Reviewed by: Rev. Bryan Griem
|Featuring:||Nicolas Cage (Behman), Ron Perlman (Felson), Christopher Lee (Cardinal D’Ambroise), more »|
|Director:||Dominic Sena—“Gone in Sixty Seconds,” “Swordfish”|
|Producer:||Atlas Entertainment, Relativity Media, more »|
“Not all souls can be saved.”
One of the difficulties in modern Christianity is answering all the objections about our historic past. The Crusades and the witch burnings of Europe (and even here in America’s 17th century Massachusetts) represent two of these, and this movie with Nicolas Cage deals with both during the brief window of time when the two issues may have been contemporaneous. Go back to medieval times, when the Black Death ravaged the known world; Christian knights were finishing combat with the Muslim presence in the Holy Land, and witch-mania was becoming all the rage throughout Europe. This is where the movie picks up.
The complaint of modern critics culminate in one moment here as the hero of the story puts a sword through the belly of an innocent woman—who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. She dies, Cage feels sick to his stomach, and the movie really kicks off as he and his bro, actor Ron Perlman, desert the army in search of nobler climes.
It’s really quite something, the few moments of Crusader warfare that is presented in various locations through myriad climates where white knights combat Moorish hoards all in the name of God and the Church. The fight scenes are as violent as we’ve seen in such movies as Braveheart, but less protracted and more to measure time as they progress through the Crusader era up to the point of the task at hand; the witches.
Sir Behman (Nicolas Cage) and friend, decide to humor the church which they had already forsaken, and wheel a condemned witch off to some exorcising monastery where the Plague can be halted if some Latin incantations may be uttered and all sorcery destroyed. Turns out, the whole thing has less to do with witchcraft and more to do with demon possession as the girl who holds the answer to the world’s problem proves to have the strength of several men, the power of darkness, and the ability to move the plot forward until she arrives at her destination, which is in the very place the men of God had put their hope. All is lost, it seems, until the knights defeat the demons, the words are incanted, and the girl is released from her oppression.
While watching this movie, I was struck by the thought that finally Cage had found a character he was suited for. He seemed knightly, but the movie itself lacked something. I don’t know what it was, perhaps the “wow” factor? It was okay, and I didn’t feel cheated paying my fare or my son’s, but it was very Hollywood and short on reality. Oh well.
When I consider the efforts of the Crusaders, those soldiers of the past who went into battle, not to hurt civilians but to preserve Christianity, I am somewhat put off by representations that make them out to be little more than villains. We Americans have tried to be the wearers of the white hat in many a military confrontation, only to have such as Lt. Calley and thousands of Amerasian children result for our muddled efforts as sinful, yet generally moral people. So the movie takes a small jab at the then church and its military, of which we all owe a familial allegiance, and then it waves the righteous banner in the end when its defenders do their sworn duty.
Objectionable might be the way in which the church is depicted; it’s illogical in its conclusions about women it deems witchcrafty, and the movie begins with the clergy hanging three of these. But there is something about the corpses that make the audience believe there is some justification in all this—though we know in reality there is not. Witchcraft seems possible, but any Christian worth their salt will soon surmise that these conjurers are not some nature-loving worshippers of pagan-deities-past that are being persecuted, but demon-possessed people who exhibit all the horrid affect of cases from the time of Christ. In pre-revolutionary America, the witch hysteria resulted in repentance from all involved, but in Europe, the Plague dictated the prevailing view, and the devil was surely at work in the day’s thinking. So much so, that all believed in Satan’s witchcrafting agents. I am uncertain if modern people would have perceived the situation any differently.
In any event, the movie provides a respite from reality, an exaltation of right, and a denouncement of evil. That’s a good thing. By the same token, it gives a skewed view of demonic influence and a rather PC view of Christianity. The witches in the movie really do seem to have some guilt, though I think most Christians would agree that the witch hysteria of Europe was probably brought about by their fear of prevailing circumstances rather than actual witchcraft. Also, the movie almost immediately alerts the adept that demonism, and not speculative superstition, rules the venue. No sooner does the viewer meet the primary witch, than they start wondering if she really isn’t more so in league with the devil.
