Director of 'The Witch' Explains The Movie's Historical Inaccuracies In Detail

Director of 'The Witch' Explains The Movie's Historical Inaccuracies In Detail
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What are the major factual inaccuracies (if any) in The Witch? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Robert Eggers, Director of The Witch (Sundance Film Festival Directing Award US Dramatic Category), on Quora.

Freakishly, I made a document of all the inaccuracies I am aware of. Below are some of the more major or (potentially) interesting inaccuracies:

  • In English or New English texts, I have found examples of Satanic goats, covens, naked witches, flying ointments, and witch ointments made from baby entrails - but they are not common and not necessarily connected in the same narrative. In the Goya-like climax of the film, to bring all of those archetypal witch elements into one common narrative would be argued as too continental for the seventeenth century by most historians. It would be appropriate if the story was set in France, Germany, or Sweden, but it is perhaps too extreme for New England or England, without it coming from the mind of the intelligentsia.
  • English or New English witches riding on poles (or sticks, as I call them) also tend to be more common a bit later in the century. The Devil's book also comes a bit later than 1630.
  • All of the Family's clothing would have probably been dirtier and more distressed. It was time and money that kept us from bringing it to the level Linda Muir (costumes) and I wanted, but I am proud of what we achieved. Also the ultra clean white linen in the meeting house, while it may look wrong, is historically correct - even common people cared for their Sunday linens. Additionally, not all of the cloth is hand woven, but we have very close equivalents that we used in its place. We couldn't afford all handwoven cloth.
  • In the meeting house, the younger boys would have been grouped with the women. Because we had so few settlers, I separated gender completely to better clarify that the genders would have been separated in that setting.
  • The corn shocks that we have in the film would have been accurate later in history, and are part of the iconic New England harvest imagery. The corn harvesting in our period would have actually been done in the same way that the native people harvested their flint corn. However, the type of harvesting we used, in shocks, is not dissimilar from how the English harvested other cereal crops in the period. Since the family was starving, they may have wanted to use that method so that they could feed the dried corn stalks to their animals.
  • The footprint of the house is too large because we needed extra space for filming. Additionally, the family most likely would not have bothered with a garret due to the labor involved in pit sawing planks, or the cost of buying them from a frontier lumber mill. If they did have a garret, it only would have been used for storing tools and foodstuffs. The older children would have slept on the floor in the main room of the house, and the twins probably in bed with their parents. However, I really wanted the "Hansel & Gretel moment" of the children overhearing their parents, and I felt I needed an additional "location" to keep it visually interesting.
  • The size of the windows were increased by one third to let in more light for exposure. Also, there are too many windows and doors in the house which is inaccurate because the settlers wanted to keep nature out as much as possible. The modification of extra windows was necessary for ample light and ease of shooting. Also related to light, the amount of tapers and rush lights burning at night is way over-the-top. It would have been a luxury to burn as many candles as depicted, but we needed light and depth in our images.
  • The breeds of the dog, goats, and chickens are not period accurate. It was impossible to acquire the correct breeds in Canada. The horse, however, is the correct breed.
  • The firewood is too uniform and modern looking.
  • Many historians would say William's steel traps are from the 18th century. Steel traps did exist in this period, and as evidence, Jim Baker (Historian) helped find a will from the period of a man in Salem who owned two of them. They would have been costly, rare, and few people would know how to use them, which is why it was such a stupid move for William to trade for them. I do not know if the design of these traps are accurate or not, the woodcuts from the period depicting them are difficult to decipher.

You can see more of Robert Eggers's Q&A Session on Quora here.

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