The Wicker Man” is a peculiar little film. It begins as a typical mystery: a Scottish detective travels to a remote Island off Scotland’s coast where he is to investigate a report of a missing girl. Then the film mutates into a musical of sorts with numerous shots of topless women. Then it becomes a mystery again, this time fueled by religious beliefs. Undoubtedly paganism was an eye-opening concept in 1973 and while it doesn’t completely translate in terms of effectiveness today, it presents an interesting theistic argument and lays the groundwork for a number of future thrillers that would employ similar twists.
Edward Woodward stars as the police officer investigating into the missing girl, which is suspicious right off the bat. “The Wicker Man” is not particularly good at hiding the vital clues to the film’s mystery, but then again this is thirty-some years and consequently more experience with the thriller genre talking. Presumably the rites and rituals of pagan culture mystified and perplexed people a bit more back then. Anyway, as he starts to look into the mystery the landlord’s daughter (Britt Eckland) attempts to seduce him and the Summer Isle’s lack of sexual censorship becomes ‘celebrated’ in the film.
At first, “The Wicker Man” appears to attack the God-fearing Christian. Sgt. Howie, the detective, is outraged at the lack of Christian morality on the island. He can’t believe that the church is no longer a church and that no priest or minister exists. His ignorance is laughable in a modern context, making his character a bit despicable. It is a film not kind to Christianity or at the least Christians who choose to remain ignorant about faiths that do not believe in Jesus Christ and are appalled that someone can practice them.
Eventually that concept evolves. It still remains a film thematically based in religion, but Anthony Shaffer’s story suggests that we not be so quick to pass judgment on those who believe differently and hold different moral standards than ourselves. The moral guidelines that different groups of people follow are not clear-cut; right and wrong is not so black and white. In that sense “The Wicker Man” is a brave film despite its flaws.
It would be wrong to classify “The Wicker Man” as horror. It is a thriller with non-traditional religious themes that seem cultish and mysterious. It is a mystery that despite not being the most elaborate and impressive of story lines, is nonetheless unique and highly memorable. Undoubtedly anyone that sees this film will remember its final act, culminating in the burning of the wicker man.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Starring: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee