2020年10月23日 星期五

It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man

A few thoughts on a horror classic.

By Jamelle Bouie

To celebrate Halloween, the Criterion Channel has a large collection of horror movies from the 1970s. I’ve been making my way through the list, with an eye toward films I’ve never seen. Last week, I watched “The Wicker Man,” Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic, a “folk horror” film whose power lies in dread and menace rather than outright fear.

Set on an isolated island off the coast of Scotland, “The Wicker Man” follows Police Sergeant Neil Howie as he investigates the disappearance of a young girl. Much of the dramatic tension comes from the clash between Howie’s strong Christian beliefs and the paganism of the island denizens, as well as from their skepticism of official power and his position as its representative.

There is a ton to praise about the script, the direction and the gorgeous daylight cinematography, to say nothing of Edward Woodward’s remarkable performance as Sergeant Howie. But what strikes me most about the film is the richness of text (as it were).

On the level of theme, you can “read” “The Wicker Man” as a film about the conflict between paganism and Christianity, of the Christian struggle to maintain one’s faith while living in a secular society. You can read it as a film about the danger of groupthink or a dramatization of the violence that underpins even the most idyllic societies. You can read it as a film about the conflict between capitalist modernity — embodied in the police officer, who represents the state’s capacity for violence and its demand for conformity and order — and precapitalist modes of living. You can also read it, if you really want to, as representing the conflict between a Weberian rational-legal authority versus a traditional-charismatic authority, the latter represented by Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle. It even works, in its final scenes, as a commentary on conformity and atrocity that will seem relevant at this moment in American politics.

However you approach it, the film provides a tremendous amount of fodder for any number of readings or understandings, making it endlessly watchable in a way I’m not sure I’ve encountered before.

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What I Wrote

My Friday column was on the Republican Party’s growing disdain for democracy.

In this election, Republicans have registered new supporters in their effort to win re-election for President Trump, but broad pattern is clear: that Re-publicans are hostile to greater democracy, where democracy means equal representation in a federal system of separated powers. Name a proposal that would enlarge the scope of American democracy — more states, a national popular vote, a larger House of Representatives — and Republicans (or their conservative allies) are almost certain to oppose it.

Now Reading

Rachel Syme interviews the actress Catherine O’Hara for The New Yorker.

Irin Carmon on liberal disillusionment with the Supreme Court, in New York magazine.

Joshua Keating on the movement against police brutality in Nigeria, in Slate magazine.

Charles Pierce on the final presidential debate, in Esquire magazine.

Elaine Godfrey on the Senate race in Iowa, in The Atlantic.

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Feedback

If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

This is a snapshot from downtown Charlottesville, Va., at the makeshift memorial to Heather Heyer. I took it sometime last month and only recently got it processed and scanned.

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Now Eating: Herb Salad With Farro

We have been eating a lot of this salad, usually as part of a larger meal consisting of a grilled meat and a fresh flatbread. This salad is very easy and quite versatile. I encourage you to swap in different herbs and grains. Recipe comes from the Cooking section of The New York Times.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 2 large bunches)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup chopped arugula or a mix of arugula and other herbs
  • ¾ pound (2 large) ripe tomatoes, very finely chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cooked farro or spelt
  • 1 teaspoon ground sumac
  • Juice of 1 to 2 large lemons, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

In a large bowl, combine parsley, mint, arugula and/or other herbs, tomatoes, scallions, farro, sumac, lemon juice and salt to taste. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours so that the farro marinates in the lemon juice. Add olive oil, toss together, taste and adjust seasonings. Works especially well as a side to grilled or fried food.

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