Sunday, August 01, 2004

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

Barbara Nicolosi told me two years ago, when I was defending M. Night Shyamalan's latest film Signs, that his stock was on the downturn in Hollywood and that industry insiders and critics were not going to give him a pass if his next film was bad. The Village is not a good movie. Just as when I was little and would argue with my mom but then would have her words sticking in my head ever after, I viewed the film last night through the lens of Barbara's criticism of his filmmaking. And just as my mom was almost always right about the things with which I disagreed most passionately with her, so I fear was Ms. Nicolosi.

What I used to see as a consistent intelligence applied to every scene now seemed like overbearing control. Where I used to catch a glimpse of the writer behind the mise en scene, now I felt like I was trapped in a single writer's off-kilter vision of reality. The characters all adopt a formal manner of speech, no contractions, pronouns appearing in odd places, in a faux Amish rhythm of English. That would be okay, but the content of the speech is dense and metaphorical, weighted with meaning. It's a bit like the content in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or was it the other way around? I can never remember and am too lazy to look it up). I thought it was good in that film that the actors spoke in Mandarin, and the subtitles served up the flights of lyric fancy that was the characters' speech. The Village might have fared better with subtitles.

Perversely, although I think it's a bad movie I hope it will do well. I like M. Night Shyamalan. I want him to make more movies, but to break away from his trademark thriller with a twist. Thomas Howard once wrote that Charles Williams' novels were metaphysical thrillers, and Shyamalan's aspire to that also. But he needs to break out into another genre. Comedy, maybe? He needs to loosen up and poke a little fun at himself. Maybe his next film could be titled Without a Twist.


John said...

I desperately wanted to like this movie, but I was also disappointed. (Other people in the theatre were actually laughing at serious points.)

I like M. Night Shyamalan too, and am hoping this won't ruin his career.

I like the "thriller with a twist" thing, being a devoted fan of Hitchcock (it's obvious Shyamalan is too), but I agree that Shyamalan needs more variety.

His earlier works were especially strong when they considered themes which both Hindus and Christians could appreciate. (That in itself was awesome.) He has a great theological imagination. "Metaphysical thrillers" may apply to what I mean. I didn't see this in The Village.

There's a lot of potential in Shyamalan's decision to make Life of Pi a movie. I just hope his career isn't already dead by then.

Rae said...

I hadn't heard that he was signed on to make a Life of Pi movie. That sounds like a perfect choice for him. He can exercise his theological imagination wildly with that story.

John said...

Pi is a perfect story for Shyamalan, I agree. It suits his theological imagination, his interreligious interests, and his affinity for "thrillers with a twist." And being a Hitchcock fan, Shyamalan will probably enjoy the challenges involved in an extremely limited set like a lifeboat. (Think "Rope" or "Rear Window" rather than "Lifeboat.") On top of that, he and Pi have things in common: e.g. they're both originally from Pondicherry.