A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Crucible is an intense 1996 exploration of the Salem witch trials based on Arthur Miller's play. It delves into the basest human instincts: violence, self-protection, lust, hypocrisy, territorialism, paranoia, and crowd mania. Religious fervor is shown in its worst light, with so-called sinners accusing others of sin. Religious and political leaders, as well as judges and neighbors, prove to be corrupt and self-serving. Expect brief nudity: From afar and in fog, a girl's buttocks and breasts are briefly shown. A married man discusses a past affair with a young single woman. They kiss, then he pushes her away violently. There is talk of hanging as punishment for refusing to admit to witchcraft, and hanging is briefly seen. Servants are beaten and smacked. A man is tortured and ultimately crushed to death when townspeople place heavy rocks on his chest to induce him to inform on others. A girl smashes a rooster to the ground, then smears her face with its blood. The 17th-century language echoing Salem witch trial transcripts may pose a challenge for young modern viewers.
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What's the story?
THE CRUCIBLE pits good against evil. Orphan Abigail (Winona Ryder) has been dismissed from the employ of John (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Elizabeth Proctor (Joan Allen) after Elizabeth learns John has had an affair with the younger woman. When Abigail and other young women "conjure spirits" in the woods, hoping this will make Proctor come back to her, she is discovered by her uncle, the priggish hard-liner Rev. Parris (Bruce Davison). Fearing ruination and punishment, Parris and Abigail accuse others of putting the devil into the girls. Abigail wants vengeance against her rival and accuses Elizabeth of being in cahoots with the devil. John admits to adultery to expose Abigail's vindictive scheme but gets himself hanged when he refuses to admit a falsehood -- that the devil came to him as well.
Is it any good?
This overlong, didactic history lesson can be a tough slog for even avid students of this black period in American history. Playwright Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953, paralleling accusations of witchcraft with equally hysterical accusations of Communism through post-World War II America, a political strategy that ruined the lives of many blacklisted men and women. The decision to mimic 17th-century speech, with its jarring locutions and odd verb tenses, can be off-putting and stiffens a plot that might otherwise be more engaging. Daniel Day-Lewis is persuasive as Proctor, but all the fainting, crying, and hysteria make for a lot of scenery chewing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical circumstances under which Miller wrote The Crucible, using the Salem witch trials to parallel power gone unchecked in 1950s American leaders, who labeled their political opponents Communist.
Why do you think someone who speaks the truth might be seen as a threat to society?
Do you think religious beliefs should play a role in how government is run? Why, or why not?
Do you think the fact that John Proctor was a flawed man made him a stronger or weaker voice of protest against the corruption of the accusers?
- In theaters: January 25, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2004
- Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scofield
- Director: Nicholas Hytner
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials
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