Wicker Man, The (1973)

The Wicker Man (1973), directed by Robin Hardy.


"You'll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice" -- Rowan Morrison's mother.

A Scottish policeman flies to an island to investigate a missing girl. The locals are friendly but unhelpful and don't seem to take his authority seriously. Bit by bit he notices signs of pagan nature worship and finally out and out orgiastic heathenism, an affront to his staunch Christian convictions. He is sorely tempted by the luscious and willing landlord's daughter (yeow!) but begins to suspect the missing young girl is still alive and awaits an awful fate...

My sense of the film has changed over the years. When I was young it was easy to dislike Edward Woodward's "Christian copper" as stiff, intolerant and ungenerous. But he is there to investigate a missing person and when he believes Rowan is alive and intended for human sacrifice, he tries to rescue her, making him a real hero.

Similarly, the islanders are appealing at first: good humored and happy with their ways, free and easy with sex and the cycles of life and death as reflected in their nature gods. But their game with the policeman is cruel. They not only trap him but the women have to mock him in the end, no matter their comments about "reverencing" him in the ritual.

Now I'm struck by how much the horror film elements, so eerie and delicious at first, have fallen away. The story seems to be about complementary and competing visions of "Sacrifice". As the awful truth is revealed and we race to the burning, the two factions (Sgt Howie alone vs all the islanders) both achieve their exultant ends. The pagans are honestly jubilant, and assure him that he achieves his Christian ends as a martyr at the same time.

It's true. It's traumatic for him but that could not be otherwise. At the end he even achieves a type of prophetic witness and we believe his prediction that Lord Summerisle will be "next".

This is the eerie structure of the story: that the two visions are in conflict and cooperation at the same time.


Available on Blu-ray. It's never looked better, and some images are quite good, although the dark scenes are still pretty poor. The subtitles help with the song lyrics. No commentary track, which is a good reason to hang on to the "director's cut" DVD. Or you can import a 3-disc set from the UK which seems to have "everything".