Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ten Reasons The Village Was And Is So Damn Great

I'm listin' this now to gently correct a friend of mine who's Wrong about this movie, but I've meaning to get around to the subject for a while. M. Night Shyamalan, auteurist critical darling around the turn of the millennium, has seen his reputation spiral steadily earthward over the last decade. His insufferable pomposity and increasingly (hilariously) stilted scripts play well to the derision, and he certainly deserved nothing but scorn for The Happening. I've yet to dutifully fork over ten bucks for The Last Airbender, but I've little hope for it. Still, the groupthink of Shyamalan-hating blots out his successes, relative and absolute. I'll take Unbreakable over every faux-dark superhero fantasy that washed up in its wake. Lady in the Water is irrevocably bad, but not the total trainwreck everyone made it out to be (as with Gus Van Sant's "Death Trilogy," it works better with the sound off). Shyamalan has serious ambition, which isn't always his downfall, and monumental craft, which never is. In the (understandable) rush to dismiss, we miss things, and when it came to The Village, we missed a masterpiece.

It's probably the most sorely underrated film of the last ten years (Michael Almereyda's disjointed, fascinating take on Hamlet comes closest). But, hey, I like to do things besides bitch. One of those is making lists. So, here're ten reasons why The Village should slot high in everyone's "re-watch" list for the Aughts.

10. Learning the "spoiler" doesn't turn the movie into a game of "aha!" rewatches à la The Sixth Sense. It deepens mystery into tragedy.

9. This movie was made in the 21st century. It's about denizens of the 20th century fleeing their era's problems by constructing a 19th-century-style utopian fantasy, which eventually becomes paralyzed by the fearful mores of 18th- and 17th-century colonialism. The Village ages backwards before our eyes.

8. The impossibly graceful (and gloriously correct) shift of the narrative focus from Joaquin Phoenix to Bryce Dallas Howard.

7. Bryce Dallas Howard. (W-Will you marry me?)

6. Some of the most striking, evocative, and thematically resonant use of color in recent cinematic memory.

5. The dialogue is laughably unnatural at first, full of period hard-ons and oddly incongruous with Night Shy's visual storytelling. Witness the early scene wherein some local lads taunt a dreaded beast with some truly awkward braggadocio. But the final reveal repositions the script, later to become Night Shy's Achilles heel, as an essential part of a tightly woven pattern. Of course the dialogue's unnatural: it's an artifice, a painful attempt by the characters at recapturing a past long gone.

4. This was 2004, the year of Dogville, Fahrenheit 9/11, and (gulp) The Passion of the Christ. It's difficult to imagine a more convoluted and depressing state for the collective American political psyche than that election year, and cinema responded, to varying degrees of success. Night Shy is no one's definition of a politically astute filmmaker--his previous films barely acknowledged the existence of a society outside his protagonists' paranoiac inner lives. Yet The Village paints the most damning, comprehensive, and searingly accurate political mirror this country refused to look into this past dumbass decade. Running from confusion, taking refuge in the past, demonizing the outside, ignoring it when it breaks through, letting tears in the pattern go unacknowledged, letting our children take the burdens, and when the end of our painstaking world knocks, we vote to keep on keepin' on, even as it's been made brutally clear that we can't.

3. Had us pegged, has us pegged. The direct allegory was perfect for its time and place (or, uh, it would've been, had we payed attention), but six years later, the emotional resonance remains. The Village isn't furious like Fahrenheit or vengeance-minded like Dogville, but it's certainly not purblind like Passion. For all its moments of wispy tenderness and genuine terror, The Village is above all sad, and tragedy ages better than fury.

2. This shot:

1. Yeah. You can giggle at Villagers breathing "Those We Don't Speak Of." You can roll your eyes at Disney's blatant product positioning. You can, hey, even learn they're not actually monsters. But when the camera slides around Howard in the forest and that creature is standing there, red blazing, it's still fucking scary. Which, of course, is exactly the point.


  1. I agree with your analysis. I do think the Village is underrated but overall I think it still does fall into the M. Night trap of "the twist" which kind of annoying although it works. Also, the awkwardness still isn't too endearing but I love love love the aesthetics of the movie.

    ALSO! Bryce Dallas Howard is SOOO amazingly gorgeous but married with a daughter. (sorry to break it to you lol)

  2. Honestly I think your digging too deep into this and finding things to praise that a) don't excuse the major flaws inherent in the story and b) are subjective. One of the major things I take issue with is that they send a blind girl through the woods to find the medicine. I've had people try and defend this by saying that they were the only one in the village who could go without ruining the illusion they've created (which I don't think accounts for her company, but whatever), but still, that's just unrealistic. Get someone who knows the secret to find it. I'm sure they could come up with some bullshit excuse to go on a little run through the woods.

    Also, the premise is basically lifted from the book Running Out of Time.

  3. Hah, indeed! I noticed that, er, appropriation as well. I remember Disney and Night Shy almost got sued over it. :shrug: It's a valid point, but I think the conceit works even better filmed.

    Anything I find praiseworthy is going to be subjective, just as having read Running Out of Time adds a subjective layer to watching the film. Obviously, my relationship to the film has been impacted by my own politics and my visceral reactions to both scarlet monsters and Bryce Dallas Howard (but I LOVE her, Claire!) but I don't think that invalidates my perspective.

    I certainly agree that it's more than a little stagey that they send her out, but the whole artifice at the core of the film is insanely stagey, and it didn't strike me as detrimentally unbelievable. I doubt that the Elders, people willing to leave behind everything they knew and fake the world for their children, would gladly take the journey back to 2004 themselves, even if it meant a better chance of holding onto the secret.

  4. I thick that You're absolutly right. The Village is my fav film of all times. Everytime you watch it you spot somthing new and the scene in the forest sacres me everytime and the shot when Howard's hand is stuck out and you can see the creature behind it is undesputidly the BEST shot I have ever seen in a film!

  5. Great film . would watch over the predictable and derevitive super hero crap hollywood pumps out week in week out

  6. You forgot the single biggest reason why this movie is so great, and underrated. It is by far, one of the most moving love stories of our time. Which I believe is what M. Night was trying to do. It wasn't the trailer advertised horror story, or the "what is the twist going to be this time" that we were led to believe it was supposed to be. Those who are dissapointed with the "twist" missed what this movie is really about. Amazingly beautiful, moving, heartwrenching and courageous. That is why I love this movie.

  7. Agreed, except Lady in the Water was beautiful.

  8. James Newton Howard should be reason number 1