Häxan is a fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in modern Europe.
“The idea of Häxan is relatively straightforward: in light of innovations in psychoanalysis and the biological sciences, Benjamin Christensen advances the thesis that the appearance of witchcraft in Europe during the late medieval and early modern periods was actually due to unrecognized manifestations of clinical hysteria and psychosis. Lacking the scientific knowledge and insight of the present age, the spectacular symptoms of hysteria (most often identified in women) were misattributed to the power of Satan and the condition of being in league with him. Deftly weaving contemporary scientific analysis and powerfully staged historical reenactments of satanic initiation, possession, and persecution, Häxän creatively blends spectacle and argument to make a deeply humanistic call to reevaluate both the understandings of witchcraft in European history and the contemporary treatment of hysterics and the psychologically stricken. In doing so Christensen takes on an anthropological disposition, offering Häxän as an expression of his own creative trials and as an empirical visual thesis to be tested in the world.”
“As concerned as the film is with expressing a particular idea regarding the relation between witchcraft and hysteria, it differs from many of the documentaries that come immediately after it, largely due to Christensen’s explicit understanding that any idea communicated in a film must be expressed cinematographically. Quite unlike the sober documentary ideal that John Grierson formulated at the end of the 1920s and elaborated through the next decade via the influential British social documentary movement, Häxan does not conflate expressing ‘the real’ cinematically with simple ‘communication’. Displaying an affinity with scientists of the mid-nineteenth centry, Christensen very clearly aspires to ‘make nature speak’. What distinguishes Häxän is the fact that its creator had no expectation whatsoever that the real will simply ‘speak for itself’.”
Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers1
- 1Richard Baxstrom & Todd Meyers, Realizing the Witch. Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible Door (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 7-8.