Monday, 24 October 2016

The Wicker Man [2006 version] (4½ Stars)

This is the 21st film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2006. It's also my Halloween Challenge film #24. It's convenient when the two film series that I'm watching overlap.

I have to confess feeling some confusion why this film is rated so poorly among critics and fans alike. Yes, I know that the original 1973 version is considered to be a cult classic, but that's no reason to refuse the remake a fair judgement. In my opinion the new version does all that's necessary to make a successful remake: it copies the premise and basic plot of the original film, but it deviates enough from the original to make it worth watching in its own right.

In the near future I intend to watch the two versions back to back, preferably on the same day, and I'll be able to go into the differences in detail, but today I'll just focus on one point: the religion, or rather the religions in the film. In the original the policeman (Edward Woodward) was a strong Christian, arguably a Christian fanatic. For him his job on the island wasn't just about finding a missing child, it was a religious war. In the new film the policeman (Nicolas Cage) doesn't seem in the slightest bothered about Christianity. He's neither for it nor against it, he just doesn't care, probably the same as  the majority of Americans today.

The other religion is the pagan religion of the islanders. The religion is similar in both films, but in the new film there's a protofeminist element. In the 1973 version we have Lord Summersisle, in the 2006 version we have Sister Summersisle. The island in the new film isn't just ruled by women, the men have been socially emasculated. Very few men are on the island, and there are hints that most male children are slaughtered at birth. The few men who survive are allowed to work and procreate, but they aren't allowed to speak. It's possible their tongues have been removed, but it might be the case that they've never learnt how to talk. The island's school is for girls only, since boys don't need to be educated for their purpose in life as manual labourers and studs.

Leelee Sobieski only appears in a few short scenes, but her youthful innocence as an island girl brightens up the film.

One of the film's greatest strengths is Nicolas Cage's phenomenal performance as the naive policeman who doesn't see that he's in way over his head. He doesn't even realise that he's making a fool of himself when he walks around flashing his Freeway Patrol badge, thinking it gives him the authority to investigate a murder. He's a lot less competent as a policeman than Edward Woodward in the original film, but he plays the part seriously, avoiding humour by overlaying the role with his trademark sad eyes. I venture to say that this is one of Nicolas Cage's greatest roles.

Maybe a reason for the film being rated so badly is that most film critics are men, and they're scared of the brave new world shown on the island. Men are okay with offering women enough power to think they're equal, but that's it. Men are terrified of giving women full equality, because they might want more and seek superiority in society. A world where women rule and men serve is a nightmare. Some men have female domination fetishes and enjoy roleplay in which they're controlled by a woman, but when it's no longer a game it's too much. Women have to remain subservient. This film shows a world where the tables have been turned, and male critics have to call it absurd to rid this lifestyle of any credibility.

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P. S. If you've seen the film and you're wondering why I've tagged James Franco as appearing in it, you've probably only watched one of the versions. He appears in the theatrical version, flirting in a bar with Leelee Sobieski, but this scene has been removed from the Director's Cut.

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