American Vision has always been about encouraging young people to develop their worldview talents of writing, film production, and podcasting. Unfortunately, there are few places where they can exhibit their work to a broader audience. The following is the first in what American Vision hopes is a long list of writers who will put their talents on display.
– Gary DeMar
A Review of The Haunting (1963)
by Kristian Bennett
“Hill House has stood for ninety years and will probably stand for ninety more. And we who walk at Hill House, walk alone.” These are the last words of the 1963 film, The Haunting, which has stood, if not for ninety years (yet) then at least for nearly two-thirds of that time as a foundational horror film, and though it’s black and white, the charm, and fear embedded here still linger today. Under the skin, or rather behind the walls of this story lie these questions: Does anyone have a will, and can it be stolen? Can life be lived without purpose, and whether a lonely heart can refuse any hope for belonging? The Haunting is a brilliant film that affirms the human need for belonging and how that need shapes our will.
The adventure opens when Dr. Markaway invites two women (though to be more accurate six, most of whom refuse) to a house the Doctor has leased to observe the supernatural. While mentioning the lease I should also remark that the final addition to the crew is that of the future heir to the estate, a rather happy-go-lucky dude who claims he majored in cocktails at college. The antagonist is ‘The House,’ but it is more than a mere evil force. It could be seen as a representation of dark fate as well. In any case, the two women, Theo and Nell, have experiences with the supernatural, which is why Dr. Markaway invited them.
The story focuses on Nell as she slowly comes under the sway of ‘The House,’ but it cannot quite overcome her, yet. Before Nell arrived at Hill House she was plagued with loneliness. Now those around her, most especially Markaway, gave her the belonging she hungered for, that is until the Doctor’s wife appears on the scene, and the final cord snaps. ‘The House’ takes hold of her mind (or she decides to give in). Through many twists and turns the final wish of the house, and Nell, it seems is accomplished—she will remain there forever. She drives herself into a tree and dies. The last words of the movie are spoken by her, “Hill House has stood for ninety years and will probably stand for ninety more. And we who walk at Hill House, walk alone.”
What makes this movie worth watching is the psychological angle of the film. It deals with two fundamental parts of human nature: free will and the human search for meaning.
As the plot progresses you begin to wonder if ‘The House’ is stealing Nell’s will, forcing her to come under its sway, or is she so desperate for a home, for belonging that she slowly decides she wants Hill House, even though it’s “Born Bad”? Is she willingly relenting to the invitation of the house or is the house driving her so completely insane that, being left witless, she is consumed by its overwhelming will? Does she choose or does the house choose for her? I will leave it to your discretion. What I can say is that God is sovereign over the universe from its mightiest glowing galaxy to its smallest drop of glinting water and that His sovereignty will never be dethroned.
A theme just as prevalent in the story is that Nell, and by implication men and women in general, need a purpose and sense of belonging. One of the first scenes in the movie is when she tries to leave the home of her married sister who blames her for their mother’s death after years of illness. Nell is crushed by the thought that her sister might be right, that Nell did not take enough care of her though she should know she did. When she finally leaves and drives up to Hill House Nell meets Theo, the Doctor, and Luke Sanderson, the rough-and-tumble future heir to the house. In these strangest of circumstances, Nell finds herself for the first time respected or at least noticed.
In many ways, the house reveals that it wants her. The enthralling power of the house only seeks her because the others are self-confident and have lives and interests outside the house, but Nell has nothing to love in her former life so the house takes root in her mind. The last connection to anything outside the house is severed when doctor Markaway’s wife arrives. Nell fell in love with Markaway, and so without any hope of love from anything but the house, she finally succumbed to its embrace. Soon after she kills herself so she might stay there forever.
The twisted belonging Nell sought after illustrates our hunger for belonging as well. C. S. Lewis explains it well with the following: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity) Another world, a world like ours, but not as it is now. Could that be what Nell was searching for?
From a Christian perspective we believe, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Num 14:26), and in a brilliant, and sickening sleight of hand the storyteller flips that glorious vision on its head and instead fills ‘The House’ with an eerie animation all of its own. Instead of the Glory of the Lord filling all things, the degradation of death empties all who dwell there.
The film is relevant at any time, and though the techniques, so new then, have become the second language even to those like me who do not watch horror normally, it masterfully conveys the need for purpose in life and questions our part to play as actors or sock-puppets in the grand scheme of history. This film will not fade with time, it will stand as a true piece of cultural art because it speaks to the soul, not just the senses.
Using Classic Films to Teach the Christian Worldview
Movies are a self-contained world. The writers and producers make the rules and the circumstances for the worlds they create. Most often though, films use the assumed order of the natural world and don't attempt to re-write reality for the viewer. Films either reinforce the real world or they rebel against it. Either way, they provide a great way to think through worldview issues and their consequences.Buy Now