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It’s All About Meme Meme: The Perfect Timing of “The Wicker Man”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, marked Halloween with a look at Neil La Bute’s adaptation of The Wicker Man. It’s a fun, broad discussion. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about Nicolas Cage, meme culture and the perfect storm of timing involved.

It’s possible to break down Nicolas Cage’s career into two phases: before and after The Wicker Man.

Before The Wicker Man, Nicolas Cage was a respected actor. He had won the Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. He had become an blockbuster movie star thanks to films like The Rock and Con Air. He had worked with auteurs like David Lynch on Wild at Heart and the Coens in Raising Arizona. Indeed, at the turn of the millennium, Cage had settled into a respectable cinematic middle age. In the years leading up to The Wicker Man, he worked on fare like Andrew Niccol’s earnest Lord of War and Gore Verbinski’s decidedly middle brow The Weather Man.

And then The Wicker Man happened. Almost immediately, Cage’s career shifted gears. There were where still franchise films like Ghost Rider or National Treasure: Book of Secrets. There were still auteur collaborations like with Werner Herzog on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. However, there were also movies like Bangkok Dangerous, Next and Knowing, which would lead on to films like Drive Angry, Seeking Justice and Trespass. Not all of these films were bad, but they were instrumental in establishing the Nicolas Cage audiences know today: “full Cage.”

To give Cage some credit here, his later work is often more interesting than his popular reputation would suggest. In particular, Cage works remarkably well in ensemble genre pieces like Kick-Ass or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More than that, Cage works remarkably well in the context of films that are pitched to match his fevered intensity as a performer like Mandy or The Colour Out of Space. Nevertheless, The Wicker Man was very much a watershed moment for Cage, like the flicking of a light switch.

Part of this is simply timing. The Wicker Man arrived at the perfect moment in popular culture, as a seismic shift was taking place. Discussions about the history of cinema often focus on the mechanics and the politics of the industry itself – the way in which movies are produced, funded and distributed. This makes a great deal of sense. However, it’s also important to consider how movies are discussed and how audiences engage with those films.

The Wicker Man arrived at a moment where the internet was primed to change the way that movies were watched, and the impact on Nicolas Cage’s career is perhaps a graphic illustration of that seismic shift.

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