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.