The Wicker Man

These Are All The Things They Fear We Are

Directed by Neil LaBute; Reviewed by Aldyth Beltane

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Title: The Wicker Man
Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Ellen Burstyn
Released: 2006
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues
Freak Nation Rating:

I saw the recent remake of The Wicker Man because a friend invited me to a free screening. I knew it was going to be bad going in, but I didn’t know just how bad, or in what specific ways. Sure, remote village, man being burned alive as part of some kind of pseudo-Pagan (and the key word here is “pseudo”) sacrifice, and well, Nicholas Cage, who, to me, is a fairly strong argument to not see any movie. What I wasn’t prepared for was how completely clichéd, stereotypical, misogynistic and downright offensive the entire thing was — both to my intelligence, and my Pagan pride. And I am by no means anywhere near a “proper” Pagan or Wiccan, though I certainly count myself as feminist. But let’s also remember that “feminist” is not synonymous with “man-hater.” Apparently the people who made this movie don’t get that particular subtlety.

Nicholas Cage interrogates a primary-school classroom in the remake of The Wicker Man.

Brief plot synopsis: Cage plays a good-guy cop whose main character flaw seems to be a sort of lonely detachment. After being injured while attempting to rescue a child from a mysterious car crash, he is given a letter from his years-ago ex-fiancée asking him to help her find her missing daughter. The ex resides on a remote island off Washington State which is some kind of commune with “its own ways.” Cage makes his way there to have the clannish local women give him all manner of run-around in his attempts to locate the child. The ex-fiancée is less than helpful, the men are silent, and everything is generally creepy. Also, there is no phone service, no electricity, and no way off the island. He’s trapped. The rest of it is just running him through a maze like a rat.

So my disgust with the movie is from two completely different standpoints. Cage’s character is a police officer, as he manages to tell audience and villagers about 50 times during the movie. Yet in no way other than waving his badge around does he use any of the skills that an officer is supposed to have. Definitely a member of the “Clueless Detective Agency”. For that matter, cop notwithstanding, if he had used any of the sense that he was hopefully born with, none of the plot would have been feasible. I have a particular objection to mysteries in which the entire plot is dependent upon the character(s) doing every little thing that the manipulative force predicts they will, like some Machiavellian chessmaster. As any GM that tries to base a campaign on the players doing exactly what they are expected to do knows, that trick rarely, if ever, works. The most meticulously laid plans can go awry with a single act of free will. Yes, people are predictable, but no one is that predictable.

But more, this movie offends as it plays to every fear that God-Fearing Real Men have of Pagans, Feminists, and possibly women in general. (i.e., that women are The Enemy and Not To Be Trusted.) Especially older and or powerful women. Just the level of clichés alone was enough to cause gagging, but coupled with the plot, it was beyond infuriating. The younger/more attractive women were manipulative, their seductiveness used as weapons as much as their words; the older women were downright scary in their pointed ugliness, and all were purposefully and gleefully cruel. The men were of course emasculated, their power stolen via removal of their tongues rather than their penises, for apparently, as Pagans, the women still had use for those organs. Which plays to another stereotypical fear of women’s sexuality.

Really, this kind of attitude was barely acceptable in the early days of feminism- backlash movies, such as 1974’s Planet Earth, in which a future earth has been taken over by women who keep men as servants, pets and playthings, exemplifying men’s supposed fear that given the power, women would subjugate men as they had been subjugated. This attitude is insulting to men, to women, and to our collective intelligence in general. Throw in some half-assed juju about “goddess” and “nature” and other misunderstood, misinterpreted, or simply not- giving- a- damn- about- accurate- portrayal- of- Paganism, along with the above mentioned characterizations, and there is simply not a good thing about this movie.

I am actually left to wonder if on some level it was designed and released now to exacerbate hatred and suspicion from Christians of All Things Other. It genuinely seemed to me that its only purpose was one of propaganda. But perhaps that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me.

Aldyth Beltane is a red-haired, glam rock sex magician from the future. She writes and DJs, though not as much as she'd like, shops for style and recreation, devours media with appetite and passion and prefers comics, science fiction television and various kinds of movies, though not always the ones you might expect. She has nightmares about zombies, collects plush elder deities and purple eyeshadow, rescues kitties, and has embraced her identity as crusader, quixotic or otherwise. Above all else, Aldyth still believes in a finer world.