Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Wicker Man

I am posting this as part of my Pagan-ly duty to the rest of the world.


Two hours of my life, gone forever….

A review of The Wicker Man, by Moonwriter (that's me!)

I saw the reviews (below) come in on the Druid list this morning, but I set them aside and didn’t look at them. Bill and I were planning to see the film today, and I didn’t want to know any details before we went.

Then I got home after the flick (still shaking my head), read the reviews, and wished I’d done so sooner, so save the two hours and the $6.

What a disappointing film.

As a fan of the 1970’s original version (which I own), I was worried about them trying to craft a remake. I tend to think that remakes are usually a bad idea, and in this case, my feelings were well founded. Please read the other reviews below—I don’t need to waste your time by restating them, and they actually summarize my thoughts pretty well. I can’t disagree with anything that Ellen or Donald said. But I have some fresh thoughts, too.

First of all, the opening scene. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but it’s quite shocking—probably one of the best sock-your-breath-away things in the entire film. Unfortunately, it also appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the story! It may serve the purpose of unseating the Nicholas cage character psychologically, leaving him ready to fall prey to the women of Summerisle. But the film could have just as easily worked without the opening. My S.O., Bill, thinks that at one point the director maybe had a couple of story lines in mind, and simply forgot to delete one. Could be….

Second…. The story depends on Nicholas Cage being lured to the remote island of Summerisle under weird circumstances. His character is an experienced cop, and throughout this film (and especially in the first half hour) he repeatedly does things that no police officer would ever do, like deliberately antagonizing people, acting hostile and rude, skipping out on his department without actual permission, heading for the island without establishing any backup, losing track of his weapon, conducting searches without warrants, etc. The list goes on and on. Having a character act in a way that you know is patently impossible makes it equally impossible to believe anything that’s happening. Only 10-15 minutes into the film they’d lost me.

Even more, Nicholas Cage breaks just about every rule of “horror movie safety.” You know, the ones that say things like, DON’T GO INTO THE DARK BASEMENT WHEN THE LIGHT IS SUDDENLY BROKEN—that kind of thing. Another huge loss of credibility.

The acting is…. Well, it’s not acting. It’s bad. Nicholas Cage and Ellen Burstyn—two faves of mine—are terrible.

The women on the island are a matriarchal community taken to excess. These women are mean. They are evil. They are sociopathic. Imagine an island full of Diane Downs-clones. Now, anyone who writes knows that in order for a character to be believable, she or he must be fully “round.” That is, they can’t be 100% good or 100% evil—no one believes that! You have to be able to find some redeeming value in even the most heinous character, and some horrible flaw in the most angelic—this is a tenet of creating authentic characters.

I found myself being grateful that the word “Pagan” wasn’t mentioned in the film—at least not that I heard. It gave me hope that filmgoers would see the islanders as a really weird fanatical sect of some kind, and might not link it to modern Pagan practices (which it isn’t!). The word “goddess” is mentioned, but mostly, the women just talk about how they’ll no longer be subservient to men, etc. There are men (and a few boys) on the island; however they’re silent and enslaved—“kept for breeding,” we learn. I wanted to feel even the smallest crumb of empathy for the women, but I couldn’t. I had a momentary early glimmer that they might be something like a warrior race of Amazons, but even that didn’t work. They had no nobility about them, and no goodness—just anger and hate.

I must confess that I loved the doctor’s house, which was full of herbs and arcane goodies, and was something of a natural history museum. That is, until we entered the back room, an abortionist’s set-up that featured glass jars of aborted male fetuses. Did we really need to see that? (Rhetorical question. Nope, we didn’t. We know they hate the men way before that. No need to see dead babies, many of them near birth-size.)

The film is also full of goofs. At one point Cage is sitting on the dock, next to a pile of lobster traps. Lobster traps, on an island in the Puget Sound, just off Seattle? Come on. Crab pots, yes. Lobsters, no. There’s a curious mixture of modern and medieval clothing that is probably supposed to represent an arcane culture, but seems all over the place. There’s a central theme of bees, with enough honey supposedly being made on the island to create a supporting business and trade economy, but this is a heavily forested island, with only a few open meadows, and this is a northern location with long, wet, cold elongated seasons that encompass fall-winter-spring. Those must be some bees!

I agree with the comments in the other reviews about the lack of music. In the original Wicker Man, the people were happy, and always bouncing around and singing traditional (if sort of over-the-top) songs, etc. Not only that, but the film was full of built-in explanations about Pagan holidays and celebration. In this film, there are no explanations—the woven Maypole, the people in odd masks and garb, the disintegrated church and overgrown graveyard, and the harvest rites all go unexplained and just kind of hang there in mid-air. And there’s no music, no joy, no celebration. Not until the end, when the women all grin from ear to ear as poor Nicholas Cage…. Well, you’ll have to watch for yourselves. The ending lends a new angle to the idea of the sacrifice that is “freely given.”

