Sunday Night Cinema: The Witch

Sunday, February 21, 2016

By the time I was sitting in theaters to see The Witch, I was already beyond hyped to see it.

I'd first seen the trailer back in December, and had been waiting eagerly for it to open in wide release since then. Two months is a long time to build up anticipation for a movie, and this one certainly looked worth it.

But even though I desperately wanted to love The Witch, in the end, I couldn't.

A synopsis, for the uninitiated: set in 1600s New England, The Witch is a story of a Puritan family tormented by the forces of evil. It's an inspired idea: set a movie about witches in a historical time that was obsessed with them. Who hasn't heard of the Salem Witch Trials?

That much, at least, the film gets right. The setting of the movie- a remote homestead at the edge of a dark forest- perfectly captures the eerie feeling that comes with being far from civilization. The props and set had a real, timeworn feel to them.

Even more than the setting, I loved the dialogue. The screenplay isn't afraid to use archaic language; the characters use "thee" and "thou" as easily as you and I use, well, "you" and "I".

The story starts with the family banished by their fellow Puritans from the community. The father, William (Ralph Ineson), interprets the Bible differently than they do, and rather than back down, he accepts the punishment and takes his family with him into the wilderness.

Once they have arrived and set up their home, things begin to deteriorate: the crops are blighted; a child disappears; family relationships become tenser. It's a pretty effective psychodrama. 

And yet.

Here I've reached the part of the review where I can't go any further without discussing spoilers, so if that's something you dislike, then begone! Begone with ye!

For me, once the witch was revealed to be real, I was disappointed. For one thing, it happened far too early in the movie; I think that the religious struggles that the family was dealing with would have been better magnified if the reality of the witch was left ambiguous for much longer. Because this family is actually being tormented by a sect of witches, you end up being sympathetic to them; however, in real life, they were the tormentors and the oppressors whose ideology caused suffering and ended lives.

Calvinism is a brutal theology; I don't have any sympathy for it. I was raised in an environment surrounded by evangelical Christianity, and that has left its own scars on me. This probably affected my feelings towards the way religion was depicted in the movie. I deeply appreciated that the movie made clear just how important religion was in Puritan life. I loved that this wasn't glossed over. But the actual vile implications of the theology- the actual horror- weren't played with as effectively as the setting and the mood, though I will say that this movie addresses Christian religious fanaticism much better than most.

The family deals with their attacks by the witches in various ways: William is slowly revealed throughout the movie to be a hypocrite; Katherine (Kate Dickie) deals by slowly losing her religion (I want to wander off track for a minute and say that her scene of confessing that she's losing her faith was powerfully executed); Caleb's puberty makes him slowly begin to question everything he knows, and Thomasin...

Ah. Here we get to the other reason why I couldn't love the movie.

I really wanted to like the character of Thomasin. She was superbly played by Anya Taylor-Joy and I liked how the movie showed us the family's treatment of Thomasin as someone who is made to do all the extra labor with very little thanks. She is certainly unfairly treated in the beginning of the movie.

However, I feel like it didn't go quite far enough.

At the end of the movie, the entire family is dead except for Thomasin. She ends up signing the devil's book and joining the coven of witches that killed her family. However, this doesn't make a lot of sense within the context of her character's development. She's barely a teenager in the movie, and the movie makes a point of showing that she's going through puberty. Yes, she's not treated that great by her family, certainly not by modern standards. And since she's left alone by the end of the movie, it's clear to see why she might feel hopeless. But why the hell would she want to join a group of people that just tortured and killed her family?

This is where The Witch misses. The movie had a great opportunity to more fully examine the idea of "the witch" from the perspective of an outsider. Witches have historically been people who were easy to persecute: the mentally ill, the different, and women who didn't submit properly to patriarchy (among others). And here you have a girl, going through puberty (adding the element of exploring how female sexuality is treated) in a theology that is brutal to women who want to move beyond its confines. If the horror of Calvinism had been more pronounced, it could have become a fascinating exploration of what, exactly, would drive someone to embrace an outsider ideology completely opposite to what they were raised to believe. Add in the complex family dynamics and the eerie setting and you would have had an absolute dynamite of a movie.

Instead, The Witch passes an opportunity to address and subvert the idea of witches by playing it just a little too straight. I won't lie; when I remembered that the movie had been written by a man, I rolled my eyes a little. I wasn't surprised to see that a teen girl character wasn't written well by a grown man. Even if I hadn't known the writer/director was a man going in, I would've been able to guess by how her character is handled. She was never developed quite enough to where her arc made sense, and this coupled with the slightly too sympathetic treatment of Calvinism ends up hobbling the movie's potential. I feel that if Thomasin's character had been better developed and the brutal horror of Calvinism highlighted a bit better, you could have had something truly different.

Ultimately, while I loved the style (and the score!!) of the movie, and will watch it again for these things, I left the theater feeling underwhelmed. 

What I Listen To In Order To Stay Motivated

Monday, February 15, 2016

Behold my no-budget standing desk. It's literally my dresser.

Last week, I posted about how listen to music can help get me in the mood to work when I don't really feel like it, and to help me stay in the zone long enough to get a project done. So I thought I'd make you all a couple of playlists using some of the songs I listen to in order to help you stay motivated too! The pop music one is the "gearing up" playlist, and the classical music one is the "staying in the zone" playlist.

