Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Wicker Man (2006)

There are many things you could say about Nicolas Cage--loud, insane, unselective, brash, bird for hair--but safe is not one of them. He is never afraid to put himself out there, to commit fully to a character, and, especially in the case of Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man, look like a complete jerkwad. The Wicker Man is the story of police officer Edward Malus (Cage) who travels to a strange island of nature-obsessed pagan women in search of a missing girl. Malus's descent into madness is much like Cage's acting method: the more he commits, the more manic he becomes.

How do you even pour bees?

After a strange incident on the highway when he retrieves a little girl's doll, resulting in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, Malus receives a strange and impeccably calligraphed letter from old beau Willow Woodward (Kate Beahan), claiming her daughter is lost and on an island just off the coast of Washington called Summersisle. Malus wastes no time accepting the bizarre invitation from a girl who broke his heart, which might have something to do with the handfuls of painkillers he shoves down his throat on an hourly basis.

Cage once again steals the Declaration of Independence.

Malus comes across what you might expect from a quaint bucolic island in the Pacific Northwest: strange elderly women and mute men carrying a dripping bag which may or may not contain a shark. After enticing Malus to look into the bag, the contents give an unearthly snarl and he runs away, giving the audience no satisfaction or resolution to the bag saga.

It's a midget covered in bees. Mystery solved!

The women of the island are cold and off-putting to the phalliced stranger, and Malus feeds their already negative views of men by being dismissive, loud, rude, condescending, and malicious (Malice, Malus?). He chugs a fresh pint of mead from lesbian bartendress Sister Beech (Diane Delano), mansplains to everyone that he is the law, and then chases his old lover upstairs, presumably to bang her against a fireplace.

How is every woman on the island not jumping his bones right now?

His streak of confidence doesn't end there, as he disrupts Sister Rose's Feminist Theory class to call everyone little liars and yell at the teacher. I should point out there that all the women are acting extremely weird and hippie-like, which would raise the blood pressure of any normal American, chauvinist or not, but all this pales in comparison to his reign of manic terror in the final act.

"Emily DickenWHO? Whatever. You ever see Con Air?"

After a run-in with his his mortal enemy: bees (FEMALE bees no less), conditions on the island come to a fever pitch. Determined to find the little girl, Malus brandishes his firearm to anyone who disobeys him, flings pagan animal masks off the faces of little girls, comes across a woman with a bee beard, punches the lesbian, steals a bear suit, and makes a perilous attempt to rescue the little girl.

This woman may or may not exist and may or may not turn into bees.

It all comes to naught when the women reveal this was all part of an elaborate eight-year plot to get him to impregnate one of their cult members, lure him to the island under false pretenses, lie and act generally weird and creepy so that they may cripple, torture, and burn him to death as a ritualistic pagan sacrifice to save their honey harvest. Malus is, as you might expect, not pleased by this revelation, and goes to his death kicking, screaming, and cursing their names.

In his final act of defiance, Malus emits the longest and harshest belch of his entire life.

There are many ways to interpret The Wicker Man. Many people see this film and LaBute's work in general as misogynistic, since he retools the original 1973 film into a battle of the sexes. To call LaBute a sexist is to completely oversimplify what is a nuanced, variegated, and insane paranormal detective story. If LaBute hated women, he could have made Malus a lot more sympathetic than the character who appears on screen. Malus confirms every stereotype feminist have about men, and when you take his actions at face value (or in an out of context YouTube video) he is especially awful, punching and drop-kicking women left and right.

Malus has entered a world he does not understand. Summersisle is a society where he is no longer at the top of the food chain, and the more he learns about the place, the more it angers and confuses him. His final stand is a testament to his complete misunderstanding of their culture, and shows that in his heroic trek to this strange world, he learns that not all women need saving.

And yet, despite this seemingly pseudo-feminist message, I still find myself sympathizing with Malus. His violence toward women is only shocking in a world of female helplessness and moral high ground. If an all-male pagan island commune reacted with similar bizarre and cultish behavior, his violent rampage would have been heroic. Even when inserting our own perceptions of gender relations, the cult is definitely the less sympathetic of the two forces. They bear his child and lure him to an island because of a loophole that the sacrifice must be someone of their own blood.

The original theatrical ending shows Sisters Woodward and Honey (Leelee Sobieski) trolling for future male sacrifices, as a sort of pagan insurance policy. If they truly committed to these beliefs they would have sacrificed one of their own. Instead they seek out and deceive people who don't share their faith,  spending many years and resources destroying their lives for the sake of a ritualistic technicality. At least Malus commits to his own beliefs of right and wrong, even when it's clear it will cost him his life.

And like Malus, Cage too dedicates himself entirely to the role, even when it's clear the director is placing a wicker basket on his head to pour bees on his face. That's commitment.

Arbitrary rating:

Three CageHeads out of two.



Edward Malus: What's in the bag? A shark or something?

Sister Rose: Will you tell us what man represents in his purest form?
Girls: Phallic symbol phallic symbol.

Malus: I'm a policeMAN. See my badge?

Malus: You little liars.

Malus: How'd she die?
Rose: She'll burn to death.
Malus: What? What did you just say?
Rose: Precisely what I meant to. She burned to death.

Sister Summersisle: Men are a very important part of our little colony. Breeding, you know.

Malus: Step away. From the bike.



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