Submitted by Tornado Dragon
One day, Roger finds out that Arthur is Hester’s secret lover and decides that he must die. That night, he alters his appearance to resemble an Algonquian warrior, and he murders whom he believes is Arthur as he is riding away from Hester’s cottage, then scalps him and butchers his body so the Algonquians will get blamed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that he mistakenly murdered Brewster, the son of a village elder, who had left Hester’s place following a failed attempt to rape her and having himself discovered who her paramour was. Arthur inspects Brewster’s body the next morning and finds evidence indicating that one of the Puritans killed him, but when he tries to tell the townsfolk about it as they are locking up the Indians who converted to Christianity, they ignore him. He saves his Indian friend Johnny and tells him to go into the forest, find Metacomet and his people, and bring them here to save the other Indians. He then discovers concrete proof implicating Roger as the killer, but when he attempts to confront him, he finds Roger has already committed suicide over his mistake.
Considering Brewster’s death to be another misfortune for the colony that is rooted in Hester’s infidelity, Governor Bellingham has her arrested for heresy, and he sentences her to be hanged that day along with Harriet and her band of outcast women. Arthur interrupts the event and admits that he is Pearl’s father before offering himself to be hanged in Hester’s stead, but Metacomet and his people show up before he can be hung and start fighting the Puritans. This enables Arthur and Hester to get loose and help Harriet and the other women escape before collecting Pearl and taking refuge in a safe place until the battle ends.
Some days later, Bellingham removes the scarlet “A” patch from Hester and issues her a public apology because the situation with her is connected with the recent battle, which is something he wants to keep hidden from the English government. Hester leaves town with Arthur and Pearl, and they settle in the Province of Carolina. According to the adult Pearl’s narrative, Arthur died before she reached her teens, and Hester never remarried nor loved another. Some people saw both things as punishments, but she doesn’t; her parents shared a love like no other, and she knows that that love lives within her and will live within her children forever.
Roger (Robert Duvall) is released by his Algonquin captors after they notice that he is becoming mentally unstable, and he returns to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the same day Hester (Demi Moore) has the scarlet “A” patch bestowed upon her by the village elders for committing fornication and adultery and for refusing to reveal the name of the man who impregnated her with her new daughter Pearl (Tallulah Willis & Scout Willis). Roger witnesses this from afar, and that night, he secretly visits Hester at her cottage, where he doesn’t hide his anger and heartache over her straying on him and having a child with another man. Hester meets Arthur (Gary Oldman) clandestinely the next day and lets him know that Roger is alive, and Arthur tells her that they will both hang for certain. Hester tries to persuade him to leave town without her and Pearl, for Roger will be watching every gesture or glance she makes at any man, let alone him, to find answers. However, Arthur refuses, preferring to stay and watch over them.
When Hester returns to her cottage, she finds that Roger is now wearing a disguise. He tells her that he hopes to be let into her heart again one day, but she replies that her heart belongs to another now. He then demands to know who her “phantom lover” is, but she won’t confess. She then asks him why he doesn’t just announce himself openly and cast her off right away, but he replies that he doesn’t seek vengeance against her, only against the man who has wronged them both, and he will find out who that man is. He then orders her to keep silent about his true identity to her paramour lest they both be hanged, and he also advises her against running away because she will be easily tracked and found. The disguised Roger then goes into town and finds lodgings there under the alias of Dr. Roger Chillingworth, and he begins to search for Pearl’s father.
While doing so, Roger decides to get revenge on Hester in different ways for her unfaithfulness. He manages to plant seeds of fear in the minds of Governor Bellingham (Edward Hardwicke) and the village elders that both Hester and the circle of outcast women led by Harriet (Joan Plowright) that she has associated herself with might be witches, and Harriet is eventually arrested on suspicion of witchcraft. Major Dunsmuir (Malcolm Storry) secretly murders Hester’s slave Mituba (Lisa Jolliff-Andoh) before Harriet’s trial since she was to be a witness, and during the proceedings, her body is “found” and its discovery made known to Bellingham and the elders, and Harriet is unjustly blamed for it. Shortly afterwards, Roger takes the opportunity to show the elders and audience that Pearl has a birthmark near her navel (which he saw when she was younger but said nothing of it to anyone at the time), which is considered the mark of a witch, and brings up beforehand that Harriet served as Hester’s midwife when she gave birth to Pearl. As he parades the frightened Pearl around and yells that she is the devil’s child, both Arthur and Hester fight through the crowd to help her, and this does not escape the notice of Brewster (Tim Woodward), the son of village elder Reverend Stonehall (Robert Prosky). The elders find Harriet guilty and sentence her to be hanged the next day.
