The Wicker Man

@TinyDalek and I watched The Wicker Man last night. Obviously the original, starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. Not the remake. No. Perish the thought.

It's a fantastic movie. If you haven't seen it, hunt down a copy.

Of course I might not see it the way some others do.

The way the film is stereotypically seen is that protagonist Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is the victim, and the residents of Summerisle play the part of, if you will, The Monster - with horror mainstay Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle at their head - in classic adversarial horror movie form.

The thing is, I don't see Howie as a victim, and certainly not as an innoccent one.

Howie is a devout, celibate, and morally rigid christian who is appalled by the neo-pagan religion followed by the residents of Summerisle. He lets his prejudice guide his actions, belittling, scoffing and denigrating what is portrayed as a sincerely held belief system. He barges around the island, moralises to a schoolteacher attempting to explain the islanders' belief in cyclic reincarnation, then barges into a graveyard which he condescendingly insists is a churchyard. He mocks the burial rituals, throws a harvest offering from an altar and lays a rough-made symbol of his own credulous religion in its place. At no point does the character stand back and think "Hmmm. This is a sincerely held religious belief I'm up against. Perhaps it would warrant a more circumspect approach". On the contrary, he acts as an arrogant avatar of a christian state, pontificating that he acts on behalf of a christian country - a picture of a religious majority oppressing a religious minority if ever there was one.

Oh, sure. He's been lured there by the islanders - who require a sacrifice - but it does appear that they at least gave him chances to leave. The optimum sacrifice must arrive and stay of his own free will, which he does. Willow's seduction sequence could be viewed as offering Howie a chance to throw away his celibacy, making him less suitable for the fire. He's told specifically to stay away from the May Day celebrations as "strangers are not welcome". Reverse psychology, or sincerely offered escape route?

Indeed, he makes his way to the final sacrifice through his adoption of the "punch" disguise - called out in the plot as the "king for a day" who would be sacrificed at the end of the ceremony. It seems to me the islanders would have settled for the innkeeper/punch, or Rowan, had Howie kept himself away or somehow "spoiled" himself for the sacrifice.

Howie's arrival at the Wicker Man can be seen as the tragic terminus of a path which had many exits, all of which were wilfully refused because of a zeal for "christian" law.

All this being the case, I can't help but fall down on the side of the people of Summerisle as a quiet, self-contained religious minority forced into extreme action by their circumstances. Everything they do makes sense from their religious standpoint within the film.

Certainly they're transgressing the law in their actions, but the film clearly expresses that the laws in question are "christian" - they're not, but for the sake of plot let's run with it - and as such cannot apply to this non-christian enclave.

So I see the film as a tragedy of religious intolerance and credulity played out through stereotypes of the two conflicting religions, and I guess this ambiguity in the way it can be viewed has been part of the film's critical success. Both sides are as loopy as each other, but the Summerislers were decent, unprejudiced and frankly rather sporting about things, whereas Woodward's character is an intrusive, sermonizing bull-at-a-gate with no respect for belief systems outside his own. Blinded as he is by his own rigid morality, he blunders straight into the arms of the Wicker Man, with only gentle encouragement from the islanders.

It's a really brilliant film, do find a copy if you've not seen it.

Now... Discuss.

posted @ Wednesday, November 9, 2011 11:28 AM

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