by writer/director Robert Eggers
I grew up in New England, and ever since I was a kid New England’s past has been part of my consciousness—and witches have always been part of my nightmares. I wanted to create a film that would articulate the mythic sense of New England’s past that I had in my childhood imagination. I wanted to create an archetypal New England horror story, a nightmare from the past—an inherited nightmare of a Puritan family.
A great deal of research went into The Witch, from reading the Geneva Bible, to Elizabethan witch pamphlets, to revisiting the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, to taking long walks in the woods of New Hampshire. The most essential idea that came out of the research was the idea that for people of the early modern period, aside from the extreme intelligentsia, the real world and the fairytale world were the same thing. Everyday life was supernatural—and that was just a fact. These people were not superstitious the way we think of it, they had a different understanding of reality.
I became interested in the archetype of the witch, and its important role in the early modern mind. The witch was the answer to unanswerable tragedies, gaining power from despair. If a child died or a cow stopped giving milk, the reason could be a witch. The witch of the early modern period is much more terrifying than any recognizable plastic Halloween decoration. She was the anti-mother, the fairytale ogress who performed unspeakable acts upon children. She was the darkness in the world and within us all—but especially women. The witch embodied men’s fears and fantasies about women, feminine power, as well as women’s fears and ambivalences about motherhood and themselves—within the construct of that male-dominated society. And unfortunately, that baggage still exists in the unconscious of today.