I’m skipping ahead with the story because, for me, it really picks up when they reach the witch’s house. This is a basic Hansel & Gretel story, but Gretel takes first billing. She’s older, the leader of their small expedition in the forest after their mom straight up loses it/makes them leave during a time of food scarcity. They come across the smell of cake, which they follow to the cannibal witch’s house. Alice Krige is dazzlingly frightening as the witch and steals the show in every scene she’s in. This is a witch who made choices: starve or eat, her children or her own power-these two choices feed into each other because when she let go of her attachments and gave herself to the darkness, she had plenty to eat from the mutilated bodies of her children. Then she lured more children to continue her abundance. When you make deals with darkness, you always lose and with that deal comes a terrible price that someone always pays; Gretel eventually burned the witch for trying to kill her brother.
The witch’s powers that we see are that she can shapeshift through liquid/transfigure body parts into food with her true form being a young/beautiful sylph, and multiple witch-associated symbols from all cultures on her body (unsure of that meaning). It could be that she is of all the magic in the world or they just didn’t want to leave anyone out. The magic they deal in is quite dark, just like with what happened to her own daughter (to save her from illness, they made a deal with “the darkness”)-no wonder she was cool with throwing Hansel into the forest; she did the same with her own daughter. Lovely woman. Hey, mom, want darkness powers? Cool, trust the dark and kill your remaining children, mmkay?
A Starving Time
The food is described as “only heaven”, which is an interesting choice of words considering what that food is made of: death, souls offered to feed the witch’s hunger for plenty.
Hansel saying Gretel’s words back to her: “there are no gifts in this world; that nothing is given without something taken away”, is unfortunately true but even truer in this grim world. What does the witch get out of teaching Gretel anyway? (The obvious answer is the brother to eat, probably-abandon him! Then we’ll feast.) Children as burdens on parents/siblings is a perspective not often shown in movies with their gaping mouths as a burden on the hungry. It’s pretty monstrous to just be eating the kids; witches tend to exist on the fringes, but this is a very negative view of them. The movie also implies adults neither care or notice that the children are gone. If anything, they are probably happy not to have the extra mouth to feed. Gave me The-VVitch-Black-Phillip: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” vibes; indeed. It isn’t a perspective I agree with but then again, I’ve never lived through extreme poverty that could turn you against your own child. It really makes one think about the socioeconomic factors that go into such a hatred.
The View of Witchcraft
There’s also a really low view of marriage as being a ball and chain, responsibilities to others as something to be cast off; witchcraft is freedom-in this, it seems like one becomes a servant to the darkness of what you’re doing instead of a man. In general, men are viewed negatively, which is fair if you’re a witch. Men suck when they’re afraid or confronted with things they don’t understand; they go very quickly from being freaked out to murdering people. Witchcraft is also often seen as a monstrous thing and it’s not like there are no dark witches, but it left me feeling uncomfortable with how it painted them somehow though it was probably meant as “not all witches, just this one witch”. Witches unfortunately seem to get the short end of the stick, being painted as ugly and evil in most fairy tales and/or stories.
I think it’s strange how witchcraft in this movie encourages Gretel to abandon her small brother who is nowhere near teenage years to pursue her own path; he’s a kid and the world is pretty harsh. Sure, he isn’t her child and shouldn’t be her burden, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hers for the time being. Who else does he have? Kids can’t fend for themselves and this movie suggesting that seems very strange. As if hatred of children and their need to be fed = justification for leaving them to their own devices. This would make way more sense if he were older but as it is, this feels like a story about what it’s like to be selfish.
(Yes Gretel, eat poison! Always a good idea. Also same conversation: “he [her brother] is all I have in the world” and the witch threatening to turn her tongue into a flower because of how pretty/dumb/temporary Gretel has chosen to be; she can’t let him go because Hansel is her poison-let’s make him delicious instead! Her logic is terrifying.)
Ultimately, Gretel chooses her own path and doesn’t eat her brother, kills the witch by using her powers to choke her via broom-thing as she hangs over a blue-fire oven. It comes down to another choice: feed the darkness or give it light? (Side note: that bitch ate A LOT of kids and naturally, due to the gruesome nature of their death and possibly the reuse of their bodies, they were trapped. Her fingers turn black, too so it’s not a comment on darkness but magic.)
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