historical events, mainly the Salem Witch Trials.
There are many discussions as to what may have caused such a mass panic, what led to the execution of that many people … And theories vary. It is quite unlikely, though that any of it had to do with actual witchcraft.
It might have had something to do with halucinations, though. Infestations among crops were common. Mainly bugs and funghi. One of those funghi may have caused said hallucinations … There is a shot in the movie that highlights that in particular.
So? Did the puritan family just suffer from an illness caused by parasites? Or – because that’s the beauty of movies: Improbabilities and Impossibilities don’t matter – did they really get caught up in something … more inexplicable?

Either way: What stays is fear and horror. Both scenarios seem horrifiying to me: Turning on my loved ones, helpless, not knowing, what’s happening or completely surrendering myself to a force unbenonst.
And thats the beauty of Eggers’ two-sided horror. No matter how you pick and chose to read the film: You’re gonna go home with a creeping suspicion that won’t let you escape its grip so quickly …

As always …

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… Or check out some of the following posts:

Thoughts on The Lighthouse
Post of the Month: January 2020
Thoughts on Parasite


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