Revisiting The Wicker Man

I first saw The Wicker Man about 15 years ago when I rented a VHS copy from Blockbuster Video, in the hope that it might feature some 70’s nudity. I think I ended up fast forwarding through most of it, except briefly for that Britt Ekland seduction scene which ends disappointingly. So yeah, as far as erotic horror goes, it’s no Stormswept. However, in spite of having almost no interest in the plot of The Wicker Man at the time, I could not bring myself to fast forward through the final scene, which was genuinely disturbing.

Unlike a throwaway fun flick like “The Wraith” that you that you can watch like 50 times whenever you want some background ambiance, The Wicker Man is one of those movies you regret watching, not because it’s bad, but because it files a traumatizing memory image into your brain that can’t be unseen. I would have been happy to never see or think about this film ever again, but somehow I roped myself into rewatching parts of it and decided it was worth giving a few thoughts on.

*Spoilers ahead*

The plot centers upon a Christian police sergeant who travels to a small Scottish island to investigate a case of a missing young girl. He soon discovers that the locals on the island have abandoned Christianity and are practicing a crude form of Celtic paganism. He is disturbed by their promiscuous behavior and what he perceives to be bizarre and superstitious activities (they utilize folk medicine like swallowing live toads to cure sore throats.) The people on the island make his investigation frustrating as they claim the girl he is looking for never existed. Eventually he locates the girl and saved her from a fate of being sacrificed as the “May Queen” (only she doesn’t appear to want to be saved.) The sergeant gets caught with her while trying to escape. He winds up being the sacrifice instead, and the film ends with him being burned alive in a giant Wicker Man, while the townsfolk joyously look on and sing “Sumer Is Icumen In.”

The leader of the island, “Lord Summerisle” (played by legendary actor Christopher Lee) resembles something of a neoreactionary figure. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, he manipulates the islanders into embracing traditional paganism (which he himself clearly doesn’t believe in) as a means to control them as well as to establish a harmoniously cohesive and functioning society. The island serves as a prototype for a mostly autonomous, rural “city state” which has deviated from modernity in favor of folklore and superstition. However, with people having wild orgies in graveyards, it is less prudish than the killjoy culture that “Little House on the Praireactionary” factions of neoreaction idealize. That being said, life on Pagan Island looks pretty groovy to me.

Anyway, near the end of the film when the police sergeant has been captured and is about to be sacrificed, he pleads with the villagers that their beliefs are a lie, and tries to convince them that sacrificing him to “their gods” won’t prevent the harvest from failing. The townspeople ignore his appeals to reason and gleefully carry out the sacrifice, burning him alive in a giant wicker man.

The irony is that for almost the entire duration of the event he is vocally professing the Christian afterlife beliefs, asserting that the Christian God he was brought up to believe in is the true one. As the flames slowly begin to engulf him, he desperately curses the islanders and recites Psalm 23, oblivious to the notion that his own prayers are no more or less likely to be answered.

What makes this film ultimately disturbing though is the way it mercilessly reveals the horror of being the odd man out among a mob of people swept up in groupthink. Regardless of what one believes, the viewer can relate the the movie to situations where they perceive themselves to be the rational individual caught in a world gone mad.

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