Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday Reboot: Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow was released in 1999 and stars, Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Miranda Richardson. It was directed by Tim Burton and fits quite well with the rest of his movie credits. It is based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. 

Ichabod Crane, played by Johnny Depp is a police inspector determined to bring scientific investigation to police work. The movie begins with the discovery of a body in the river which Crane wants to investigate, but the local magistrate believes that it is a simple case of drowning, because of the circumstances in which the body was found.  When Ichabod suggests performing an autopsy, he is accused of being a heathen.  Crane not content, decides to argue his case before the law.  The judge sees Crane's position as disrespectful to the court, and so is he sent to a small town named Sleep Hollow which has reported four murders.

Though Crane has a strong belief in science he is an extremely haunted man.  Throughout the movie he has flash backs to his childhood which include dances with his mother whom he lost at the age 7.  He has was appear to be puncture wounds on his hands but he cannot remember how came to have these wounds. We further learn that because of the circumstances by which his mother died he is now an atheist and sees religion as pure superstition.

When Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow, he does not believe the claims that a headless horseman is responsible for the deaths, though he told a violent tale about the death of Hessian, and so he sets about using science to attempt to determine the real murderer. 

In his investigation, he meets Katrina Van Tassel, a white witch.  When no man well journey with him to the horseman's resting place, Katrina joins him.  Katrina is an extremely interesting character. Not only does she perform witchcraft when evidence of such would most certainly lead to persecution, she is strong and direct.  I suppose my only issue would be the fact that she continually asks Crane whether he believes her actions are wicked.  This can be read as a test to see exactly how liberal of a man Crane is, but I also believe that it can be assumed a gauge to test the acceptance of Katrina's performance of femininity.

When Crane initially discovers that  Katrina has cast a spell employing what he believes to be the evil eye, he declares her the murderer.  What love he felt for her he relinquishes, sure in the knowledge that she was possessed and did not act of her own accord.  Katrina's punishment is being left in the town of Sleepy Hollow.  It is not until he checks the spell book that she gave him as he is leaving town that Crane realizes that he is wrong.  Katrina is redeemed because she sought only to do good.

The antagonist in this movie is Lady Van Tassel.  Though Kristina does not actively cast aspersions on her new step mother, it is clear that she is not comfortable with the fact that her father married her mother's sick nurse.  Lady Van Tassel calls the henchmen to do her bidding for the purposes of revenge.  When she was a child, she was cast out of her home and left to starve, while Katrina's family prospered. Lady Van Tassel swore that she would one day have power over those that cast her out, and so she manipulated the towns people by using their own sins, for eg., lust against them, and murdered some outright. It is never mentioned in the movie, but Lady Van Tassel is the villain that did not have to be.  Had she been treated with any kind of social kindness as a child, instead of being cast aside for being poor, it is fair to say that she would not have set about to kill the residents of Sleepy Hollow. What happened to Lady Van Tassel is also an indictment of how vulnerable women and children were at the time, without a man's protection. If anything, her actions are an indictment of the cruelty of the town. What separates Katrina from Lady Van Tassel is class. 

In the end, the horseman takes Lady Van Tassel for his bride, forcing a bloody kiss upon her before climbing back into the tree of death.  Crane turns Katrina's head away so that she will not witness the horror that is the demise of Lady Van Tassel, thus preserving her innocence. Katrina is literally the embodiment of good womanhood and Lady Van Tassel represents the bad.  To ensure the binary is clear to the viewer, we are treated to a scene in which Lady Van Tassel engages in sex with a man who is not her husband whereas; Katrina and Crane do not even exchange a chaste kiss though their feelings for each other are clear.

Much of this film is shot in the dark to increase a sense of dread.  Fans of the genre will most likely recognize Sir Christopher Lee in the role of Burgomaster adding a touch of authenticity.  Though it has been thirteen years since the release of Sleepy Hollow, the special effects still stand up to scrutiny and Christopher Walken is still terrifying as the Hessian Horseman.  It is worth noting that once again this is an all White, straight, able bodied cast.  There is a singular reference to Native Americans, which suggests a mystification of them, but it is not developed in the film. On a rainy damn day, Sleepy Hollow is still an easy and entertaining watch, largely due to the performance of Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.