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The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

By Patrick Samuel • January 15th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
British Lion Films

Original release: December 1973
Running time: 88 minutes

Director: Robin Hardy
Writers: Anthony Shaffer, David Pinner (novel)
Composer: Paul Giovanni

Cast: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee

The Wicker Man

Religion is a funny old thing, isn’t it? What might seem perfectly normal for one might be absolutely crazy to another. Take Christianity for example, with the symbolic eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ – it must seem quite mad to those looking in from the outside.

Nevertheless, we look at other religions and think the same. Tolerance and a right to practice whatever we find comfort in should allow us to just get on with it in peace. This is not always guaranteed though, and human history has been plagued with clashes of one against another, for a number of reasons, but most of all through blind fanaticism.

In Robin Hardy’s adaptation of David Pinner’s novel, Ritual, what we witness is the clash between two seemingly different religions.

After receiving an anonymous note, Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives from the mainland to Summerisle, a remote Hebridean island, famed for its abundant harvests. He begins investigating the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison, but the locals seem uncooperative.

No sooner than he arrives, Sergeant Howie begins to feel out of place. As a devout Christian, he’s troubled by what seems to be immoral practices on the island. He sees couples fornicating at night in the fields, he overhears schoolgirls being taught about the phallic representation of the May pole and is alarmed when a woman places a toad in a girl’s mouth to cure a cough. With the locals denying Rowan ever existed, it becomes difficult to pin suspicion on any specific person. When Sergeant Howie meets the island’s leader, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) he becomes convinced something is terribly wrong here.

The Wicker Man

Summerisle explains how he introduced the islanders to Paganism. Convincing them that through the worship of the old Gods, their crops would prosper and they would live comfortably. They drove out the Christian ministers and came to believe when a body dies the spirit returns to the trees, the air and everything around them. Sergeant Howie comes to suspect Rowan was murdered as part of sacrifice following a poor harvest. Uncovering more evidence, he confronts Summerisle to let him know he’s going to bring the full weight of the law to the island.

Through the investigation we learn much about the beliefs and customs of the islanders, and also Sergeant Howie. While his faith is portrayed as logical, theirs is fanatical – they follow their leader and there’s nothing he says which they won’t do. In a way, it gives us a biased look at religion in general while ignoring the persecution and wars that have been lead in the name of Christianity over the centuries.

Yet its performances and portrayal of life on the island, together with the music, makes The Wicker Man an entertaining and unsettling film to watch. Woodward’s Howie is a man of quiet contemplation, he’s willing to be tolerant at first, but what he see goes too far and he feels forced to take action and return the The Wicker Manisland to order. Lee, as Summerisle seems somewhat normal at first, but as we start to learn more about him, the feeling he can’t be trusted only intensifies, culminating in his frightful appearance later on.

As The Wicker Man makes its way to nail-biting and horrifying climax, Sergeant Howie will find out it was all part of a plan – one which he unwittingly played right into. Stripped and then dressed in ceremonial robes, the islanders lead him to giant effigy on the cliff-top where it’s he who will become their ultimate sacrifice – despite his pleas and prayers.

It’s easily memorable for its ending, and for Lee, but The Wicker Man has a lot more going for it. It’s one of those rare films that if we look at it closely enough we start to ask questions about the things it doesn’t cover; Pagan influences on early Christianity and how easily we tend to gloss over our own religion’s transgressions while looking at others. Through all of this it remains a film that tells us about the dangers of blind fanaticism and how small, isolated communities are easily susceptible to it, especially in the hands of someone like Summerisle.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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