To get you in the mood for Reformation Day…

… you know, Halloween’s equally scary conjoined twin; I thought I’d give you a movie recommendation that, at the very least, will leave you creeped out and emotional as all hell.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only high schooler forced to endure an in-class reading of Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, The Crucible – complete with its weird Puritan-speak, and a plot that makes you just want to get to the hangings already. But then, in 1996, Miller himself adapted the play for film and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Previously Produced Material. But of course, the movie didn’t come out in time to show in our literature class – effectively leaving us in the dark as to what the hell we just read.

I’m featuring someone’s homemade trailer due to the fact I couldn’t embed the official trailer (which you can watch here). Please ignore the sluggish intro and even more sluggish end credits!

The aforementioned film starring Paul Scofield, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Winona Ryder could have just as easily been titled Puritans Gone Wild, or When Calvinists Attack with its portrayal of the 1692 hysteria that gripped Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials. In terms of the historical accuracy of Miller’s play, Wikipedia states this:

In creating a work for the stage, Miller made no attempt to represent the real, historical people on whom his characters are based: he developed them to meet the needs of the play. The surviving records offer little evidence about their personalities on which a playwright might draw. Miller fused several people into one character: for example, the judges “Hathorne” and “Danforth” are representative of several judges in the case and the number of young girls involved was similarly reduced. Abigail’s age was increased from 11 to 17 to allow a relationship with Proctor, for which there is no historical evidence. However, most of the historical roles are accurately represented, and the judicial sentences pronounced on the characters are mostly the same as those given to their real-life counterparts.

The action of the play takes place seventy years after the community arrived as settlers from Britain. The people on whom the characters are based would have retained strong regional dialects from their home country. Miller gave all his characters the same colloquialisms, such as “Goody” for good wife, and drew on the rhythms and speech patterns of the King James Bible to achieve the effect of historical perspective he wanted.

Now, while I don’t typically view movies for their historical accuracy, I do believe that movies based on or inspired by real events are often the stuff of great entertainment. And I believe that is the case with The Crucible. Whatever liberties Miller took – he took them to the ultimate success of telling this disturbing story of what actually happened (19 people hanged, one pressed to death), and what may have happened (betrayal and corruption within the personal, political, and religious power structures of that time). The film does what the play could not by brilliantly using cinematography, though not excessively, to bring the viewer into what must have become a paranoid, spooked mindset (the creepiness factor) pervading the general consciousness of the people as accusations flew. Through each twisty revelation in the movie, the underlying issues and motivating factors for the accusations gradually become clear as the initial specter of witchcraft and the occult give way to greed and corruption.

My favorite part of this movie is definitely Daniel Day-Lewis in his role as John Proctor. I think he has to be one of the most underrated, talented actors in Hollywood for his ability to absolutely become the character that he is playing. Seriously, if you’re not a Daniel Day-Lewis fan – become one now, I bid you! But the whole cast does a very good job in this film – most notably Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder, Bruce Davison, and Rob Campbell.

So if you’re in the mood for a good Reformation Day/ Halloween movie that won’t have you hiding behind the couch, but more likely glancing sideways at you Presbyterian neighbors (just kidding, Mom), go rent The Crucible and enjoy!