Film Corner: The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man

[Guest Post by Kissmate]

Hey, guys! I figured I'd start a new tag, #Kissmatewatches, for live tweeting movies! Since I just finished Midsommar, I think a nice change of pace is due. Here's a shot at "The Wicker Man" from 1973! All I know of this is the premise and there's a burning man made of wicker with a man inside. That and this is NOT the Nick Cage one, so... no women-punching bears. Let's go take a look!

First look we get is a thank you from the producer to the people of "Lord Summerisle" for their cooperation. "Based on True Story" found-footage kind of opening to me. Music plays over credits, a tradition of old films to start with the stuff. A plane flies over Scotland, landing at Summerisle. The men don't like helping the plane stay, but are forced after the pilot reveals he's a cop looking for a missing child. All the old men refuse to ID the missing girl, but recognize the name of May and send the cop on his way. "It's not May's daughter though." When asked to elaborate, the men chuckle, but say nothing. Methinks that there's more afoot than what we're hearing.

The song continues and it's about a man laying a girl down in the barley and having fun. Connections? Dunno. The cop, Howie, asks about the girl to the mother herself, but gets a confusing answer of "never seen that girl, but my daughter's in the back drawing hares!" Curiouser and curiouser... The daughter, Myrtle, knows of the missing girl, Rowan. "She plays in the fields all day." Rowan is a hare, apparently. Better than the dead child theory I had. Howie retires to The Green Man inn. (I love the innkeep. Creepy and slimy in the charismatic way.)

So the innkeep's daughter, Willow, is quite pretty. The moment the innkeep mentions her taking Howie to his room, the whole room sings of how the girl is a 'village bicycle.' Howie looks uncomfortable and asks for his meal so he doesn't have to listen to this. Can I say the innkeep is doing amazing of not giving a single shit that they're singing about how good a lay his daughter is, AND how well Willow's taking it too? Like, Howie looks uncomfortable FOR them! Howie stops the song and passes the photo around, saying his business. Then he frowns at his meal, saying how it's all out of a can. Willow assures him "things in their natural state have the most vivid colors." This makes him uncomfortable again. Prude, much?

Howie wanders the island and comes across fornicating and nude figures who don't care if he watches. He marches back into the inn so he can pray the naughty images away. It's interrupted by Willow singing from her room next door, calling him like a siren to her. Howie almost goes to her, but the struggle to not be at her side is real. He's sweating and shaking at the end! Even though she slapped every surface in the room, including her own skin, he managed to hold himself back. I think she could do better, anyway. Willow greets him in the morning, lamenting that he didn't join her. He mentions his own fiancée as his reasoning. Either way she feels, she tells him to not be here on May Day. No reason why, just don't be. Well, now I have to know, is it killings of visitors?

Howie stumbles on a classroom that teaches about phallic symbols to young girls. Now I'm uncomfortable. He tries to get answers from the girls and instead gets compared to a beetle on a string going round and round a pole until it traps itself for good. I love the writing so far. Subtle hints here and there. Never spoon-feeding us answers. It gives us puzzle pieces and we have to put it together ourselves. That's the good shit right there! Also love how we see Howie take over anything he can, especially a woman's space. But by doing so, he gets a clue: Rowan was in the schoolteacher's records. He calls them all liars and demands answers. The teacher talks in circles and finally lets loose a secret: Rowan is what WE call dead, but they don't use that word. Summerisle believes life goes back to life, therefore there really isn't death. No Christianity on this island! It's all paganism and hedonism here!

Howie finds the groundskeeper and finds Rowan's grave: a tree with her umbilical cord strung on it like a bacon ornament. He goes to tell her mother the news, and walks in on May using older medicine to treat a sore throat with a frog. Howie balks and leaves. He checks for death records, but can't find Rowan's. So she can't be dead, right? It feels like Howie's getting so close, but then pulled away from what he wants. Like a beetle on a string. I almost feel bad for the stubborn bastard. A fertility song with fire-jumping! Howie moves past it to meet with the Lord SummerIsle. WHO'S A YOUNG CHRISTOPHER LEE?!?! Howie is not having Lee's "naked women" shtick, nor any of his "parthenogenesis" ploys, though.

