SPOILER ALERT : If you intend to watch the Wicker Man and don’t know the story, don’t read any further . ( Watch the original if you can and ignore the remake – its rubbish )
Over the weekend I re-watched the great film The Wicker Man, starring Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Britt Ekland . I last saw this sometime in the 1980’s when I was not really interested in the religious subplot of the film, but just watched it as a straightforward thriller . On second viewing, it is the spiritual contrast between the Christian policeman and the Pagan inhabitants of the Scottish island which jumped out at me, even though it retains the capacity to shock and the climax at the end, when the Wicker Man finally appears is still a classic scary movie moment.
For those who have not seen the film I will give a synopsis . A serious, deeply religious Christian Scottish police sergeant, Neil Howie receives information that a young girl has gone missing on a remote Scottish island, in an anonymous letter . The sergeant flies to the island, Summerisle, to investigate . He shows a photograph of the missing girl to the locals, but they deny her existence .
Howie starts noticing the islanders’ bizarre customs and lifestyles with increasing incredulity and anger and eventually meets Lord Summerisle who explains that they are all practicing Pagans, who have rejected Christianity on the grounds that it didn’t work . Whilst they practiced Christianity the islanders were forced to eke out a living, but since they forced out the Christian minister and followed a pagan lifestyle ( lots of sex and alcohol ) the island has become abundant and something of a paradise .
Howie with the locals
Howie is deeply offended and accuses them of murdering the girl as part of a bizarre ritual to ensure a bountiful harvest, as the last one had failed . He then attempts to leave the island in order to report to the Chief Constable of the West Highland Constabulary, but finds that his plane has been sabotaged and he is unable to leave .
Attempting to save the girl, who he has now decided is alive, but is to be sacrificed on May 1st he finds himself involved in a strange ceremony dressed as Punch . He finds the girl and tries to escape with her, but is drawn back to the islanders and Lord Summerisle who explains that the disappearance of the girl was just a ruse to lure the policeman to the island and that it was him they wanted, as it was their belief that his sacrifice due to his virginal and pure Christian life, will appease their pagan gods and ensure a good harvest for the island . He is then led to a huge Wicker Man and is duly burnt alive, reciting Psalm 23, and the film then ends.
One senses that the film makers are firmly on the side of the pagan islanders and their lifestyle seems a hell of a lot more fun than the repressed policeman’s life . If I had to choose between the two I would definitely go with the pagans, but without the human sacrifice, as having sex with a young Britt Ekland seems part of the deal . It is also interesting that the island needs no police, implying that repression leads to crime, a view that I concur with . But the two archetypes, Sacrifice and ‘Death and Rebirth’ are what chiefly interested me .
Firstly, Sacrifice – both the Paganism and Christianity depicted in the film are concerned with sacrifice . With the pagans it is more overt, with their rituals and actual human sacrifice, but with the policeman it is slightly different . In his Christianity he seems to have to give up a part of himself and live a life of deprivation without sex even though it is obvious that his inner stud is crying out for it and a singing, naked Britt Ekland banging on the walls of his hotel does not help matters much . The fact that the islanders seem to be having so much fun also accentuates his discomfort .
But in both cases, it implies that God, in the case of Neil Howie and the Gods with the Pagans, need something from us . Is this true? Would omnipotent beings want our meagre belongings? This doesn’t seem very likely to me and is in fact the projection of our negative ego, which is needy, onto God or the Gods and our view of sacrifice is just a reflection of ourselves . The very belief that the world is not abundant and that we have to give up something of us to a needy Universe is wrong, in my view, and actually causes the problems . The Universe wants to give to us and we are the ones who are trying to take .
The second theme in the film is Death and Rebirth .The pub in the film is called The Green Man, who is a figure who dies and then is reborn . He is often linked to the Green Knight who Sir Gawain fights in the Arthurian legends . Whatever limb Gawain cuts from the Green Knight regrows and Gawain finds that he is indestructible . The pagans in the Wicker Man believed that by sacrificing the policeman, he would be reborn in the harvest and simply transform from one state of being to another and the policeman, himself, believed that he would be resurrected in Christ’s arms, once he was dead .
Actually, the story of Jesus’ death is a Death and Rebirth tale so maybe Lord Summerisle and Neil Howie weren’t so different after all . All this presupposes that death and birth are real and again I believe that we have got this wrong and that it is only our belief that make it so . The pagan’s belief in the forces of the Sun and other natural forces for life are also mistaken . It is only our bodies that need sustenance and we are not our bodies .
Anyway, I would highly recommend the film to anybody who has not yet seen it .The acting is great especially from Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee and the movie can be enjoyed on different levels . Britt Ekland isn’t bad either !
Related Post : Lammas Wickerman .