The Cynical Optimist revisits The Wicker Man


“I think I could turn and live with animals. They are so placid and self-contained. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one of them kneels to another or to his own kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one of them is respectable or unhappy, all over the earth.” — Lord Summerisle

In Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, ”The Wicker Man”, Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is called to the isolated island of Summerisle, in search of a missing girl the locals claim never existed. Howie is a devout Christian, and is appalled by the religion practised by the inhabitants of the island – one loosely inspired by Celtic paganism.

”The Wicker Man” is generally well regarded by critics and film enthusiasts.

Cinefantastique described it as “The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies,” and Total Film has named ”The Wicker Man” the sixth greatest British film of all-time.

And who am I to disagree? While I don’t think it’s the best horror film ever – it’s truly disturbing and I would imagine rather unsettling for devout Christians. Then again, I imagine everything is rather unsettling for those folks.

There’s a sequel in the works, entitled The Wicker Tree, which is based on Hardy’s own 2006 novel, ”Cowboys for Christ”. The film will focus on Texas pop star turned gospel singer Beth and her cowboy boyfriend, Steve, both devout evangelical Christians from the church Cowboys for Christ, sent on a mission to spread the word of God to the people of Scotland.

You see the social commentary at work here, folks? Christians need to mind their own business – I think that’s the point Hardy is trying to get across. Here’s a memorable quote to illustrate:

Sergeant Howie: And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?

Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.

I Like Summerisle’s style, the whole “God is dead” routine – nice touch. It sounds even better when delivered by the venerable Christopher Lee. Sergeant Howie is tested throughout the film in his religious beliefs – one particular scene involving a beautiful barmaid attempting to enchant him with a naked song and dance comes to mind.

Howie resists temptation, however, and being the stubborn Christian he is, remains closed-minded to the beliefs and practices of the people of Summerisle. We’re talking about an island where school girls prance about the fields naked and people engage in sex acts in public – I know it sounds like an episode of “Living Lohan” but it’s really not.

Here’s another backhand gem, courtesy of Christopher Lee:

Sergeant Howie: I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Lord Summerisle: That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death.

Zing! Keep ’em coming, Summerisle. If you’re like me, you relish the opportunity to see bat shit crazy fundamentalist Christians put in their place, and basically ”The Wicker Man” is 88 minutes of just that.

Here’s a Christian cop (the only thing worse than a Christian and a police officer… a Christian police officer, obviously) who is a stranger in a strange land and goes out of his way to preach to people about his God and, in the end, pays the price.

A cautionary tale, if there ever was one. Mind your business – live and let live – or else you might be meeting the Wicker Man himself…

Oh, God… I humbly entreat you for the soul of this, thy servant, Neil Howie… who will today depart from this world. Do not deliver me into the enemy’s hands… or… put me out of mind forever.

Let me not undergo the real pains of Hell, dear God, because I die unshriven… and establish me… in that bliss… which knows no ending… through Christ… our Lord.” — Sergeant Howie.