Anya Taylor-Joy is having a major career moment this month with “The Queen’s Gambit” streaming on Netflix, “Emma” making its HBO Max debut, and George Miller selecting her to play Furiosa in his “Mad Max: Fury Road” prequel film. The 24-year-old actress has come a long way since breaking out five years ago in the Sundance sensation “The Witch,” a new horror classic that gets renewed interest every Halloween. “The Witch” distributor A24 marked Halloween 2020 by sitting down real-life witches Peg Aloi and Pam Grossman to discuss the Robert Eggers-directed horror favorite.
Aloi is a member of “the Alexandrian coven that began in 1960s Boston” and has “designed and led rituals for hundreds of people,” while Grossman “identifies as Pagan” and recently consulted on the script for Zoe Lister-Jones’ “The Craft: Legacy.” Gross also “wrote a book and hosts a podcast about the modern witchcraft movement.” What do these witches think of “The Witch?” They are big fans, especially of Eggers’ unforgettable ending in which Taylor-Joy’s protagonist Thomasin leaves her family to join a coven of witches.
“Some people read the end as tragic: This poor girl is doomed, so she gives in to the dark side. But I see the ending as liberating,” Grossman said. “In the last image, she’s cruciform, so it feels like her own death and resurrection. She is radiant and sanguine and free. She has transcended the confines of a brutal, oppressive life. That last shot is also very Goya, though in his painting ‘Witches’ Flight,’ it is men. I kind of feel like Eggers reclaims that image for women. The finale is exhilarating.”
Aloi added, “The devil doesn’t come to her unbidden; she conjures him. And in the woods, she finds empowerment and communion. It certainly evokes modern portrayals of covens. In ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ they’re naked and chanting. In ‘The Wicker Man,’ the pagan women are naked, dancing, and jumping over the fire. It’s not unlike some pagan festivals or witch coven circles I’ve been a part of myself.”
The only change to the ending Grossman would make is to change the number of witches seen in the coven to 13. As the real-life witch noted, “That’s the traditional number for a coven. That’s why so many people find the number 13 to be unlucky — even scary.”
Another strong component of “The Witch” for Grossman and Aloi is how Eggers ties Thomasin’s burgeoning sexuality to her supernatural awakening.
“Having the protagonist be a young woman on the cusp of sexuality weaves in the association of women with diabolism, which we most famously see in the Bible with the story of Eve,” Grossman said. “An adolescent girl’s ‘magic’ is really her newfound sexual power — an unruly force that she has to learn to control, lest it bring ruin upon her and those around her. It’s a central tenet of Puritanism, and it’s why Katherine sees Thomasin as an agent of the devil.”
“The fact that Kate and William want to farm out Thomasin, to go work for another family as a servant, reminded me that nearly all the young women accused of witchcraft at Salem — some of whom later became accusers — were indentured servants,” Aloi added, “They were of childbearing age but had no marriage prospects, which made things sexually tense, which sometimes resulted in accusations of witchcraft. The dangerous power that’s unleashed by burgeoning female sexuality shows up again and again in cinema. Just think of ‘Carrie.’”
Head over to A24’s website to read the full conversation between Grossman and Aloi.
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