Many critics label LaBute a misogynist, but his remake of WICKER MAN allows him to portray plenty of very powerful, frightening, intelligent women going up against a coarse, ineffectual male cop, and that's the opposite of what a misogynist would do. For many men, a truly liberated, sexually aggressive, snarling female is one of the most terrifying creatures ever conceived of by - and I hesitate to say God because God is suddenly not even a "He" when they're around, and everything gets dark and scary and one's balls shrink and release hormones of queasy dread that hit us like an extra dose of gravity. And without the people of Summers' Isle kowtowing to his manly whims, Nic Cage's "A Child is Missing, damn you!" righteousness is revealed as the macho bullying it really is and always has been. It's suddenly clear just who the real misogynists are and aren't. Cage here is like the sister's boorish boyfriend in REPULSION or the sleazy neighbor in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, only here he's outnumbered and roaring like an old pervert crushed to death under the headlights of a Russ Meyer supervixen.
It's a little like Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS (1974) in that sense, and it offers a similar story arc: Dustin Hoffman in that film is a representative of the "real world", a math professor/author, entering a strange, cut-off remote society and expecting we the viewers to laugh along with him as he treats the locals with grinning contempt. Critics in general were unkind to the movie, many failing to pick up on the idea that Hoffman's outsider was the real villain of the movie. You can imagine LaBute feeling the same misunderstood confusion over the criticism of WICKER MAN. In a critique of the patriarchy, one must apparently never be ambiguous enough that viewers expecting rote thrills and clearly denoted heroes and villains are disappointed and suddenly a little scared. Isn't that what art films are for?
Well, now that there's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS and ANTICHRIST to explain matters, WICKER MAN makes perfect crazy sense. If Herzog is terrified/ambivalent towards nature--reflected in BAD's flood-faded colors and Post-Katrina New Orleans water lines, LaBute is terrified/ambivalent towards women, reflected in the patronizing warmth of Ellen Burstyn or the sudden emotional swings of Lee Sobieski. Von Trier just cuts, literally, figuratively and otherwise, right to the chase, right to the meat of things, and together they all make a Paglian happy. Isn't it sad to realize the patriarchy has to repress and belittle the feminine, for the very simple reason that otherwise women will realize it's much better to kill men off once they've served their reproductive purpose, or send them off to work in the fields as castrated slave labor?-- than to have to launder their clothes and do their dishes until death? Hasn't anyone seen CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953)? What's the matter with you people? You think this is a joke? A child is missing!
The 1973 original was (perhaps) more bearable for American audiences because of the British accents which made the colloquial strangeness even stranger--not close to home enough to stick in the proverbial craw, as LaBute's version does--and it should be noted that the original was similarly box office stricken in its own home country of Great Britain (due largely to bad marketing and brutal trimming).
In the Americanized rendition, Nic Cage goes deep Yankee tourist -- unconscious of the world around him, condescending, arrogant, even boorish, expecting that wherever he goes people will "get" his outmoded hipster posturing and that all women will bow and scape before him when he flashes his badge and waves his gun around. When they don't, his only option is a roundhouse kick to Lee Sobieski's heaving bosom.
In the original, the idea was that the victim must be a Christian and a virgin, but in LaBute's remake, Christianity has nothing do with it, except as far as it underwrites the barbaric "normalcy" of the rest of America. In the end the movie resonates for the same reason it annoys: we hate that which reminds us of our own unconscious Ugly American-in-a-china-shop deformities. In BAD LIEUTENANT, Cage made us feel the chronic pain of his character and revel in chemical relief and the joy of dancing ever at the edge of sanity. In WICKER MAN, it's not his pain that's alleviated, but the pain of any woman whose ever had to smile and flirt in order to not get a speeding ticket, or had to submit to an unwarranted and inappropriate "pat-down" or otherwise had to suffer the preachy condescension of an arrogant government official. It's always amusing to see these patriarchal bullies squirm when the shoe is on the other foot, until of course we realize that we the audience are the ones squirming... in embarrassment. Ask not for whom the man burns, he burns for bees... or something.
The Bitch is Back" on her Sunset Gun, which originally, back in 07, gave me the courage to keep trying to make it through. And remember, just because you wear a bear suit doesn't mean you can punch out pagan women! You need a pope hat do the that. Or to paraphrase Lauren Bacall: Be careful of those double standards, Steve. You're liable to trip over your cross and break your neck!