Film review: The Wicker Man (1973), directed by Robin Hardy
The pious police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) from mainland Scotland goes out to Summerisle island, after having received an anonymous letter about how a local girl, Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper), has gone missing. The islanders are dismissive and uncooperative. They claim there is no such girl on the island, but Howie suspects foul play and tries to dig deeper. What has he let himself in for?
The school teacher (Diane Cilento) is teaching the girls about how maypoles are a symbol for men’s you-know-whats like there’s nothing to be the slightest bit embarrassed about! The gravedigger (Aubrey Morris) at the church thinks it’s perfectly natural to adorn graves with umbilical cords! The innkeeper’s daughter Willow (Britt Ekland) tries to seduce him! People are fornicating on the village green at night! And Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) himself isn’t the slightest bit concerned!
Poor, sexually repressed Howie, who considers sex before marriage to be a sin and therefore hasn’t had any in the first ~40 years of his life. He really is a fish out of water … and he still has a missing girl to find.
When they were doing a remake of The Wicker Man, I’m pretty sure there was some kind of online protest list going around, because the film would depict Paganism in ways so incorrect it would be slanderous. I’ve still not seen the remake, but at least now I have seen more than the last few minutes of the original.
And it’s actually quite interesting.
First of all, I loved the folksy music. Willow dancing around her room in the nude, trying to entice Howie to come join her, was particularly haunting. And oddly familiar! Do I have it somewhere? (I do, as it turns out, sung by Green Crown.) Really enjoyable music all around.
Second, I didn’t think the Summerisle inhabitants were all that “out there”, but then, the film was made nearly 40 years ago now and times have changed. Nowadays, I think it would be rare to find someone in the UK quite that level of religiousness to actually make him do the whole “40-year-old virgin” thing. Okay, yes, the village green fornicating is a bit much, I’ll admit, but a lot of the other “OH NOES!!!!!” moments for Howie was just him not being able to face public nudity. The fact that he’s so uptight about sex feels a little ridiculous today, but if he wasn’t the whole point of the ending would be destroyed.
Another thing that adds to the fascination of this film is that it blatantly states that the local religion was invented as a ways and means to control people. Well, at least someone’s honest about it, for once.
On the other hand, their heathen ways didn’t actually make them out to be bad people. Sure, they have some weird-ass customs, are a little too keen on dogging in public places, but they’re not evil. It’s just that Howie keeps seeing them that way, because he’s from an entirely different school of thought.
Okay, aside from the bits about sacrificing people. Sacrificing living beings of any kind in order to appease the Earth Mother is against everything modern-day Pagans believe in. So this is where we start to disagree, the film and I. Up until that point, I was on the side of the free-spirited Summerislanders. On the other hand, that didn’t automatically made me sympathise with Howie the Crusader either. I just felt sorry for the animals. (Who weren’t actually harmed in real life, of course.)
Still, it’s a good film. Interesting to see how two entirely different types of people interact and why one is completely repulsed by the other. Because of that, and the good music, and the somewhat peculiar ending, I liked it. I was happily surprised to find my fellow Swede Britt Ekland in it, and Christopher Lee? Well, he’s a legend, and deservedly so.
4 out of 5 genetically engineered crops.