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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The Crucible: Air of Hysteria and Paranoia The Crucible (1996) is a drama-film adaptation directed by Nicholas Hytner. The cast of the movie involves a myriad of performers such as Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder. Derived from the play by American playwright Arthur Miller, many plots and concepts from the film are identical to the original work. The Crucible is based on true stories about the witch trials held in Salem, Massachusetts. During this time period, witchcraft was socially unacceptable and many who believed or thought to have practiced it would be punished by execution.
The movie opens up in the year of 1692 in Salem, a community heavily committed to religion. The opening scene shows a seemingly harmless event – a group of unnamed adolescent girls are secretly gathered around a boiling pot over by a young Barbadian woman Tituba, who conjures voodoo-like love spells on young men of the village. When local minister Reverend Parris discovers the group’s ceremony, particularly Abigail Williams who is caught red handed smeared in blood, two of the girls subsequently fall into a coma and witchcraft is immediately suspected.
In order to save themselves from any consequences, Abigail and the girls blame their past behaviors on the devil and claim to be bewitched by the townspeople of Salem which causes further commotion. Drawn into the process are John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth. However, Abigail, who has been blinded by her love for John Proctor, decides this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of his wife. After a series of trials and testimonies, it is clearly evident that The Crucible revolves around a central theme – the idea of justice can easily be taken advantage of with the power of controlling fear,
Although Arthur Miller’s play is thematically rich, the movie form would not have been as interesting if not for the actors and actresses who accurately represented the characters as members of the community who were widely affected by guilt, paranoia, and betrayal. Despite all this, the performers showed realistic acts. Thus, the movie was successfully able to re-interpret this classic work in motion picture form. The authentic human interaction, emotion, and drama were integral factors that truly made this film a successful adaptation.
Daniel Day Lewis’ role as John Proctor, an industrious farmer, takes on the role of the classic tragic hero explain why his role was realistic On the other hand, Karron Graves as Mary Warren, who is Proctor’s servant, strongly depicted her emotionally disruptive behavior by the morality of her false testimony. These were two of the many scenes where stellar acting allowed viewers to truly experience what life could have been like in Salem. While there were heroes and villains in this movie, at no moment were these two concepts black and white – there was a grey area in between.
For instance, Abigail clearly had bad intentions, accusing multiple townspeople to escape accusations. However, her actions were not out of malice, but rather the obsessive love for John Proctor – this is apparent as one of the accused was Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth. John Proctor, on the other hand, is portrayed as an uptight yet noble character in the film, making him a character with good intentions. In some way, he can be perceived as the protagonist of the story. However, he contradicts this notion by having committed adultery with Abigail in the past.
Eventually, his own reckless actions lead to his own demise. His intentions are only good to a certain point of the story, and his character flaws easily distinguish him as a human being. This further reminds us that not everyone is perfect, and emotion as well as obsessive behavior can change situations drastically. A lot of the characters with power in the film seem to represent many characteristics of modern day leaders. Many of the higher power in Salem were easily corrupted by greed and authority. Judicial court members of Salem constantly made blind decisions without much thought.
Because witchcraft involves the “witch” and the participant, then the only reliable witness to trust would be the victim, due to the fact that the witch would most likely not want to give him or herself up to the public. However, this kind of thinking leads to people who choose to follow their leaders without reasoning. What could have triggered the idea that witchcraft deserved execution? If someone claims to have been affected by witchcraft, the accused would not have much evidence to support his or her innocence.
Furthermore, when widespread hysteria spreads and a lot of people are struck by fear, this clearly leads to irrational thinking. On the contrary, this explains why Abigail was able to fool the majority and easily gain a following during the ruckus. . Could people who actually knew witchcraft did nothing use this to their advantage, similar to the intentions of Abigail Williams? It also stresses the importance of the relation between the church and state and how both should remain independent from each other. Upon reading the play and then viewing the film, there were a few deviations between the two that could easily be identified.
There were many scenes throughout the movie that showed the characters’ relationships with each other in more detail. For instance, in one of the scenes with Abigail and John, it was fairly obvious that both were involved in an adulterous affair prior to the trials without any prior context. One must remember that this film is still a fictionalized event, and it should not be taken as historical proof despite it following the play fairly accurately. The movie contains characters and evetns from history, but some of the events were fictionalized to increase the dramatic effects.
Instead, viewers should keep in mind that this film was used to emulate the Salem Witch Trials which occurred during the 1600’s. Although the dialogue in the movie was phenomenal, there was a lack of emphasis on cinematography, which seemed average at best. In addition to the cinematography, there were moments where the film was more theatrical than realistic. For instance, the beginning scene where the rituals take place shows detailed symbols drawn on the ground and Tituba chanting a perfectly recorded song which sounds like a chant.
However, faulty technicalities should not hinder anyone from giving this film a chance. The Salem Witch Trials to this day is still an event in history many are curious about. Due to the fact that many innocent people lost their lives due to widespread hysteria. However, was paranoia really the case, or could ill-intentions as displayed by Abigail Williams have been the reason why the trials made it seem like justice is a concept that can be worked around to the point where witchcraft meant execution?
It is an examination of society that through fear gives unquestioned authority to a select few defenders, leading the public being ruled by fear over reason. Such actions will remain forever as disturbing. When not one or two but an entire town of people are willing to crucify a human being, it shows how far people are willing to do anything under the name of God, deluding themselves into a train of thought contrary to their God’s true will.
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It was not dancing in the forest and performing spells that invited the devil, but rather the mindless fear and eagerness to set blame which eventually leads to execution of the guilty. Nicholas Hytner’s allows viewers to get a brief outlook of what life was like in Salem and explaining why these trials happened the way it did. The film is not only a powerful revival of the classic play as a remarkable adaptation, but also a thought provoking production. The movie successfully displayed the raw emotions of characters in depth, making the story telling of the Salem Witch Trials more effective.
Author: Eva Dockery
The Crucible Film
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