THE WICKER MAN (1973 Britain)

The-Wicker-Man-1When I rented this dvd from my library, the lady behind the counter warned me it was offensive to Christians. “You won’t like it,” she said with conviction. “Listen, er…(name tag check)… Gayle”  I replied: “My eyes lost their virginity long ago. I’m sure I can handle it.” Later that evening, at the midnight hour to be precise, I had to admit she had been right to give me a warning.

Crawling on my hands and knees in shock, just to get the offending disc out of the player, I was quivering with fear. Then I checked my closets and under the bed for the first time in ten years. I felt personally attacked in a slow, torturous way by much of the dialogue. Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) blasphemes: “He can’t complain…he had his chance, and in modern parlance, blew it..” He’s talking about Jesus of course.

“What!?” gasps Sgt Howie (Edward Woodward). ” Sit down, sergeant please, shocks are always better absorbed with the knees bent.” Another disturbing piece of dialogue is near the very end when Edward Woodward cries out: “Oh Lord, don’t let me die unshriven! ”  Now that’s not a word many of us are likely to come across these days in casual conservation. Or maybe my ears deceived me. What I didn’t imagine was the obscene, sexist folk song about the landlord’s daughter (Britt Ekland).

This film was the directorial debut of Robin Hardy, who has since gone on to direct only one other movie and a few episodes of a TV series (read: mysterious shadowy figure). It was the brainchild of Anthony Shaffer, a name that should be well known to all film buffs (Frenzy, Sleuth, Death on the Nile etc).

4328373310_c5045ff640_z                                                              (Beware the Hand of Chloe)

The plot likes to make fun of Sergeant Howie, a Scottish constable, because he is a virgin and a Christian. Edward Woodward is very believable as a man with morals. Enough cannot be said about Woodward’s performance. A lesser actor could have made this film unravel, but you never doubt the believability of Sgt Howie. As part of his policing duties, he decides to investigate an anonymous tip-off about a thirteen-year-old girl named Rowan Morrison. She has been abducted on a small island famous for its apples.

Howie’s nemesis, Lord Summerisle (Chris Lee) flits in and out of the film, dropping hints that all is not, perhaps, as it seems, but offering all the help he can. Howie doesn’t seem to understand that police procedure doesn’t have to go by the book in such an isolated area. He has no ‘back up’ to help him if anything goes wrong.

The plot moves along quite effortlessly, almost like a straight-up mystery. I found it hilariously weird and yet very engaging for the first three-quarters, but the concluding scenes left me speechless. There are some unforgettable images which are ingrained in my mind now. It seems once you experience The Wicker Man, he will never let you go. The sheer isolation and confusion the main character feels, is overwhelming.

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Sgt Howie is never supported emotionally. The people he meets are acting perverted or callous to the point that he begins questioning his (and their) sanity. Another prominent theme is the casual indifference to another person’s pain, where laughter and joy is the vlllagers collective response. We can sometimes understand why people commit a crime out of jealousy, rage or passion. But this is something else. A pitiless, cold blooded community, not an individual gone wrong.

These islanders are gleefully ignorant of individual suffering, they show no empathy at all, so we suspect pure evil behind their pagan beliefs. The way the locals behave adds to the policeman’s stressfull isolation – he doesn’t understand their culture or lifestyle, which just exacerbates his difficulty in solving the ‘crime’ he’s investigating.

The musical score jars with the tone and events of the film in a way that makes it far more sinister than if we had typically dark, moody music. (Also in the “mysterious shadowy figure” vein, composer Paul Giovanni never scored another motion picture after this) The scenery is breath-taking, yet very cold-looking. This is Scotland after all.

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Comments

  1. It’s such a weird film! But it is compelling….. Enjoyed your review very much!

    Like

  2. Thanks! I always appreciate your comments, Phil.

    Like

  3. This flick definitely holds one of the most iconic endings to a film that I have ever seen. Excellent review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Merci Madame! 🙂

    Like

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