Sunday, December 04, 2005

Day 65: The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man illustrates two things that are becoming increasingly clear to me.  The first is that Christopher Lee is really, truly, no foolin' a fine actor, whose typecasting in villainous roles is as inevitable as it is unfortunate.  The second is that island cultures are generally depicted, to put it generously, as a bit odd.

When a pious, Christian policeman arrives at a small island off the coast of Scotland investigating the disappearance of a young girl, he's confronted by the insular and Pagan ways of its inhabitants.  As he tirelessly seeks out the missing girl, the open sexuality and irrational beliefs of the denizens shocks and offends him.  Unmovable in his faith and seemingly unable to understand the notion that there could be different cultures in the United Kingdom of the 20th century, he scolds the locals for taking no interest in Christ.  As the mystery unravels, it becomes clear that the locals, led by an effete, charming Christopher Lee, believe human sacrifice is necessary to preserve their way of life, and the noble policeman foolishly believes he can stop it.

Though at first the culturally narrow policeman character, nicely played by Edward Woodward, is as unlikable and unwelcome as a Bush voter at a gay pride parade, by the end of the film, I was surprised to find that I found him much more sympathetic than any of the Pagan islanders.  The reason for this is that he's in the minority, as much a victim of religious persecution as a witch in colonial America, maligned solely for being The Other in an insulated society.  

Not so much a horror movie as it is an exploration of the necessary consequences of institutionalized religion, the movie begins with the hippie commune feel of Zardoz and, as it progresses, creepily drifts closer to the tone of an Italian cannibal film.  There's a great deal of singing and dancing in the film (and a good deal of it done by ladies in the nude), so much so that I thought it was a musical at first.  But with the exception of the siren song of the innkeeper's daughter, the singing and dancing are nice expository devices, bringing us into a rich culture.  And, boy oh boy, do the musical elements pay off at the end in a strikingly horrific scene.  The scene is all the more horrific due to the bright and sunny way it's captured, with very little artifice to hide the brutality.

The movie's a clunky affair overall, with odd, distracting choices in the score and a great deal of awkward staging and editing.  There's far too much monologuing at the end, lending it the impression of a bizarro-world Scooby-Doo ending with the villains of the piece explaining their motivations and plans to a solo, outnumbered good guy.  But even with these flaws, the movie cleanly explores the clash of two very different and absolutist cultures in a logical, allegorical way and it's got a horrifying gut-punch of a finale that simply must be seen.

1 comment:

Laika the Space Dog said...

The Wicker Man, along with the Italian Job and Get Carter, are the three films which define a British generation. They're all boys films, but every boy in Britain grew up with these playing on the pokey little TV in his room.

With the latter two having survived dreadful tone deaf re-makes, I look forward not at all to Tom Cruise playing the Edward Woodward role at some point in the future.

The 'clunky' feel to it just emphasises it's 'verite' feeling, despite its fantastic subject matter its power comes from the fact it feels so real. It's an epic piece, mixing the mundane and mythological, and it lingers long in the memory, unlike any horror film of today.