Sunday, 1 May 2016

"The Wicker Man" (1973) - A review.

Fig 1.

The Wicker Man” (1973) by Robin Hardy, opens with a rather whimsical jaunt over Scottish Highlands, as Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) makes his way to “Summerisle”, after receiving a picture of a missing young girl - Rowan - accompanied with a letter from one of its residents requesting that she be found. It is evident, of course, that things are amiss, perhaps as soon as Neil opens up his plane cockpit to call for aid in getting to shore. The town and its folk are Weird. And as things transpire, a conspiracy that includes the entire town’s collusion becomes apparent - Howie well and truly becoming a rat in a maze.

Fig 2. 

And how brilliant it is, to see the film treat this ‘askewed-ness’ with such normalcy. It is itself an example of storytelling through visual means, for the signs that Summerisle and its inhabitants are a little alternative are there from the start. There are moments where reality appears to be broken, be that in the form of sudden outbursts of signing, rituals along the side of a path where naked women dance amongst stone circles and of course, the spontaneous orgies which happen outside of Howie’s window at night. “The Wicker Man” treats these moments with the same seriousness as the remainder of the film, never really allowing the characters or the audience, time to rationalise the events, until, of course, the finale.  

It is interesting to note the intended slant on pagan worship vs. organised religion, as the subtext seems to criticise the repression caused by practicing christianity. And it is within the characters themselves that this battle is personified. Neil - the hero - is a virgin, seems to detest the singing and frivolity that the townsfolk display, and is a slave to the power his position confers upon him. Indeed throughout proceedings this seems to be the case, Donato Totaro, writing for offscreen.com concurs that “Once on the island Howie’s own devout religious beliefs are consistently challenged by the practising Pagans of the island...” (Totaro, 2006) A real part of this challenge is his attraction to the innkeeper's daughter (Britt Ekland), and it is perhaps here where Sergeant Howie feels his faith most questioned, perhaps becoming swayed by the sexual resonance of Summerisle itself.  It is just as well that there wasn’t a sex scene, as the mere suggestion that Howie is tempted is enough of a betrayal to his faith and his wife, and lends an incredible weight to the temptation Summerisle and it’s inhabitants offers.  And of course, it seems that “The contrast of both religions and their bizarre rituals is entirely the point though and at least the nude, sexually liberated residents of Summerisle appear to be having more fun than the buttoned down stiffs back on the mainland.” (Ratcliff, 2015)

Fig 3. 

It is enthralling to think upon the ending, in which sympathies are questioned, and one can find themselves perhaps understanding Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) contempt for what Howie represents. There is a sense, that Summerisle is a place that is better left alone, that their way should not be encroached upon by a form of modernity. “And yet much of the film’s cult status can be attributed to an audience reading of the film as being pro-Pagan and in opposition to Sergeant Howie’s Catholic authoritarianism.” (Totaro, 2006) Though read in a through a more contemporary lense, it can be posited that both sides are perhaps a little ludicrous in their application. Howie now representing a very traditional and reserved face of Britain, and the townsfolk of Summerisle that of the rising tide of counterculture - be it wiccans, druids, grognards and scientologists. Things that, at the time, were perhaps considered liberating, are now viewed in a slightly gaudy light.   
The brilliance of “The Wicker Man” can, in part, be attributed to it’s bonkers ending, turning a small town horror into a biblical epic, for it is Neil’s sheer arrogance in his power - granted to him by the law, and to a lesser extent, his christianity - that allows the viewer to sit in a very grey area indeed.

The Wicker Man” is an interesting and most excellent parable of tradition pit against the new; authority from position against charismatic authority which charges the film with a tension that is belied by its genre bending presentation. The tension arises in such a tightly woven tapestry of story that one could feel ill at ease even in the moments of levity. There is something “other” at play here, something greater than fear, horror, repulsion. That something lies on Summerisle.     


Ratcliff, Cristopher “THE WICKER MAN: THE GREATEST BRITISH HORROR FILM” [online] Available at: http://www.methodsunsound.com/review-the-wicker-man-the-greatest-british-horror-film/ [Accessed 1/05/2016]

Totaro, Donato “Constructing The Wicker Man” [online] Available at: http://offscreen.com/view/wicker_man [Accessed 1/05/2016]


Fig 1 The Wicker Man Poster [image] Available at: http://www.agasucci.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/wickermanposter1.jpg

Fig 2. Sergeant Howie [image] Available at: https://colewebbharter.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/howie.jpg

Fig 3. Lord Summerisle [image] Available at: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/sites/default/files/styles/hero/public/hero/the-wickerman.jpg?itok=51vOvvVn

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