Nicolas Cage In The Wicker Man, Explained: The Actor's Most Illuminating Role - VRGyani News and Media

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Nicolas Cage In The Wicker Man, Explained: The Actor's Most Illuminating Role

"There is a mischievous mind at work on The Wicker Man," Nicolas Cage once said, referring to the 2006 Neil LaBute horror remake wherein he delivers an absolute hammer blow to a woman's face while wearing a bear costume. Cage said this in 2010, four years after The Wicker Man had taken a full bore beating from both audience and critics who simply did not understand how thousands of people can come together to create a series of moving images so ill-advised. The reaction was and continues to be warranted. LaBute's Wicker Man is overwhelming. Watching this film is like standing before a hurricane that just swept through a Party City, all elemental fury and horn-honking sounds, no meaning behind it all but a roaring badness. We did not come here today, 15 years after The Wicker Man hit theaters, to re-evaluate that badness. Instead, we are here to examine that "mischievous mind" at the center of the movie, the fascinating dichotomy between the intense "absolutely not" energy of its initial audience reception and what Cage and LaBute were actually trying to deliver. I argue that in the eye of that 15%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes storm you'll find the essence of an enigma. In short: Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man is the key to understanding Nicolas Cage.

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A bold statement, given the fact Cage has been impossible to understand for nearly four decades now. In the case of a film like Deadfall, in which Cage is possessed by the spirit of every person to ever overdose on cocaine, "impossible to understand" is a literal statement. But I also mean it metaphorically, as a big-picture take on one of Hollywood's wildest careers. Arguably no performer before or since has ever zig, then zagged with such breathtaking consistency. This is a man born into the Coppola family film dynasty who wanted to be less conspicuous, so he went with the name "Nicolas Cage." He followed up a smoldering, sweaty, and genuinely sexy one-handed turn in the Oscar-nominated Moonstruck with Vampire's Kiss, a truly astounding feat of avant-garde acting that feels like Nosferatu bit a very sad party clown. He won a Best Actor Academy Award and then immediately starred in The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off, a.k.a. the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost of 90s absurdist action. Cage has spent the last decade starring in a cavalcade of indie films that exist on a spectrum of quality as long and prone to wrecks as the German Autobahn, a period of his career that doubles as an admirable late-era free-to-experiment phase and an attempt to pay off debts accrued by buying, among other things, a stolen dinosaur skull. Throughout it all, he has never, not even once, not even by accident, been boring to watch.

It's chaos, is what it is, and Cage himself an agent of chaos. But it's all funneled into The Wicker Man, both the movie itself and the reaction surrounding it. In development for years, the 2006 film strove to reimagine one of the most striking examples of folk-horror ever, director Robin Hardy's 1973 story of a police officer drawn to a secluded Scottish island thanks to a missing person's case, only to fall victim to its resident population of matriarchal neo-pagans. Fifteen years have stripped away most of the details and context of the remake, which has been boiled down by countless Youtube compilations to a series of 3-4 examples of Nicolas Cage doing "bad acting", of him throwing the word "wackos" toward Ellen Burstyn like a 90MPH fastball, of him delivering the line "how did it get burned?" with the fury of ten-thousand first takes.

But understanding the absurdity requires actually watching The Wicker Man front-to-back and immediately understanding that simple concepts like "good" or "bad" don't belong here. There is no scenario in any corner of the vast multiverse in which Nicolas Cage did not understand what he was doing here, that any of his most meme-able moments was, somehow, the result of trying and failing at gravitas. “Wicker Man is probably the best example of a movie where people are mystified because they think for some reason that we did not know it was humorous," Cage said in a 2013 interview, "even though I am dressed in a bear suit, doing these ridiculous things with the matriarchal society on the island — how can you not know that Neil [LaBute] and I knew that this was absurdist humor? But okay, have at it."

It's the "okay, have at it" I find most illuminating, the understanding that not everybody's going to get it, but Nicolas Cage is going to do it. Cage is a walking wink; he's the film business's trickster god, eternally bored by normal human behavior. He took the privilege that afforded him an acting career and used it to never, ever be satisified with a performance people might mistake for someone else's. At age 57 my man will still, for example, add sixteen syllables to the word "testicles" because a regular line delivery just isn't inherently interesting. The idea of remaking The Wicker Man with a straight face, just earnestly re-telling a story already done to dread-filled perfection, isn't interesting at all. Cage's performance is only "bad" in the way an abstract painting doesn't look like a photograph.

And to understand that, we finally have to discuss the bees. The bees. The BEES. In the climactic moments of The Wicker Man, the residents of Summersisle stick Nicolas Cage's head in a basket of bees, and his reaction is ripped straight from an Ed Wood movie, like LaBute just threw a sepia tint over a cheap B-movie. If you've made it this far and are wondering why I still haven't mentioned the bees, it's because that scene isn't even in the theatrical cut of the movie. The books were called "The Berenstain Bears," Sinbad never starred in a movie titled Shazam, and no audience ever heard "no, not the bees!" in a theater. But it's such a massive reason why we're still talking about The Wicker Man; once the deleted scene off the DVD made its way online, Cage's performance became legendary for every possible reason.

Cage's delivery of "no, not the bees" is so quintessentially him, a full-body commitment to something at odds with the context around him, a surrealistic attempt to sell something heightened by throwing naturalism out a 50-story window. Removing it from the film makes it dramatically less interesting. "Good" or "bad" has nothing to do with it.

KEEP READING: The 13 "Best" Nicolas Cage Movies, Ranked by Collider's Cage Scale(TM)



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