Thursday, 2 June 2011
An analysis of "M. Night Shyamalan's The Village"
In the late seventies an American history professor named Edward Walker (William Hurt) approached a group of people he met at a grief counselling clinic after his father was murdered with an idea. The idea was to use his wealthy father's money to build a secluded town in the middle of a nature preserve. The elders also create a myth of "those we do not speak of," creatures that haunt the woods but do not come in to the village because of a truce. The elders have also set the clock back to the 19th century. As the film opens we see from the tombstone of August Nicholson's (Brendan Gleeson) recently deceased son that it is 1897 within this self contained world. Now, what I have just said about the creation of the village is only revealed at end of the film and I think this may be where the problems with the film start. The concept of people overcome by grief who retreat in to a artficially created world is for me fascinating. Thinking about The Village's twists, I'd wish Shymalan would have disregarded the twist ending and played the film straight, revealing this twist early on, and possibly showing flashbacks to the seventies. This is not to say that an absence of flashbacks in the film is a huge flaw; that single photograph Shymalan shows us near the end of the film with the elders of the village is extremely haunting, particularly with the voiceover of the actors discussing what brought them to the grief counselling center. I like the implications of the ending but I feel that Shyamalan leaves us with these implications rather than fully explore them. Now, to be fair, he does explore issues of innocence, fear, bravery and seclusion throughout the film, themes which relate to the ending, but they are explored while tip toeing around the actual situation these characters are in; and even on subsequent viewings this tip toeing is still present.
What I find most interesting about the first twist in this film is how Shyamalan is using his most familar trademark to order to subvert the expectations of a M. Night Shyamalan film. His three previous films, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable (2000), and Signs (2002), stayed true to the supernatural or other worldly aspects that were established in the films, and actually reinforced by the endings. In The Sixth Sense, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is one of the ghosts Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is able to see; in Unbreakable, Elijah Prince (Samuel L. Jackson) is the supervillian to David Dunn's (Bruce Willis) superhero, and in Signs, the aliens are revealed to be completely real. In The Village, on the other hand, the first twist subverts the supernatural aspects of the film, revealing The Village to be very different than his previous three films. We of course learn that the creatures are not real when Edward reveals the truth to his blind daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard). The final twist, which establishes that the villagers are not in the 19th century but in the 21st, can also be seen as subverting the expectations of a Shyamalan film because we have also come to expect that the worlds Shyamalan's characters occupy are also going to stay true to what has been established, which also relates to the presence of the supernatural.
By not revealing the secrets of the village until the end, Shyamalan seems to want it both ways in this film: he wants to provide a supernatural mystery that became his signature in The Sixth Sense but at the same subvert these expectations and provide a religious and political parrable that is pretty much distanced from the supernatural. I think the balance pretty much works because Shyamalan is pretty light on the suspense sequences in this film. Seeing the film knowing the twist, I think one can sense that Shyamalan is already preparing the audience for the realization that the supernatural does have as firm existence as in his previous films, as well as allowing the audience to adjust themselves to the fact that this is Shyamlan's first genuine romance film. Romance was there in The Sixth Sense but I think the romance of the film only becomes apparent in the last scene. I do really like the romance between Lucius and Ivy, particularly the porch scene where Ivy asks Lucius if he'll dance with her on their wedding night.
Ivy and Lucius are two points of a love triangle that also includes the mentally challenged Noah Percy (Adrien Brody). I find that Brody's performance is both limited in terms of screen time and also character dimension. I think Shyamalan made Noah mentally challenged to make him more sympathethic as well as reinforce how the fear of the outside world stopped the elders or anyone else going to get medicine to help Noah's condition. He is sympathetic but as I said, he's too much of a cypher. I believe that Shyamalan is dealing with the most characters up to this point in his filmography, particularly compared to his previous film Signs. I feel that juggling this amount of characters makes Shyamalan not so much unsure of who is important but that everyone seems to become important but many of characters aren't developed enough. I find it disappointing that Lucius gets stabbed by a jealous Noah about an hour in to the film, then spending the rest of the film in a coma, particularly since it seemed that it arch wasn't yet completed. I think Lucius should have gotten sick so then he could still regain consciousness and still feel a part of the story aside from just a character who needs to be saved.
This is not only Shyamalan's first genuine romance film but it's also his first female driven film, with Ivy becoming the one who ventures to the towns to save the man she loves' life. Sigourney Weaver, who plays Lucius's mother, probably saw a connection between the emergence of Ivy as the heroine and the character she played in Alien, Ellen Ripley, who by the end of that film became the heroine, and thus becoming the central frigure of the Alien franchise. Ivy of course is a softer character than Ripley, more vulnerable I find. I've always loved Howard's performance in this film. I think her performance has the most life to it than the rest of the cast, which I feel is intentional. She has a transcendent, almost otherworldy quality to her in this film, which is why we can believe that the reserved Lucius could fall in love with her. I also like Phoenix in this film; he conveys conviction and a bravery in the face of fear, a fear that he later states relates to Ivy's safety, very well.