The Wicker Man  

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"The Wicker Man soundtrack is a major influence on neofolk and psych folk music." --Sholem Stein


Sergeant Howie : What religion can they possibly be learning jumping over bonfires?

Lord Summerisle : Parthenogenesis.

Sergeant Howie : What?

Lord Summerisle : Literally, as Miss Rose would doubtless say in her assiduous way, reproduction without sexual union.

Sergeant Howie : Oh, what is all this? I mean, you've got fake biology, fake religion... Sir, have these children never heard of Jesus?

Lord Summerisle : Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost...

-- The Wicker Man (1973)

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The Wicker Man is a classic cult 1973 British film filmed in Scotland, a psychological horror film set to a psych folk film score, it combined thriller, existential and horror themes. The film was directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer and starred Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland.

The Wicker Man is generally very highly regarded by critics. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as "The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies", and in 2004 the magazine Total Film named The Wicker Man the sixth greatest British film of all time.

Plot

Sergeant Neil Howie is sent an anonymous letter recommending that he investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison, on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle (a fictional island apparently inspired by the real-life Summer Isles of the Inner Hebrides).

He flies to the island and during his investigations discovers that the entire population follows a Neo-druid (in the movie, instead of druid they refer to them as the more broad group of Celtic) neo-pagan cult, believing in re-incarnation, worshipping the sun and engaging in fertility rituals and sexual magic in order to appease immanent natural forces.

Howie, a sexually celibate, devout Christian, becomes increasingly shocked by the islanders' behaviour. In the original uncut version of the film, he witnesses couples copulating in the church yard, in addition to finding a naked woman sobbing on a grave. These scenes resemble the Mardi Gras sequences in Easy Rider which also occur in a cemetery. He angrily threatens to involve the authorities after discovering the school mistress (Diane Cilento) is teaching young girls about the phallic importance of the maypole. Amulets such as the hag stone, toad stone, and snail stone, and the supposed cure of the whooping cough by placing a toad in a child's mouth, closely resemble descriptions found in Animal Simples.

Howie finds himself powerfully attracted to Willow, the sexually liberated daughter of the landlord. In the restored director's cut of the film, Christopher Lee refers to Willow as Aphrodite when presenting her with a young male adolescent to seduce. Howie cannot but overhear their passionate lovemaking. To compound matters, Willow tries to seduce him the following night, dancing naked and beating upon his bedroom wall, but Howie resists the torment because he does not believe in sex before marriage.

After interviewing many of the islanders - all of whom claim never to have heard of Rowan Morrison - Howie calls upon the island's owner Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Howie hopes that as the island's patriarch, Lord Summerisle will assist him with his enquiries. However, Summerisle counteracts the policeman's arguments robustly. After Howie objects to the sight of naked women jumping over a fire hoping for supernatural impregnation, he reminds him that Jesus was "Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated - I believe - by a ghost". When Howie accuses the Lord of advocating pagan beliefs, Summerisle responds by saying "A heathen conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one". Crucially, Lord Summerisle talks of appeasing and propitiating "the old gods".

The policeman leaves after obtaining the Lord's permission to exhume the body of Rowan Morrison from a grave in the island's unconsecreated church yard. In the coffin he discovers the fresh corpse of a hare, an animal with well-known supernatural connotations. After breaking in to the local chemist to develop missing film proving Rowan's existence, Howie experiences an epiphany. He realises that Rowan is still alive and that the islanders are proposing to "appease" the old gods by making a Mayday sacrifice. He assumes that she is to be the intended sacrifice, whereupon he instigates a search of the island. Howie receives no assistance in his quest from the islanders. It soon becomes clear to the viewer that Sgt Howie has entered into a paranoid nightmare.

Failing to discover where Rowan is hidden, Howie disguises himself as Punch, a principal character of the May Day festival, hoping to strike at the root of the mystery. He joins the bizarre procession of islanders as they cavort through the town and up to the cliffs. After he survives a sword-beheading ceremony, Rowan is finally revealed. Howie grabs her and flees through a cave but emerges at the other end on a precipice where Lord Summerisle and his followers await. Lord Summerisle then reveals that Rowan's disappearance was all an elaborate hoax conspired by everyone on the island to bring Howie to them. Howie, not Rowan, is the intended sacrifice, and the islanders believe his death will restore the fertility of their orchards.

Lord Summerisle and his followers explain to him that his sacrifice will be effective because Howie came to them of his own free will; as a virgin; with the power of a king (by representing the law); and as a fool ("You are the Fool, Mr. Howie: Punch, one of the great fool-victims in history! For you have accepted the role of King-For-A-Day, and who but a Fool would do that?" asks the school mistress, referring to the way that Howie has conducted his investigations). Howie in turn admonishes them, claiming that killing him will not restore their fertility and that they all would be guilty of murder. He argues that if the crops fail next year they will have to sacrifice Summerisle. This causes the Lord a moment of uncharacteristic anxiety because Howie has effectively sentenced his killer to death by the islander's own beliefs. However, Lord Summerisle quickly recovers himself, expressing the certainty that Howie's sacrifice will prove efficacious.

The policeman is dragged screaming into the belly of a large hollow wicker statue of a man which is subsequently ignited. In the final shot of the film, the islanders surround the burning wicker man and sing the Middle English folk-song "Sumer Is Icumen In" while the terrified Howie shouts out Psalm 23 and predicts divine vengeance on the island and its inhabitants. The dying prayer of Sergeant Howie is taken from the words of Sir Walter Raleigh on the scaffold.

See also

  • Willow's Song
  • Scene where all the masked heads raise their heads above the wall: [1]




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