The podcast I host together, The 250, marked Halloween with a look at Neil La Bute’s adaptation of The Wicker Man. It’s a fun, broad discussion. As I saw the film and talked about the film, I thought of Nicolas Cage, the meme culture, and the perfect storm of timing.
It is possible to divide Nicolas Cage’s career into two phases: before and after The Wicker Man.
In front The Wicker ManNicolas Cage was a well-respected actor. He had won the Oscar for best actor Leaving Las Vegas. He’d become a blockbuster movie star thanks to movies like that The stone and Con Air. He had worked with Authors like David Lynch on Wild at heart and the Coens in Raising Arizona. Indeed, by the turn of the millennium, Cage had settled in a respectable cinematic Middle Ages. In the years before The Wicker Manhe worked on fares like Andrew Niccols Ernst Lord of War and Gore Verbinski’s decidedly middle forehead The weather man.
And then The Wicker Man happens. Almost immediately, Cage’s career changed gears. There were still franchise films like Wrong-way drivers or National Treasure: Book of Secrets. There was still author Cooperations such as with Werner Herzog on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. But there were also films like Bangkok Dangerous, Next and Knowledgewhich would lead to movies like To make someone angry, Seek justice and Transgression. Not all of these films were bad, but they were instrumental in helping Nicolas Cage audiences today know: “Full cage.”
To do some credit to Cage here, his later work is often more interesting than his popular reputation suggests. In particular, Cage works remarkably well in ensemble genre pieces such as Super or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In addition, Cage works remarkably well in the context of films that match his feverish intensity as a performer Mandy or The color from the room. Yet, The Wicker Man was a turning point for Cage, like pressing a light switch.
Part of it is just the timing. The Wicker Man came at the perfect time in popular culture when a seismic shift took place. Discussions about the history of cinema often focus on the mechanics and politics of the industry itself – the way films are produced, funded, and distributed. That makes a lot of sense. However, it is also important to consider how films are discussed and how the audience engages with these films.
The Wicker Man came at a time when the internet was preparing to change the way movies were viewed, and the impact on Nicolas Cage’s career may be a vivid example of this seismic shift.
Of course, the internet has been around for a long time The Wicker Man. Harry Knowles had started Ain’t it cool a decade earlier. Tech-savvy viewers had signed up online to talk longer about their favorite shows and message boards – in terms like “Sender” and “Noromo” from the earliest days of online fandom by X-Files.
In 2001, Jay and Silent Bob strike back There was a major storyline about the Internet’s response to filmmaking, and even summed up the World Wide Web as one “A communication tool used around the world to bring people together, to talk about films and share pornography.” So the infrastructure had existed for a long time (and was used) The Wicker Man turned Nicolas Cage into a meme.
Still, much of the infrastructure of the modern Internet didn’t really develop until the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. Facebook was founded in February 2004. Twitter was launched in March 2006. Netflix didn’t start streaming until January 2007. The video was released around the same time. Vimeo launched in November 2004 but was largely viewed as a curiosity. In contrast, YouTube arrived in February 2005.
YouTube was a game changer. As of July 2006, it accounted for 60 percent of all videos viewed online, with visitors viewing over one hundred million videos daily. In November 2006, YouTube was bought by tech giant Google to get an idea of how big the site had become. YouTube made it easier than ever for users to share content from multiple sources, whether it was their own lives or their own preferred media.
It was around this time that Hollywood began to pay increasing attention to what was happening on the Internet. In that regard, 2006 was a watermark year. The film Snakes on an airplane seemed to be brought into being solely by the enthusiasm of the internet for the memetic quality of the title. Paramount would break off citing his long-term relationship with Tom Cruise “His Recent Behavior”, although many observers suspected that his reputation had been badly damaged by the viral video of him jumping on Oprah Winfrey’s couch from May 2005.
Of course, it should be noted that the internet is not real life and that decisions made on its whims largely reflect the general appetite of the paying public. After all Snakes on an airplane was a cash bomb – “A phenomenon only on the Internet” that had little currency in the real world. Similarly, Tom Cruise would reinvent himself in the following decade, and again Paramount’s relationship with the actor is symbiotic. They need him as much as he needs them.
