Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wicker Man (1973)

I watched The Wicker Manfor the first time last night. I know quite a few people who rate the film very highly. I didn't dislike it, but it also didn't blow me away either. Three years ago I bought a t-shirt from Threadless titled Spoilt(It's a given that there are spoilers at that link, right?). For a true movie fan, especially one who loves twist endings, it's a great shirt. Even for those who aren't absolute movie buffs, it's a great conversation piece. Pretty much any time I wear it, I get comments and people will ask me about whatever spoiler they are not familiar with. I am very careful about wearing it. I have occasionally chosen to wear it knowing I'm going to be hanging around people I don't particularly care for, and therefore don't care if I ruin movies for them. It's also okay to wear around people I know who watch tons of movies who I figure have already seen most if not all of the films. I've noticed that one of the spoilers on the shirt is one people frequently do not know, and in fact I myself did not know it until I bought it. At the time, I'm not sure I even knew that The Wicker Man of 2006 was a remake, and considering how panned that film was, I didn't think I was going to end up watching it anyway.

Oops.

I did not see The Sixth Sense until it came out on video. I had successfully managed to avoid all spoilers up to that point, and the movie blew my mind as it had so many others before me. My boyfriend at the time was not so lucky and he did not really enjoy the film at all. After last night's viewing of The Wicker Man, I can see why. Knowing what was coming, I mostly spent the film trying to find a message behind it all. Horror movies are frequently designed to teach us a lesson as well as prey on our fears, so I think that was a logical assumption to make. For a film that features a devout Christian suddenly finding himself surrounded by pagans, I figured it could go a number of ways. Was it to trash the filthy pagans and their evil deeds? Was it trashing the Christian instead? Was it a little less specific, simply to admonish a man so tied to his particular faith that he unfairly judges others who practice a different one? In all honestly, I don't think any of these are the case. While people could certainly argue based on their own personal feelings (and what is more personal than our religious beliefs or lack there of?) I felt like it was as respectful as it could be to both sides in the context of the story. This is a true Christian, tempted like any normal human would be, but ultimately true to his faith. The pagans are not truly shown as evil, their religion is just more a stark contrast to his Christian ideals. From what I can tell, the horror of the situation relies almost entirely on the shocking twist of an ending.

These kinds of twists can certainly provide a powerful emotional response. In the case of movies like Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, and The Usual Suspects, they frequently have us clamoring to watch the whole film over again to see how this new piece of information changes how we view it. While I still enjoy all three of those movies, there's a part of me that wishes I could go back to that initial moment, to see the movie completely fresh again, and be blown away once again. Since that is impossible, I generally enjoy watching all the little clues that are laid out ahead of time and to find any possible contradictions.

*Spoilers ahead*

Then there is something like "The Lottery." If you somehow never read this short story by Shirley Jackson, take a few minutes of your time and go do so. It's one of those stories you never forget once you have read it. The Wicker Man is extremely similar in that it relies on the same level of shock value to horrify you. I think if someone told you, "here's a story about a village that randomly chooses to stone one of their members once a month" you probably wouldn't think much of "The Lottery." In a similar vein, being told ahead of time that "the villagers sacrifice the policeman" takes away a lot of the shock and horror that watching The Wicker Man blind would provide for you. The mystery of what's going on with the missing girl feels largely irrelevant, and when the end arrives, it doesn't hold as much weight. It's a fantastic performance by Ed Woodward and I did feel for him, but knowing it was coming all along really took away so much from it. I really wish there was some way I could have erased my memory for long enough to fully enjoy this film. This film doesn't really have much in the way of replay value like the other films above because there really aren't any clues ahead of time. It largely relies on misdirection - making you focus on the missing girl - so that you will be completely blind sided when the end is revealed.

If you are in the boat I was in and you already know what happens but have never seen the movie, I'm not going to flat out tell you not to watch it. Ed Woodward and Christopher Lee both give excellent performances and there are tons of naked ladies for those who like that. The movie is an interesting blend of classic horror and an art film and it has a lot more intelligence then films in either genre often have. You just have to accept the fact that the movie's emotional value may be lost on you.

If you were spoiled on the film before watching it but loved it immensely anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

4 comments:

  1. I in fact did know about the ending before I watched the movie, but I also knew about the ending to Fight Club before I watched it. I found that it made Fight Club no less powerful because I knew how it would end, and The Wicker Man lost everything.

    There wasn't a lot of nuance in The Wicker Man, nothing to focus on BESIDE the ending, where as Fight Club relied on more than just the ending and had a meatier story, in my opinion.

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  2. I agree. I love the twist in Fight Club because of its near flawless execution and how it fits within the story itself, but there is so much more to the story besides it. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. The first time I watched Wicker Man, I didn't know the ending, and I was absorbed in the atmosphere of the town and the mystery behind the missing little girl, and the ending blew me away.

    The second time I watched it, I was bored to tears. A truly great shock film will craft itself to hold up to a second viewing. You mentioned Fight Club and The Usual Suspects, both of which are still captivating and intriguing the third, fourth, and fifth times around, when you already know what's coming, because they are complex enough to work on multiple levels. Even if the mystery is blown, they still work as solid character pieces or sly commentaries on the societies of their worlds. Wicker Man isn't complex, and doesn't have multiples levels. It is what it is, and once you experience it, there's nothing much left to rediscover the next time around.

    That's not to say it's bad, not at all, but so much is built around the shocking reveal that, once you know where it's going, it feels like a redundant road leading to a foregone conclusion.

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  4. I am starting to wonder if the remake would be more entertaining. I've already had one person beg me not to watch it, which pretty much means I have to.

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