The Romance of the The Village

I quite liked Shyamalan's The Village. I guessed the "secret" but then, unlike Unbreakable and Sixth Sense, I don't think the secret/twist was really supposed to be that much of a secret. Shyamalan says himself that after he heard the music (beautifully orchestrated with a lovely solo violinist), he decided to cut the movie more for the romance than for the horror/shock.

And that's what I like. The whole mileau--village, Ivy, her father, sister, Lucius-were entirely believable as a real (if idealistic) community. 19th century living was never that innocent (although a surprising number of people seem to think that it once was), but the ease of the villagers with each other, the hint of backstory (not just in the "towns" but in the village itself) of many years together came through strong. This is one of Shyamalan's greatest abilities: to convince you that families and communities have real, ongoing relationships. In the DVD documentary, a number of the actors remarked on the closeness they felt during the shooting. Unlike many movies, The Village was shot all in one location. And I do think that Shyamalan's ability to get extremely good, sometimes high profile actors is due to his creating a pleasant work environment. Sometimes, audiences forget that to the actor this movie was a 9-5 (or 6-10) job, and if you don't like your boss or your boss (director) is a jerk or the other actors are jerks, it can be a very, very long 6-10 hours.

Back to the romance, I thought Ivy and Lucius entirely believable within their context and between each other. They were sweet without being sappy. Joaquin Phoenix is a mighty fine actor, although from Shyamalan's comments ("He doesn't want me to tell you, but I wrote the part for him") one gets the impression that this character was rather close to Joaquin's actual personality. He made the cane for Byrce (Ivy) himself and was, apparently, most bashful when he presented it.

After the romance, the movie does falter. (WARNING: I give away plot points.) The deux machina of Noah finding the costume in the floor of the quiet room was, well, just silly. It was less silly the second time around because I accepted it as a deux machina. Still. The argument William Hurt has about guilt could have taken much further, and the real problem (face it, without proper medication, these people are going to perish from some minor disease in only a few generations) neatly shelved.

I also thought Shyamalan could have gone further with the initial argument: that escaping from the "world" doesn't prevent pain and anguish from occuring. The problem is, I don't think Shyamalan himself was sure what his point was; he wanted to write about the subject, he just didn't know what to say about it--is it good for the village to continue? Bad? Is there such a thing as innocence? Can it be captured in earthly terms through escape? Can it be captured by a lie? Is Noah's death, in fact, murder by the Village elders? (Yes, I say.) Exactly how long does the village have until it burns a witch? (About ten more years, unfortunately. If you study colonial America, you realize that Nissenbaum and Boyer [Salem Possessed] and James Madison were right: enclosed communities fester with the same resentments year after year after year. A community needs to be big and diverse to prevent witch trials.)

I think Shyamalan is enormously gifted. His ability to create suspense over small events is truly awesome. In The Village, the scene where the young security guard retrieves the medicine (by the way, that's Shyamalan at the desk) got me more worried and strung up than any other part of the movie.

But I do think Shyamalan needs to rethink his game plan if he's going to go on. He has the talent, the ideas, the visual eye, the whatever, and I've thought all his pieces fine works. But he's treading water, and he could do better.


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