Thursday, September 13, 2012

Häxan (1922)




There's a sadness coming over me when I watch Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages), a sadness that a movie that wants to celebrate enlightenment and fight superstition and stupidity still is more relevant than ever. Now, in 2012, stupidity is on the same level as when poor women got burned alive for being witches, we're just not burning people on the same scale anymore. Our, the "modern" society have other methods to take care of minorities.

What is Häxan? Häxan is a documentary-drama that goes from the dark ages up to our time, which here means the early twenties. Christensen first examine old art, mostly engravings, who tells the story about those who was accused for dealing with the devil, being witches and the perverted idiots accusing them. In the end our hero, the director, makes direct comparisons with today and what might have caused people to think that innocent women was possessed by the devil. That's it and it's friggin' brilliant.

Häxan is such a strong movie in every possible way, from the graphic visuals - everything from babies being sacrificed, lots of different demons and devils, witches and wonderful, dark (everything was shot in darkness, with no sunlight at all - except the obvious scene with the airplane of course) cinematography. This is gothic horror: churches and cathedrals, shadows and fire. It has both a decadent and amusingly twisted atmosphere, not necessary negative in the portrayal of the occult, almost an admiringly view at the outsiders. At first Christensen seems to tell us how fantastic the twenties is, but then tells us how it actually differs very little from what we've just seen. There's always witches, no matter society or culture. What matters now is how much money they have.

Häxan is both - I would like to say atheistic, but it's not - a deeply critical deconstruction of the church and the clergy who used it power to control and destroy those opposing their view, but the movie stands firmly behind the poor people, those who can't defend themselves with money or fancy relatives. Sure, there's some stuff that feels less impressive, like the description of hysterical women with nervous problems - but I'm pretty sure Christensen would accept today's view on the matter. He just lived in a society where this was the latest, the best and the freshest take on the complexity of the human mind.

If Häxan had been made not it would have been even scarier. Today we have religious nuts running for president in the US, we have religions killing millions of peoples in war, there's an increasing level of racism and homophobia and science is treated like shit. Häxan is a worrying example of how times hasn't changed at all, except being a twisted and nasty horror movie.

This is obviously one of the best movies ever made and it's still a movie that shocks and disturbs the viewer, not only because of it's graphic nature and mocking of religions, but also because it's closer to our time than we ever thought.a 

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"a sadness that a movie that wants to celebrate enlightenment and fight superstition and stupidity still is more relevant than ever."

You might be right about that, never thought about it....even sadder is the fact that most people haven´t seen it....even though SVT have showed it a couple of times.



"Häxan is such a strong movie in every possible way, from the graphic visuals"


Thats what I remember strongly from this film, especially the flight to Blåkulla.



"This is obviously one of the best movies ever made and it's still a movie that shocks and disturbs the viewer, not only because of it's graphic nature and mocking of religions, but also because it's closer to our time than we ever thought."

Witchunts well never go out of fashion....unfortunatley.

Great review ninja....glad you posted this film.

I think most people should watch at least one silentfilm in their lives....it should be this one.

Megatron

Gekko P. said...

Shame on me, I never heard about it. Looks really interesting, I'll go find it right about now. Thanks for the review, Ninja.

Antaeus Feldspar said...

Actually, I think you might want to read Steven Pinker's book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." He puts together a very persuasive case that racism and homophobia have been steadily decreasing, but we perceive it as becoming worse and worse because our standards have been raised so high. It's definitely a thought-provoking read.

Ninja Dixon said...

thank you, I will try to read it :)