When all is said and done, it becomes clear that witchcraft isn’t the menace here, it is definitely Satan. This is when we start reflecting on the sheer ridiculousness of it all. The Season of the Witch is not about witchcraft at all, it’s about demon possession, and perhaps here we can begin our review.
First, we have to remember that we as a church in times past were essentially united until the Reformation, so Crusader and witch history is everyone’s history. Secondly, the movie really doesn’t spend its lion share on the Crusades, the era only provides a lead-in to the time of witchhunting. The movie does have some salient moments, but if we look at it through a Christian lens, we have to say that “yes, witches are bad, but demons are worse.” Few believe that the persecuted of the time actually practiced divination or necromancy, but the movie puts it out like it’s some kind of fact. Hey folks, that’s not the Christian community, that’s Hollywood; the witches in question are not really witches at all, but some kind of people possessed. We witness the main witch saving the saviors in this movie, while at the same time deceiving them. This is true to form as Satan often acts as an “angel of light” to destroy the saints (2 Cor. 11:14).
What is weird is the idea that demons, spiritual entities (although malevolent) need humans to get to destinations or to do anything their minds conceive as necessary. We have nothing to do with them, really, so to make us their vehicles of transportation or salvation seems very, very weak to me. The movie even has these spirit entities taking physical form like giant bats to combat the heroic Crusaders, only to have themselves “killed” by chopping their heads off or by hearing Latin verses quoted from apocryphal books.
In all, the movie is a great fiction, written to spook the general public, but inadvertently to waken the Christian community to know its own colorful yesteryear. We will wonder at the amazing cinematography, but also at its worldly skew. Many swear-words will be heard, including “Hell” used as an expletive, slangs for urine and feces, “save you’re a@@,” and a synonym for perdition used to refer to the weather. The witch is referred to as such with a b, instead of w, a couple of times, and that pretty much does it for objectionable language in this movie. No “F” bombs, and not too many of the previously mentioned.
The movie does display the use of alcohol, both medicinally and recreationally. It also has one very minute, and I mean minute, moment of nudity when the woman is delivered of her possession and the audience can see from it’s skewed angle that she is probably nude on the floor in the aftermath of her exorcism. It is not lurid, nor is it really, terribly, worthy of mention, but it is there (in case anyone wonders). The violence in the movie has most to do with swordplay, but the demons also fight to the death, and there are some unsettling wolf attacks where the animals bite and presumably eat people.
The Book of Solomon is often referred to in the movie and the Christian may wonder if by this is meant the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs, but what is meant surely means the deuterocanonical (false) work, the Wisdom of Solomon. One passage reads therein, “thou hatest for doing most odious works of witchcrafts” (12:4). It’s hard to tell, because in the movie this book is especially effective only when read in Latin and when pertaining most specifically to witches or demons. I find the whole thing somewhat silly, as language hardly matters, demons couldn’t care less if your throw holy water at them, and one book or another has no words so magical as to render demons incapable. Biblically speaking, demons respond to commands in “Jesus’ name” and no other. The Bible provides no incantations and no special gymnastics to depose malevolent entities; only the powerful authority of God and that’s it.
There are some graphic depictions of the plague’s ravishing, a minor scene of tavern revelry, some allusion to past sins, and some unsettling moments where dead people seem to momentarily gain consciousness and reach, only to then fall placidly back in their place.
The movie provides some good advice for not believing everything one hears, but to obey God more assuredly. Does the Church speak for God, or is every man responsible to God independent of the ecclesiastical politic? This is a questions raised by the film, and then there is the adventure of good versus evil. Good wins, Satan is defeated, and the poor gal accused of witchcraft is delivered without nary a clue. Most of the heroes die, and there is no reason for the viewer to sit through the credits, as no extra twist or bit of film is delivered after the fact.
I might recommend this film, but not as an award winner, just as something cultural that speaks to our faith and might be of some use for outreach. I don’t find it especially offensive, and, as mentioned previously, I took my high school son to see it with me. His opinions were helpful in this review.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.