I have read many articles and Facebook posts lately bashing the recent Disney movie, Into the Woods, for its darkness and supposed relativism. Having seen the movie, and having had a very different experience, I am compelled to bring you:
A Catholic Perspective of Into the Woods
Now, the movie is not appropriate for 5 year olds. If Johnny Depp’s character can freak out this 23 year old and her husband, then it is most certainly not appropriate for young children.
That being said, there are plenty of gems in the movie that can have a strongly Christian, if not Catholic, twist.
First, there is the garden that begins all of the trouble. The Baker’s father found himself in a beautiful and luscious garden, idyllic in many ways. Of course, he goes and ruins it by taking the fruit of a tree he was not supposed to eat of.
More over, just as Adam and Eve are cursed for taking the fruit, so too does the Baker’s father and his family become cursed. The Baker works hard day and night baking, but never betters his situation and the Baker’s wife, played by Emily Blunt, faces pain of childbirth: she and her husband long for a child, yet are infertile due to the curse.
The movie plays strongly on the pun “in the woods” both metaphorically and literally. All of these people have fallen on hard times, thus finding themselves metaphorically “in the woods,” but they are also literally heading into the woods. The woods, then, take on a double metaphor. Not only are these people “in the woods” in hard times, but they have taken to drastic measures, entering the confusing wood of sin to try to better their situation. This brings up the timeless question of “If I do this for a greater good, do the ends justify the means?”
As each of the characters approaches the woods, they sing “the way is clear, the path is straight, the light is good,” suggesting that they are on the straight and narrow and won’t fall since they know where they are going. They will be able to safely navigate through the twisting and confusing aspects of the temptations they are bound to encounter.
The woods as representative of sin become clearer the longer the characters are in the woods. The longer there, the more bad decisions they make and the worse they become as people, which is exactly what happens when one dabbles in sin and evil.
At one point, Emily Blunt’s character is seduced to commit adultery. After the deed, she struggles with herself to figure out what is right and wrong. She says there are rights, wrongs, “shoulds and shouldn’ts,” but she is unable to truly discern what is what because her moral compass has been redirected by her time in the woods. Even after she discerns what is right and wrong, she is unable to figure out how to get out of the woods to safety.
Many times sinners lose the ability to discern what is right and wrong as they spend more time in sin and evil. They justify themselves the way Blunt’s character does, saying “it only happens in the woods.” When they do have a conversion, how often do they want out but do not know where to start? Many people are trapped in sinful lives despite their desire to do better because they have no guide to show them the way out.
As the characters fall ever more into sin, a line about returning to the straight and narrow path comes up more frequently. Their consciences call them to return to the good, an urge they verbalize but do not know how to act on. Finally, the characters find themselves in a blame game in the middle of what used to be an idyllic and enchanting forest.
Adam and Eve, too, found themselves in the middle of a blame game in what used to be their idyllic and enchanting home with God.
When Meryl Streep’s character asks what has happened, the Baker proceeds to blame the boy, who blames the girl, who blames…you get my point. Eventually, Streep’s character calls on the other characters to move on, telling them they can blame her, if that’s what they want, but they need to focus on fixing things.
So too, Christ comes to us and says “you can blame me, if that’s what you want, but I want to fix our relationship.”
There are beautiful lines in the movie about the humanity of each individual, and how we must practice forgiveness. There are lines about respecting your parents, honoring their mistakes, and listening to your elders. All of which are beautiful, biblical, and Catholic.
Finally, no one character is entirely good or bad. Some are worse than others, but each has his redeeming qualities and his sinful habits, and at many points the characters remark on how following the straight and narrow is complicated.
Isn’t it though?
We all struggle to follow the straight and narrow on a daily basis. From refusing to snap at our spouses, or practicing patience in the grocery check out line, to navigating our way through the mazes that are relationships with other humans, all of us has experienced on a daily basis the complexity of the moral straight and narrow.
The movie points to a basic human fact that is often overlooked: humanity is messy, and no one person is entirely good or bad. Only Christ and our blessed Mother can stake a claim to the “perfect” card. The rest of us are a poor mash up of our fallen nature and our faith which redeems.
These characters point to what happens when we do not have faith: we do not have a compass to guide us out of the woods, we do not have a standard by which to judge our behavior, we find ourselves lost even when we are not in the woods.
For those who have faith, we can count on our Redeemer to guide the way, to give us a standard, and to retrieve us out of the depths of sin when we are incapable of retrieving ourselves.
For those who place their faith in Christ, the woods are “just trees,” and our trials become something small. We are able to place our hope in the Lord, trusting that His path is straight, well lit, and that all will be well in the woods if we trust Him.