Eight Psychological Aspects in ‘The Witch’

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Released in 2015, ‘The Witch’ has won as many as 43 awards that include those for Best Horror Film and for Cinematography, and also it has had 67 nominations. All these imbue a quality that places the film in the Not-To-Miss category. The Director and Writer of this film, Robert Eggers has recreated the 16th century British Colony in Northern America, wherein he presents the protagonist William as a Puritan so deeply religious that even his fellow puritans detest him, and he and his family get exiled from the safety of the village. The happenings thereafter are bone-chilling which fashion the movie as a psychological terror. This article looks into the eight psychological aspects in ‘The Witch’.

01. Stereotype

It refers to fixed opinion about people or practices based on experience or attitude. Robert Eggers’s film ‘The Witch’ is in Jacobean English Language that both entrances and inspires curiosity in the viewers. The director created a list of phrases from the passages on Salem witch trials by Cotton Mather and Samuel Willard. He siphoned off every satanic superstition to suit the characters. He researched the diaries, wills and other documents of the era that believed witches to be as real as anything. The language seems gnarled, impassioned and sucks one into the story, creates a fantastic separation from the normal life and transports them into a different world.

02. Rationalization

It is an unconscious explanation of situations to oneself by reasoning, and justifying behavior in conformity with the existing social laws. Katherine and William believe that every setback they face in their life is a test from the Lord. We find William instructing his children more than once ‘Place thy faith in God.’ However, this only seems to imply that unchecked religiousness, rather than warding off demons or evils can only create new ones in their place.

Credit: A24

03. Prejudice

It is a judgment based on assumptions. Taylor-Joy as the grievously misunderstood Thomasin may or may not be the witch of the title. As the first-born and the one who could in all probability are blamed for Samuel’s disappearance, Thomasin becomes the family scapegoat. We find Katherine lashing out at her for her perceived negligence, in spite of the latter protesting that she has done no wrong.

04. Emotions

It involves impulses, feelings and reactions. The film focuses on the face of Thomasin both at the beginning and at the end, which are in dire contrast to each other. When the sentence is passed down upon her father by the council, we are shown her wide-eyed stare of horror. It is like that she knows exile means death for them. At the end, similarly we are left with the close up of her blood-stained face. Instead of horror, her eyes reveal wonder and confidence.

Credit: A24

05. Attitude

It is a mental state that influences the individuals response to situations. Pride seems to be yet another central theme of the film. Here it is the love of self over everyone else. Each member of the family descends into their own little world, and becomes mistrusting of the motives of others. Thomasin, though innocent to a certain degree, is selfish nonetheless for we see her joy at the end, most probably on realizing her dream come true.

06. Thinking

It is often an implicit and hidden behavior, often involving images, ideas and concepts. The presence of the goat, Black Philip, is but one of the many tropes used by Eggers to imply the presence of some inexplicable evil that is at work. The towering hemlock tree-lined forest makes the viewer recoil in horror at the thought of who or what could it shelter. The witch of the woods takes a hare form with menacing overtones. A brown hare amidst the docile goats that Thomasin milks every day indicates the bad thing that is to happen to the livestock and the farm in general.

Credit: A24

07. Aggression

It is caused by frustration, and may be expressed in the form of anger or verbal attacks. Thomasin becomes infuriated at her agitating little sister, Mercy. She flashes her eyes with rage as she pretends to be the wicked witch of the forest. Thereafter, Mercy is consistently shown to be spiteful and childishly cruel. She falsely accuses Thomasin of being a witch.

08. Paranoia

It is characterized by delusions, unwarranted jealousy or exaggerated self importance. In the ‘The Witch’ it takes time to build tensions, allowing the disintegration of the family to be all the more real. We find religious beliefs clashing with evil forces. Faith is seen warped in paranoia. We hear about the ‘prideful conceit’ of William at the start when he is banished from the community. His pride as the patriarch of the family gets wounded and challenged. The small jabs at his ego cause him to snap at the last provocation and he locks up his remaining children sealing the fate of his family.

Credit: A24

In conclusion, ‘The Witch’ is more about a family torn by paranoia and superstition than by witchcraft. The scenes where the parents turn violent on their own children are as disturbing as the happenings in the wood. It can be vouched without doubt that with fear, pride, prejudice and paranoia we can create our own demons.

Manimala Balaraman


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