If you consider yourself a member of the Pagan community, this may be worth watching, just so you’ll know what the chatter is about. But I’d wait until it hits DVD or shows up on TV—it should run well on TV, as there’s little that would need editing out. Theater tickets are expensive these days—this one isn’t worth it.


From Ellen - - - , Druid priestess and a teacher at the Grey School:

Unfortunately I agree with everything he says below. However, I feel duty bound to attend these movies to keep tabs on what the public is seeing, and thinking about us. This is pretty scary fare. For example we are shown as abortionists who collect male fetuses in formaldehyde jars. Idiotic and sad considering that among the cultures that abort fetuses for sexual preference, all abort females.


Review of The Wicker Man by Donald - - - .

If it's not too late, I would advise skipping it.

The original film, The Wicker Man, is one of my favorites. It presents an isolated Pagan society coming into conflict with modern times, and their solution to problems through the reenactment of the Divine King myth. In some ways, it is ethically ambiguous. Sgt.
Howie was given chance after chance to escape his fate, yet he always chose to follow the myth. However, his part in the recreation was unknown to him. Was it fair? Many Pagans have debated both sides of the issue. Combined with the marvelous songs (including a final rousing version of "Summer is a comin' in," the oldest popular song for which both music and lyrics remain), it has remained popular among Pagans and become a "cult thriller" among non-Pagans for almost 35 years. I have three or four different edits of the movie (the U.S. version cut out much of Sgt. Howie's back-story, including his extreme form of Christianity) and a first edition of the novel based on the screenplay (some people think it went the other way).

But the film was definitely a low budget effort, and it shows—although that's part of its charm. So with that in mind, I was looking forward to the new version staring Nick Cage. This new version was not just a disappointment, it was a disaster.

The Pagan culture--and it's clash with Christianity over everything from sex to death—of the original has been replaced with a sort of inbred, pseudo-feminist, man-hating cult. The only thing men are needed for, according to Sister Summerisle (replacing Lord Summerisle/Christopher Lee of the original) is breeding, and the men are virtually silent, 2nd-class slaves. Are malformed inbreds part of Paganism? I don't think so. The way the island's society is presented would typify the controlling women as the mythic "feminazi" of a certain drug-addled right-wing radio voice.

In the oiginal, we are drawn into a truly Pagan culture, one that uses natural remedies, has joyous celebrations where the people make their own primitive (in the art-oriented meaning of the word) costumes, and where concepts of love, caring, community, religion, sexuality and sexual initiation are taught to their loved and well cared for children. When asked for the meaning of the Maypole in the original film, the children raise their hands excitedly, not even waiting to be recognized by their teacher before exclaims, "Phallic symbol! Phallic symbol!" The new version replaces the question with "What is the meaning of man?" and the same response, in context, makes little sense and is not as exuberant.

In the original, the people have fun preparing for the coming festival. In the new version the people morosely and silently (where are the songs????) collect wood and poles. In the original the product of the island is apples, while in the modern one it is honey, leading to a scene where the Nick Cage character, Edward Malus (perhaps a reference to Edward Woodward who played the original lead as Sgt. Howie), is stung by bees to which he is highly allergic and almost dies trying to get out the epipen that he keeps with him for just that situation. The scene tries to add excitement, but does nothing to move the narrative of the film. It should have been shortened or cut. Likewise the entire beginning sequence, looking like a bad imitation of M. Night Shyamalan, does nothing but give a sudden shock and distract from the narrative. Was it related to the plot to bring Malus to the island? If so, it is never clarified.

One of the major problems is the focus on the morose gathering of wood instead of the joyous preparation for the parade and rite. In the original, the masked procession is one of awe at the strange, primitive, ancient costumes, a bit of humor, and some terror for what will happen. Here, the costumes appear with no set up, and for a modern audience they are simply ridiculous. The audience I saw this with responded appropriately and broke into laughter repeatedly. The Cage character, after punching and kicking some women around as if he were Bruce Lee, moves into more heroics trying to rescue a missing girl. Unfortunately, he has disguised himself by wearing one of the most awful bear costumes in the history of film, again to laughter of the audience. His trying to get around in it reminded me of the truly hilarious scene in "One Crazy Summer" where Bobcat Goldthwait is trapped in a Godzilla costume, smashing a small model of a building development, or the false bravado of Kurt Russell in "Big Trouble in Little China."

In the original, Sgt. Howie, realizing that escape is impossible, follows his god with singing to his doom. The juxtaposition of the songs of different religious traditions is symbolic of the entire film. Edward Malus has both his legs broken and is hung upside down.

The director, who also wrote the screenplay, clearly did not understand what was going on in the original, and has brought superficiality, wooden acting, terrible dialog, and unintentional humor to what was an intriguing and enjoyable original. If you feel you must see this, wait until it's on TV. In the meantime, go back and view the original for a truly enjoyable experience. And for silly, mindless fun, take in "One Crazy Summer" or "Big Trouble in Little China," too.

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