What do you think about if I say The Wicker Man? I hope that you are not thinking about a ridiculous Nicolas Cage screaming against CGI bees in the 2006 movie The Wicker Man directed by Neil LaBute. If that’s the case, it’s a shame because that’s an awful remake of Robin Hardy’s gorgeous 1973 original film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee! And I’m going to write about the latter film in this humble blog post of mine.
Here’s a few words on the plot of the movie: police officer Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous report at his police station complete with photos of a missing girl (Rowan Morrison, interpreted by Gerry Cowper) and flies to the small island of Summerisle to investigate her disappearance. Once on the island, he’s not welcomed with open arms, on the contrary: he’s told that the island is private property and that he should bugger off! But Howie is not intimidated and begins his investigations even if he clashes with a wall of silence and lies. Nobody helps him and he soon realizes that the inhabitants of the island are devoted to practices that are not at all appropriate for Britain at the time: they sing very explicit songs (this gives life to an exaggeratedly beautiful soundtrack, with songs lyrics taken from centuries-old poems), they have sex in public places, and in the local school children are taught pagan rites!
Howie, a devout Christian, cannot accept it and verbally clashes with everyone. And above all he clashes with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), with whom he has absolutely intriguing dialogues that soon show how the Christian religion, with the son of God born of a virgin, has several points in common with pagan rites in which virgins dance around a fire to become impregnated by ancient gods! In fact, it’s no secret that Christians built their religion taking inspiration from those existing at the time (for example, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas and his resurrection at Easter, dates that coincide with the winter solstice and the spring equinox, respectively). It’s remarkable how Howie and his grumpy attitude almost become the negative protagonists of a film that enjoys subverting the viewer’s expectations!
During his difficult investigations, the policeman has a sort of biblical story arc complete with temptations (it’s not easy to resist to Britt Ekland!) and sacrifices. The tension grows, grows, and grows up to the powerful finale with nothing short of splendid images and impressive scenes. It’s impossible to forget this film: it deals with deep and interesting topics with intelligently written dialogues, the main actors are convincing despite the incredible things that happen on the island, the intrigue and the mystery create a unique atmosphere, and the ending is really gorgeous. It made me think a bit of Who Can Kill a Child? (Quién puede matar a un niño) by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (1976) and also of The Prisoner (1967), the English series set in a village from which it’s impossible to escape and in which inexplicable facts happen. And I’d bet M. Night Shyamalan had this movie in mind when he made The Village (2004)! It also made me think of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), with its screenplay well rooted in the traditions of past centuries. In short, The Wicker Man has influenced cinema considerably and I would recommend watching it to everyone, ciao!