Howie stammers. "B-But they are- are naked!"

"Naturally," Lee straightens, "It's much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!"

Best line so far! Best delivery! Howie and Lee have a religion-off, as well as a history lesson. Lee's grandfather bought the land, but his father loved it, as well as nature. Howie yells, "He brought you up a Pagan!" Lee smirks, "A heathen, conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one." I love Lee in this role so much! Good delivery, good lines, and so charismatic! Maybe I'm biased, but I can't wait to see him again!

Howie is given permission to exhume the body... and finds a hare in the coffin. The gravedigger openly laughs at him. Beetle on a string. Howie storms into Lee's manor and demands "WTF???" but gets no more answers. Just more "look harder and sleuth better." As much as I do NOT associate with Howie, I do feel bad for his grievances. No one likes getting jerked around by the short-and-curlies, no matter their religious upbringing. Howie takes matters into his own hands and does some late-night trespassing. He finds the picture with Rowan as the Harvest Festival Maiden of 1972. And the crops had failed. He assumes that she had been sacrificed in a pagan ritual to bring back the crops.

There's no time to lose as May Day is fast approaching, and who knows who will be the next sacrifice! Howie first does some research on the matter, and learns some very disturbing things. And here's where I rant about Midsommar. Everything mentioned in TWM reminds me of MS, but in a bad way. Learning about these rituals and seeing them through a devoted Catholic's eyes is far more impactful than a half-there, half-depth girl's eyes. Midsommar had flayed skin worn by a priest, a May Day Maiden, fertility rituals, burning sacrifices, but... It felt as hollow as every laugh made by Dani. In fact, I fear more for Howie's life than I do for Dani, because I don't know if Howie will live! MS had gore, gore, and bad drug trips. TWM has a thriller's suspense. MS had assholes who had no sense of what was happening around them and made bad choices. TWM has smart, cunning characters trying to do the right thing. Can you see my bias?

[/Rant Over] So Howie tries to fly to the mainland to get some reinforcements. The plane is busted. Weird animal masks watch on. He goes back to the island to see the parade/dance has begun. The horsehead leads him all over the city, and then to a masked party. Lee announces at the party that there will be a sacrifice at the end of the parade. Howie thinks it might be Rowan, so searches every house on the island. The whole island is now covered in clowns and I think back to the jester of the dance. Is Howie the actual jester here, unlike the dressed up one? The symbols are in the parade, but are there real- oh, Howie's dressing in the Punch costume. Nevermind.

Lee is the priest, in a nice purple dress. There's a person dressed as a hare in a wagon. Rowan, maybe?? We end at a Stonehenge-like place. The swordsmen make a sun and go through a fun game of Pagan Roulette--when the music stops, your head gets chopped. The game stops at the hare, and the head is chopped, but no blood? The head was fake, and Holly was the winner. Now ale is offered to the sea. Simple enough. Rowan is revealed to be tied to a cave this whole time! Now it's a race to get her out! Lee is waiting for them and Rowan runs off with her mother. The game revealed, the town seizes Howie and washes him before carrying him away to "the wicker man." Howie screams the whole way for the town to think of what they're doing and begs for his life.

It's a final struggle of faith (Lee) and logic (Howie), but both parties hold fast to their own. There's a mention that if the crops fail, then Lee would be next on the block. "They will not fail!" Lee screams. I like Howie here. He gives sound logical points. Howie sees the Wicker Man, filled with livestock and burning fuel. And there's a spot for him. Howie gives one more faithful push, but the fire starts and music lifts. For the isle, it's a joyous occasion. For Howie, it's the unfortunate end.

That was everything I'd heard it to be. A great thrill, a wild goose chase, and it all leads to a sad but satisfying ending. Definitely worth watching at least once! 10/10, though probably not with kids!


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