Medievalism, music and agency in The Wicker Man (1973)

Part of book or chapter of book English OPEN
Colton, Lisa (2018)
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject: M1 | ML

The community of Summerisle is characterised by contradiction and ambiguity. The pseudo-pagan rituals in The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973) are enacted through elaborate trickery and deception, and ostensibly draw upon a set of local beliefs, rooted in occult historical practices related to springtime, fertility, and harvest. The villagers are framed as modern-day peasants, subject to the ultimate control of their feudal Lord, whose leadership of the community culminates in his role as master of ceremonies in the three-day ritual that provides the film’s narrative frame. The villagers are ultimately responsible for the sacrificial murder of policeman Sergeant Neil Howie, and seem unfazed by the brutality of their communal act. An ancient past, whose practices were revived by Lord Summerisle’s Victorian grandfather, is pitched against the urgency of the present in which Sergeant Howie searches for missing girl Rowan Morrison against the ticking clock of a murderous Mayday rite. The significance of medievalism found in The Wicker Man’s score lies in its role not only of underpinning the narrative through its blend of music history and folklore—both of which were genuinely revived in the nineteenth century—but also in its contribution to crafting a sense of moral legitimacy to the final, brutal climax, justifying the act of murder itself. The music of The Wicker Man possesses its own agency, but its placement and synthesis with the visuals makes it very difficult for the audience to know whether music signals something positive or negative; the effect is frequently unsettling.
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