Convinced that Hester and Pearl will both hang next, Arthur later visits them in secret out in the woods and tells Hester that she and Pearl both need to go into hiding tonight, but she replies that she cannot run, and then tries to make Arthur promise her that he will always look after Pearl no matter what happens to her. She also says that, if Harriet is to hang, she must hang with her, and she plans to encourage the rest of Harriet’s circle to stand with them, reasoning that they cannot all be hanged. She and Arthur then give each other their love, and Arthur puts his arms around her and Pearl and makes a prayer to God, where he swears that he will not give up on either of them while he still has the strength because they are both a gift. However, none of them are aware that Roger is hiding nearby, and now that he has discovered who Hester’s paramour is, he decides that Arthur must die. That night, he alters his appearance to make himself look like an Algonquian warrior as part of his plan.
That same night, Hester hears noises outside her cottage and goes out to investigate, and she calls out Arthur’s name thinking that he is making the sounds. However, the noises were actually created by Brewster, who sneaks inside and waits for her to come back in. He surprises her and tells her that, by virtue of her calling out to Arthur just now, she has confirmed his belief that she has been seeing Arthur and that he is Pearl’s father. He then seizes her and makes ready to rape her on her kitchen table since he has lusted for her ever since she arrived in the colony, but she manages to stop him by grabbing a lit candle off the table and sticking the flame in his left eye, then rolls off and grabs a nearby pistol and aims it at him before ordering him to leave. Brewster complies, but in parting, he basically tells her that he intends to promptly inform the elders of her affair with Arthur and get them both hanged. Unfortunately for him, while riding through the woods back to town, Roger – thinking that he is Arthur because the darkness and his hat are shrouding his face, plus he is going in the direction away from Hester’s cottage – leaps out and tackles him off his horse, then kills him by slitting his throat. He then scalps him, makes a whooping cry like an Algonquian, and butchers the body in order to frame the Algonquians for the murder.
The next morning, Arthur and a group of townspeople find Brewster’s dismembered corpse, but Arthur discovers a trinket box next to the body and quickly deduces that one of the Puritans committed this crime. Brewster’s remains are brought back to town, and the Puritans begin calling for the detainment of every single Native American who has converted to Christianity, which immediately starts to happen. Since Bellingham fully believes that Hester’s infidelity is the root of several misfortunes that have already befallen the colony, he considers Brewster’s murder to be another such misfortune and thus has Hester arrested on the charge of heresy along with Harriet’s circle, and they are all imprisoned and slated to be hanged with Harriet. Arthur returns to town and yells to everyone that one of their own killed Brewster and he has proof of it, but the panicked Puritans won’t listen to him. Arthur saves one Indian convert, his close friend Johnny (George Aguilar), from the violent townsfolk and orders him to run into the forest and get Metacomet (Eric Schweig) and his people and bring him here to save the other Indians. Having seen that his actions have not only resulted in him killing the wrong man but has now led to war between the Natives and the Puritans, the distraught Roger hangs himself in his room, and his body is soon found by Arthur just after he has discovered conclusive evidence that he was the one who did away with Brewster.
Arthur then rushes up to the gallows as Hester and all of the other women are waiting to be hanged and yells to the crowd that there has been no witchcraft here, and neither he nor them have any right to condemn on God’s behalf. Arthur then removes the noose from Hester’s neck and yells that he loves her and is, in God’s eyes, her husband, and also confesses that he is Pearl’s father. After kissing Hester’s forehead, he yells that if they must hang someone to appease their anger and their fear, then they should hang him. He then puts a noose around his own neck, and Hester is moved aside by a soldier but kept restrained. However, just before Dunsmuir can kick Arthur’s stool out from under him, Metacomet and the Algonquians arrive to free their people and kill Dunsmuir as their first act. As the colonialists and the Natives have an all-out battle, Arthur frees Hester, Harriet, and the other outcasts, then Harriet and her circle flee while Arthur and Hester navigate their way through the violence and mayhem and find and collect Pearl before taking refuge in a safe place until the battle ends.
Some days later, the town has returned to a calm state, and Hester is shown paying tribute to Roger at his grave marker. Arthur then comes up to her and tells her that Bellingham has sworn to him that he will remove the “A” from her and issue her a public apology because of its connection with the recent conflict, which is something that he will do anything to keep hidden from the English government. Hester removes the patch from her chest and remarks that it did serve a purpose; just not the one that the elders intended. She tells Arthur that she has decided to leave the colony to find somewhere better to raise Pearl, and Arthur soon decides to relinquish his position as the town’s reverend and come with her. As they ride off with Pearl in their carriage, Pearl drops the patch onto the ground.
The grown Pearl (Jodhi May) – who has been serving as the film’s narrator – tells the viewer that her parents moved to the Province of Carolina, and there they found a measure of the happiness that they had been denied for so long. Unfortunately, Arthur died before she reached her teens, and Hester never remarried nor loved another, and some said that both of those things were punishments. However, Pearl does not see either of those things that way; her parents shared a love like no other, and she knows that the spirit of that love lives within her and will live within her children forever. She closes by saying, “Who is to say what is a sin in God’s eyes?”