Since pretty much my entire town is shut down due to the snow, I'm planning on spending today working on research for the novel. What about you? How are you looking to spend the day?

Let me know what you think of the playlists in the comments! I hope you find these as useful as I do.♥  

P. S. This totally awesome desktop wallpaper is courtesy of Angela Scheffer of Saffron Avenue and was posted over at Lark & Linen. Go follow both of these ladies because they are awesome!

5 Tricks I Use To Keep Myself Motivated

Monday, February 8, 2016

As an ADHD-riddled person with a crippling procrastination addiction, I think I'm somewhat qualified to speak on the topic of staying motivated.

Writer friends: we've all been there. That idea that seemed so amazing, so new, so- I can't resist- novel, is now starting to feel more like some ever- present school assignment that hangs over you and spoils your spring break.

I wish I could enjoy this kegger, we think to ourselves, but I have a paper that's worth most of my grade come Monday. This makes kegstands a little less fun than they could be.

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. I don't think I've ever actually been to a kegger?

Anyway, over the years I've collected a handful of tricks that I use to try and keep myself on track whenever I'm tempted to wander off. Here, in reverse order of effectiveness, are 5 of them:

5. Read About People I Look Up To

Sometimes, when I'm feeling down or a little stuck, I find it helpful to read things about people who are living the kind of life I want to be living. This could be browsing an author's social media or blog, reading an article about a person I admire, and so on. However.

Use this one carefully, my friends. 

It's very easy to get caught up in social media and tell yourself "But I'm actually working!" This is why I try to engage with this kind of stuff when I'm not actually about to work. Instead, I save it for my downtime, like waiting at checkout or reading in bed. This helps keep me in the mindset of working for what I want.

4. Tea

Is relying on caffeine a crutch? Perhaps. But it helps me feel nice an energized in the morning, and ups my enthusiasm and focus for whatever I'm about to do. Plus, the act of preparing it is a kind of ritual that helps prime my brain for my project.

3. Playlists

Like every writer on earth these days, I also have a playlist of the novels I'm working on. If the project I'm tackling that day is my novel, I'll load up the playlist to help get me in the mood. If it's something else, then I may listen to my "Girlboss Hustling" playlist (let me know if you'd be interested in a post on this!) or a ton of early European music. IDK what the deal is with the last one; there's just something about lutes, harpsichords, and strings that makes me warm and gooey inside. It's the music I like to listen to whenever I daydream about my future, so if nothing else is working, this gives me the extra kick in the pants I need to get to work.

2. Making Work An Event To Enjoy

When I write novels, I find that it's better for me if I do the first draft longhand (I know, okay? I know). My first novel's first draft was written in a composition book with a ballpoint pen. However, for this novel, I decided to go ahead and invest in a quality journal and a fountain pen. Why?

Because using them gives me joy.

I fell in love with fountain pens the moment I used one, and using a fountain pen with paper made for it is such a lovely, tactile experience. For me, there is actual joy in gliding the ink across thick paper and watching the slants and curve of my handwriting dry. If I'm going to be working this way, I want to do it in a manner that is satisfying to my senses.

Once I extended this to other aspects of my office supplies, I was surprised to see how much my motivation to work went up. For me, it's worth it to invest in paper, calendars, journal, stationary, etc. that are beautiful and fun to use, because using them is something I look forward to. And of course, I can't use them unless I work...

I've used this principle with my desk as well. I'm currently overhauling it with contact paper and office supplies. I used to loathe working at my desk, because it was built in to the wall and truly ugly. Once I began customizing it and making it a clean, beautiful place to work, I simply couldn't wait to go sit there. Now instead of hanging out in bed, I sit at my desk more often, and enjoy working there more.

I hadn't realized until then just how much I'm influenced by my environment. I'm someone who responds to good design and beauty, so I find it worth my while to invest my money in things that help foster this kind of environment. 

And now, finally, the one tip I've found the most helpful...


This Lifehacker article on the Akrasia Effect literally changed my productivity. Specifically, there is one line that had a profound impact on me:
"Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards."
I know, it's not exactly the stunning wisdom of the ages that you were expecting, right? Kind of dry. Not really pithy.


Ever since I read that, I've repeated a modified version of that quote to myself hundreds of times. Whenever I'm tempted to lie in bed "just 5 more minutes" or click on another link, or recheck Twitter instead of doing what I need to, I repeat the following mantra to myself: 
"The human brain values immediate rewards over future plans."
What this does is enable me to take a step back and see what I'm doing. I might think that it'll be just one more article, one more tweet, but you know and I know the truth: it's never just one more. Instead of falling into that trap, this enables me to recognize that the reason I want to click that link is because of this cognitive bias. It's not inherently a bad thing! It's just one of the things of being human.

 To me, however, one of the coolest things about being a human being is that we are able to observe ourselves and evaluate whether whatever we're thinking or doing is good or bad for us. This is such a cool quality, I cannot overstate this enough. Do you know how amazingly lucky we are as a species to be able to do this? Let's use this power for good!

What about you? Do you have any tricks for staying motivated? I'd love to hear them!