These early follies seem to set a marker for the modern excesses of “Indignation” Culture. Indeed, it is noteworthy that companies seem like Disney especially prone to mistaking online mood for real world worry. This is most evident in the right-wing provocateurs’ campaign against James Gunn, which resulted in Disney firing Gunn only to reinstate him shortly afterwards. Likewise, there are times when Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker feels like the company is hearing the loudest voices online, to the detriment of the film.
The Wicker Man seemed perfectly positioned for this emerging internet film culture and for its oversized impact on the way movie stars were viewed. A lot of The Wicker Man is a boring slog, especially its first two acts. The film is set as a bizarre misogynist screed, in which every woman in the world is apparently engaged in an insanely tortuous plan to make a sacrifice to restore the honey supply to a small community off the west coast of Washington.
The Wicker Man is a bizarre film on a conceptual level; It is the story of a California Highway Patrol bureau launching an investigation that is outside of its professional or jurisdiction without first checking with local law enforcement. It is the story of a search for a missing child where the investigator waits until about halfway through the movie to ask where she was last seen. It also takes place in broad daylight and features several extended (and adorable) sequences by Nicolas Cage running from one side of a wide-angle shot to the other.
Most of them, however The Wicker Man is pretty boring. It’s very repetitive. Officer Edward Malus meets a woman, asks her a few questions, she gives some shy answers just to make Malus more confused or angry. The process repeats itself again and again, as Malus seems to move from motorcycle policeman to detective to undertaker without ever batting an eye. Despite a bee allergy, he initiates a one-man examination on an island famous for its honey. The first two acts of are hardly recommended The Wicker Man outside of the most morbid kind of curiosity.
And then The movie is really starting. The final act of the film gets things into full swing. Malus has enough. It has become clear that the women on the island are planning a human sacrifice, so Malus has no time to waste. He commands pushbikes. He hits women in the face. There is a bizarre melee sequence in which he throws Leelee Sobieski so hard against the wall that she smashes picture frames. He wears a bear costume. He gets caught. His legs are broken. He gets bees in the face. He shouts. He goes “Full cage.”
This last act occurs “You have to see it to believe it” Territory, but only after a relatively joyless slog. This would arguably be a potential barrier to the film’s cult appeal, as no one wants to go through seventy minutes of boring nonsense to earn twenty minutes of camp gold. Timing is crucial here. The Wicker Man It almost seems to have been designed for a YouTube generation containing tiny nuggets of excess that can be extracted from their original context and pieced together into compilations that can be easily shared.
Indeed, it is questionable whether The Wicker Man works best in this format, reduced to lots of screams and bizarre images that made little sense in the larger context of the film. It is noteworthy that the final act of The Wicker Man arguably has a strange and enduring legacy. It’s hard to see Nicolas Cage fleeing cultists dressed as a bear (which Cage cited as a tribute to Roger Cormans The mask of the red death) without thinking of the climax of the similar (but more successful) pagan horror Midsummer.
The picture of Cage on the Internet was probably faked at that moment. This version of Cage wasn’t the version that actually starred The Wicker Manand responded with a tired one “Goddamn!” to a nightmare within a nightmare when he imagined a dead child in his arms. Instead, it was the version that existed on widespread YouTube videos that picked up the peaks of the actor’s emotional intensity and blended them all together.
At least it should be noted that Nicolas Cage’s appearance in The Wicker Man wasn’t necessarily far beyond the boundaries of previous performances. In hindsight, key moments from films like Vampire kiss would become memetic itself. Cage has always been a performer whose work lends itself to this type of memetic sensitivity, it just happened that way The Wicker Man arrived at the perfect moment, when the movie around him was both bad and boring enough that its performance could be taken out of context and pushed aside entirely.
To be fair, at least part of Nicolas Cage’s later career was determined by other factors. Cage invested his money notoriously badly and was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, Cage would live in Nevada and find that there is no state tax “Was helpful at the time.” This seems to have influenced Cage’s choice of roles and lead him to films that have paid off well in relation to the demands placed on him. Often cheap and melodramatic, these films did their part to undermine Cage’s reputation as a serious playwright.
Still, The Wicker Man feels for the modern image of Nicolas Cage, the “Big Bang” Moment from which so much of the public image of the actor and the subsequent career radiates outward. The Wicker Man gave Nicolas Cage to the Internet and the Internet erected a huge monument to him.