The Crucible Movie Review Essays

Film Review of The Crucible

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Film Review of The Crucible

The Crucible: A Film Review

Who'd have thought that simple dancing could cause so much chaos in a
small town. This is precisely what happens in the film The Crucible (Nicholas
Hytner, 1996), which was originally written as a play by Arthur Miller. This story
is based on actual events, which helps in showing the accuracy of the events. The
story takes place in Salem in 1692, during the Salem witch trials. The story starts
when a group of young girls, particularly one named Abigail, are caught dancing
around a fire in the woods by the town preacher, Samuel Parris. In an effort to
avoid getting in trouble, the girls begin to make accusations against the townspeople, saying that these people are witches who forced them to dance. As the hysteria grows in Salem, people begin to question their own neighbors, simply out of spite and vengeance, among other things. The Crucible is certainly historically accurate in it's portrayal of the townspeople's beliefs and attitudes. It is a film that should be seen to view the way people were in the seventeenth century.

Fear was probably the biggest reason for all of the happenings. Fear
is what got the girls started on their accusations, as they were afraid to get in
trouble. They knew that if they were thought to be conjuring spirits, they would
be hung. The townspeople were also afraid, especially of those who were different. They felt that they must be rid of anyone who disagreed with their beliefs. Just look at how the Puritans treated the Indians. They feared the Native Americans because their beliefs were different than their own. Also, the main reason that people were accused in the first place, is because when Tituba was being questioned, they were asking if she saw Sara Good and Sara Osborne with the Devil. Of course she said yes, they were threatening to kill her. Another example of fear in the village, is the fear of accepting your own actions and taking responsibility. The Puritans believed in predestination, and if the girls were dancing just to dance, and not because the Devil took them from their path to God, the townspeople would then have to take the responsibility for that, as it would be thier fault for letting these girls go astray. They were also afraid of change. Change in their beliefs would shut down the entire town, because it was built mainly on their ideology.

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For the Puritans, their beliefs were what brought them to America, and if they didn't have their beliefs, what would they have had?

The town of Salem was a Puritan town, and they had very strict beliefs.
There were certain things, such as dancing, that just weren't done, as they were
seen to be related to the Devil. When things such as dancing occured, the incident
was seen in direct relation to dealings with the Devil. "Someone called the Devil
in that forest!" This was the immediate reaction made by reverend Hale, who was
called to the village to examine the accused and afflicted. It is no wonder that
these girls started to make accusations against others, as they were afraid to be
accused of witchcraft themselves. Two of the girls were so frightened, that they
pretended to be in an unwakeable sleep. The belief in the Devil shown in this film shows the historical accuracy. This is true because such strong beliefs in evil and the Devil were certainly recorded, such as the belief that because the Native Americans were not Christian, they must be evil.

Another strong and influential feeling, was the feeling of judgement. Judgement by God, as well as by others. It is a well known fact that the Puritans judged their lives by how faithful they were to God, and by how pure they were. This is also shown in The Crucible. For example, Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor, who had an affair with Abigail, says to him, "The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you." In this quote, she is referring to the affair, and how he can not forgive himself for his own sins. Another judgement made is on Tituba, a black slave of Rev. Parris' from Barbados. She was present in the woods when the dancing occurred, and because she was from what was thought to be an "uncivilized" country, they assumed she was the ring leader of the whole thing. To get her to confess, the men told her that God has sent her to cleanse the village of Satan. And she does confess to witchcraft, because if she doesn't, she will be hung. People in the village started to judge their neighbors, because they were frightened. Because of this, more and more people were accused.

Prejudice is also a feeling that was considerably influential in the seventeenth century. The Indians were persecuted against because they were different, and because their practices weren't understood by the Puritans. In the instance of The Crucible, anyone who disagreed or was different was accused. Such as Rebecca Nurse, who up until the trials was considered the most holy woman in town. But when she showed obvious doubts in the trials, she too was accused of being a witch. The fact that Tituba was considered the to be the ringleader of the dancing is also prejudiced. They believed that because she was from a strange land, she must have been persuading the girls to do the Devil's work.

The theology of the Puritans was also a factor in the actions of the people.
To the Puritans, every action had to do with God. In order to be one of God's chosen few, one must always have God in their heart, and never do anything evil. When the girls danced, they realized that they would be severely punished for doing something deemed "evil", so they did whatever it was that they could to avoid this. In fact, the whole trial was based on the theology of the Puritans. For example, Hale says that, "Theology is a fortress. No crack in a fortress may be accounted small." This shows that they felt that any matter that opposed their theology must be quickly taken care of to avoid change in the belief system. Change would mean that they were wrong in their thinking, and they were not ready to accept this.

Although people in this day in age feel that the Salem witch trials never
should have happened, the Puritans felt as though they had good reason to hold
them. This is easily shown in the film The Crucible. Their actions were a result
of their strong fear, prejudice, ideology, judgments, and the belief in evil and the
Devil. This film is historically accurate in portraying these feelings, as we can
look back in history and see parallels relating to these feelings.

The Salem witch trials have to a large degree, entered the Heritage Tourism arena, put down by many laypeople as a quirk of the past, thought of as a bizarre historical aberration that resulted in the hanging of 19 innocent people in a little Massachusetts town in 1692. What Arthur Miller did in the early 1950s with his play was to relentlessly pick away at the story in an attempt to get to its heart.

The facts, are simple, if astonishing. In the puritanical, superstitious world of 17th century America, several young girls, started behaving strangely, with some falling into unconsciousness. Baffled, the physicians concluded that Satan was to blame and the hunt for the witches who had possessed the girls began. Soon, the West Indian slave of the village pastor was forced into a confession, and suddenly petty jealousies erupted, vendettas were settled, and anyone whose behaviour didn't conform to the social and religious norm was accused.

Their defence? They had none. The only way to avoid the noose was to confess to being a witch and face utter estrangement, which many heroically refused to do. After nine months of terror, the trials were called to a halt and a kind of sanity returned.

Miller, who admits that the McCarthy witchhunts were the inspiration for his play, took the tough route in an age of black-and-white heroes and villains, and refused to simplify his characters. John Proctor (Day-Lewis), for instance, is the voice of reason in the village, but here is a central character who adulterates, beats women, and refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Likewise, Scofield's Judge Danforth, an individual more interested in the majesty of the law than in seeing justice done, is often seen as a misguided man of God, attempting to do what he feels is best.

After his success with The Madness Of King George, Hytner directs the stellar cast with great skill, and they do him proud, particularly Day-Lewis as the passionate but confused Proctor, Ryder as the scheming accuser Abigail and Joan Allen as the injured and upright Elizabeth Proctor. The absolute standout, though, is Scofield, whose performance is, yes really, worth the admission price alone, a mesmerising, dark presence throughout the film.

If there is a criticism it is that by opening the play out into a movie, all the original sense of buttoned-down claustrophobia is lost. What happened in Salem was a combination of selfishness, hysteria and pig ignorance, but at its core were a group of young women sent almost literally insane by the repressed piety of the Puritan community which denied them any pleasures, including simply dancing. In the play, this comes over loud and clear.

In this almost perfect screen adaptation, the lingering question is the most important one: what caused such madness?


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