Egoyan’s film, which will be shot on a set in New York City, starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, among others, is slated to be titled The Devil’s Knot.
Problematically, however, the film borrows its title from award-winning Arkansas journalist Mara Leveritt’s scrupulously notated, non-fiction account of the case, regarded as the definitive pre-DNA-era text on the case since its publication in 2002.
At the time of this writing, Leveritt’s thoughts on this matter are not public.
Damien Echols, on the other hand, who suffered half his life on a very real Death Row for the crimes that Egoyan now intends to “fictionalize,” is clear on the distinction between Leveritt’s book and Egoyan’s Hollywood fantasy. In June 2012, Echols Tweeted Egoyan’s film as “Devil’s Knob.”
“Looks like they’ve got some young male model playing me in ‘The Devil’s Knob’,” wrote Echols. “Consider this: 85% of the work done in my case was done by one person–Lorri Davis. Yet she’s not even in the movie.”
In his Wall Street interview, Egoyan further explained that his film
is a fiction based on reality of course, but I consider the West Memphis Three story a piece of American mythology now. After four documentaries and the way that story has persisted, it has become a story that I think will be looked at and reinterpreted because it is one of the most exhaustively examined pieces of crime and certainly a murder story outside of a celebrity of president…. It has lingered in the American consciousness in a certain way, and I think it’s ripe for dramatic retelling, a reinvestigation that’s not bound by the orthodoxies of documentary.
It is possible, of course, that Egoyan has chosen to call his film “fictional” so as to more easily—i.e., with less legal worries—examine the possibility that certain other, very real, suspects committed the crimes.
Families of the victims can only hope this is the case. For them, there is one story above all others that must be told before their children’s deaths are made mere Hollywood “mythology”: the story of who killed the once-very-real Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore.
As much as we may love them, fictions, of course, are what have kept this case occulted.
Leveritt’s book, which documents the 1993 investigation and trial of the WM3, quotes a passage from Arkansas Times court reporter Bob Lancaster’s notes on the prosecution’s case. Lancaster wrote that he was lost among prosecutors’ “pervasive vagueness”:
Just couldn’t get through it or past it; simply impenetrable…. When the prosecution rested the state’s case, about all it had proved was (1) that the murder had indeed occurred, and (2) how the victims died. It had proved the deed but not the who, the why, the where, or even the when.”
In the absence of actual physical evidence implicating the accused, prosecutor John Fogleman focused on their dress, reading, and music choices, and—although no evidence at the crime scene suggested an occult theme, much less a sacrifice—prosecutors successfully persuaded Judge David Burnett and a jury of twelve that Damien, Jason, and Jesse had raped and mutilated three little boys as a homosexual orgy-sacrifice for Satan.
Staring into the abyss where evidence might exist, jurors apparently believed the youths used their awesome occult powers to make all the evidence disappear from the crime scene.
The 1993 prosecution’s story seemed plausible at the tail-end of the Satanic Panic that swept the U.S. in the 1980s.
It’s also a very old story, one that’s also seemed plausible at various times to prosecutors and the public throughout the last 2,000+ years.
It’s nothing if not scary.
One thing is certain: Arkansas prosecutors successfully sacrificed not three but six children to a fantasy.
From the Latin occulere–to conceal, or that which is concealed–indeed the word “occult” remains useful in discussing these now-decades-old unsolved murders. These are crimes that have been literally occulted: the truth of what happened on May 5, 1993, the identity of the actual murderer(s), all has been concealed for almost twenty years.
In examining any witch trial, the question is not “Is magic(k) real?” but, rather, “How does it work?” We need look no further than this, or any number of miscarriages of justice–whether metaphorical witch trials or literal witch hunts–to find evidence of The Art: precisely that which compels investigators, prosecutors, juries, the public, to envision events that never transpired, and to incarcerate and execute real people on the “evidence” of these unreal visions alone.
In West Memphis in 1993, the prosecution successfully transformed, in the minds of jurors, a teenage Damien’s Wiccan scribbles into the diary of a Satanic madman; transformed a random knife with no connection to the crime, into “evidence”; etc. (see Freeing the West Memphis Three); these were successful magic(k)al acts–or, if you prefer, witchcraft.
In 1993 as throughout history, crimes committed not by witches but witch-hunters are real crimes, to be sure, both morally and legally. As I note at Crimen Magiae, it may be difficult to quantify with any accuracy the damage that has been caused by maleficium (“injury caused by (traditional) magic”)—whether the practice of sorcery or voodoo or witchcraft or any variety of “spells” cast, throughout history, by earnest dabblers in sundry forms of magic(k)—but we require only time and an iron stomach to detail the effects of persecutions: 2,000+ years of assault, incarceration, torture, and execution of men, women, and children who, one day, found themselves accused.
In looking at crime stories which remain hidden, and the resultant suffering that goes unstoried, and the physical effects of this on the bodies of both the living and the dead, the metaphor of the occult is indeed useful. As is supplicium, “the punishment inflicted by the Law.” As narratives written on the bodies of those who have “lost” loved ones to occult(ed) crime: these stories, these bodies, are legion.
Or, to quote Electric Wizard, “Our witchcult grows….”
That which is kept in darkness is occult. That which is unseen, unheard. The story of three little boys left naked, hogtied, dead in a ditch—remains, today, in darkness. The story that must be told, now, is the story of how a new generation of West Memphis and Arkansas and Federal authorities, spurred by celebrity money and exposure, and no longer “worship[ing] at that old altar of patrilineage, of literary inheritance,” finally managed to craft a new story and answer the two-decades-old question: Who killed Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore?
Background: West Memphis Today
The “Other” West Memphis Three(1): Ain’t No Thing
The “Other” West Memphis Three (2): The Chosen Few
All posts on the West Memphis Three
 “Atom Egoyan on the West Memphis Three and ‘The Devil’s Knot’” Barbara Chai. Wall Street Journal. June 25, 2012. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/06/25/atom-egoyan-on-the-west-memphis-three-and-the-devils-knot/
 June 2012 http://twitter.com/damienechols
 Mara Leveritt. Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three. New York, NY: Atria, 2003.
 Joyelle McSweeney, “Loser Occult,” in 2nd Avenue Poetry. See also Montevidayo.
 Electric Wizard. “Witchcult Today.” Witchcult Today. CD 2007