Oh the irony -- I am just getting back on track as a feminist blogger (Typepad finally reactivated my account today after I updated my credit card information a week ago) when my husband decides to rent The Wicker Man, starring Nicholas Cage and Ellen Burstyn. This movie was so absurd and poorly done that its rampant misogyny is actually unintentionally funny. (SPOILER ALERT: THE REST OF THIS POST GIVES AWAYS THE ENTIRE PLOT)
Cage, a noble self-sacrificing cop, runs to the rescue of Willow, his ex-fiancee, who has gone to live in a pagan matriarchy where the women run things and the men serve only as mute laborers.
It doesn't take long for the movie to start taking swipes at both feminism and femininity in general. Cage walks in on an all-girl classroom in time to see the teacher ask the students to identify the male-essence in its purest form. "Phal-lic Sym-bol! Phal-lic Sym-bol!" chant the girls in unison. Later, Cage finds himself in the laboratory of the island's woman doctor-- chock full of jars containing highly developed dead fetuses, natch. And, of course, it turns out that the little girl for whom he is searching is actually his child, a fact that his ex-fiancee, Willow, had concealed from him for years -- because women do that, you know, i.e. use our greater natural control over human reproduction to keep men out of the loop.
What was striking to me was Cage's "masculine" instinct for protecting women-and-children as contrasted with the portrayal of the women-and-children as all, without exception, ungrateful bitches who use his protective instinct against him -- even the little girls. In the very first scene, before Cage travels to the matriarchal island, Cage picks up a doll on the highway after it has flown out of a car window. He pulls the car over and hands the doll to the little girl sitting in the back seat. But the little bitch just looks at him stonily and hurls the doll back onto the road. Notwithstanding her ingratitude, Cate risks his life to try to save her moments later when a truck smashes into the car causing it to go up in flames. This incident is utterly irrelevant to the rest of the movie except, I guess, to demonstrate Cage's masculine nobility and the eee-vil inherent in the female half of the species.
Cage's courage and self-sacrifice are more than matched by the cruelty and deviousness of the women he encounters on the island. The little girls in the schoolroom lie to him outright. They also confine a bird inside a desk "to see how long he can stand it." But, despite being met with a universal lack of cooperation in his quest for his daughter, Cage doggedly continues the search, suspecting that his daughter is intended as a human sacrifice for an upcoming harvest festival.
At the denoument, however, it turns out that the ex-fiancee has cruelly tricked Cage yet again. The daughter is not to be the human sacrifice. The "missing daughter" was an elaborate ruse to lure Cage to the island so that he can be the human sacrifice. And he is. He is surrounded by murderous bitches, who break his knees and put a cage of bees over his head, before having his own little girl light him on fire as the women scream, "KILL THE DRONE! KILL THE DRONE!"
Again, despite betraying a pretty foul view of powerful women and women in general, the movie is so campy that it's actually kind of fun to watch if you can make it to the very end (it drags a lot, due to poor pacing and pointless flashbacks to the irrelevant opening car scene). The commenters at the Internet Movie Database (linked at the beginning of this post) have a fine ol' time mocking Cage whose character, at the climax of the flick, impotently screams, "YOU BITCHES!!! YOU BITCHES!!!!" They also got a kick out of the fact that Cage couldn't even keep up with the little girl as she runs ahead of him, luring him to the place where he is to be surrounded by a mob and killed.
I vaguely remember some bad TV dramas from the '70s involving evil man-hating matriarchies, in which the noble men always outwit or overpower the evil women. One consolation of "The Wicker Man," I suppose is that the women, while murderously cruel, are not incompetent. None of Cage's masculine weapons are of any use in the face of the women of the island -- not his police badge, not his bravado, not his fists (he beats up Leelee Sobieski and a couple of other women too), and not his technology. I can see why a number of highly respected actresses, like Ellen Burstyn, were drawn to the opportunity to play women who are both powerful and successful. Alas, the movie portrays female power as wholly evil, but far from being a successful anti-feminist screed, it is more effective as a window into the worst fears of your typical misogynist.
Here are some other reviews: