Christian Piety versus Evil in Robert Eggers’s The Witch

imageLast October was the one hundred anniversary of Arthur Miller’s (an American playwrite) birth. Accompanying this anniversary are several works, two of which highlight the witchcraft era. One of his most famous works, The Crucible, uses historical records to recreate the Salem Witch Trials. Within the next week, the theatrical production of The Crucible will appear on Broadway (directed by Ivo van Hove). Additionally, as a forerunner to the upcoming Broadway production, Robert Eggers’s debut film, The Witch premiered last week. It is set in seventeenth century New England, a few decades preceding the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The Witch is not classic horror, but it has enough horrific scenes to make one uncomfortable. A Sundance favorite, Eggers won best director for this dramatic feature.  It is the story of a devout Christian family banished from their puritanical community for actions that are theologically based, but are not specified. The family then moves far away from their community and from anyone (lack of fellowship with other Christians is a death knell). They settle into a daunting lifestyle away from others as the husband struggles both to provide food for his family and spiritual guidance. Unexpected and strange events start to occur without any explanation other than witchcraft. The eldest daughter, Thomasin (superbly played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is suspected of engaging in witchcraft that has caused one child to disappear, and another child, Caleb  (incidentally Caleb in the Bible wholly followed God- Joshua 14: 14), to become demon possessed. All the while, the family recites biblical scriptures to ward off the evil within them. Although Thomasin may not have started out engaging in witchcraft, she somehow becomes entangled and ensnared by its trappings. This feature film mostly uses actual historical records of conversation and events to form both the film’s dialogue and events from that era. The film is a bit creepy, but Eggers shields the audience from many of the horrific actions.

The film juxtaposes man’s desire for piety with his sinful nature. How does one become devout? What does one have to do to put his sinful nature under subjection? Does devotion come after turning from sins or turning to God first? In The Witch, the family spends time praying and reciting scriptures, but their actions seem powerless to stop Satan or any unexplained phenomena from wreaking havoc on their family and enticing the elder daughter to become a member of Satan’s kingdom. Under normal Christian circumstances, sincere prayer or communion with God wards off evil. A Christian need not fear Satan. Satan may try to strike Christians, but the Bible says no weapon formed against believers will prosper (Isaiah 54:17). The Bible never says that the weapon would not be formed.

The Witch highlights the most salient symbols of original sin, the apple (in the Bible, the apple is not mentioned as the fruit eaten) and man’s nakedness to underscore his depravity. Thomasin, in the end, seems to have bought into the notion that she can have everything if she turns her life toward Satan. She welcomes this life after she has lost everything that she once held dear. That is the greatest tragedy of this film

                                                Biblical Analysis

The Bible says that we are not to love the world and the things therein ( 1 John 2:15). In order to not be enticed by the world, one must turn to God in prayer and must meditate on God’s word day and night. One must take captive every thought unto the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must think on those things that are lovely, pure, and are of good report (Phillipians 4:8). Lastly, we must put on the full armor of God which includes: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the buckle of truth, the sword of the spirit, and have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel ( Ephesians 6:10-18). If we do these things, we will have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and we will not have to fear satanic attacks. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Witch is a great feature that highlights the Puritan witchcraft  era of the seventeenth century. Using historical accuracy and folklore, this film captures the essence of the era’s mass hysteria. It provides much food for thought. Unfortunately today, people are engaging in witchcraft; however, do not fear because we who are born of God, have overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It’s now playing at BAM and other local theaters.

For further reflection: Read Ephesians 6; Romans 10: 9-13

Let’s be fishers of men!