SPOILER ALERT - The last paragraph discusses the merits of the 'twist' and in so doing reveals it. When you get to the straight line, stop... You have been warned.
the trees, where nobody sees, they'll hide and seek, as long
as they please..." The "Teddy Bears' Picnic"
lyric may have been written for M. Night Shyamalan. "If
you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big
surprise..." indeed. Well, kind of. Yeah. Maybe.
The original title of The Village was The
Woods but legalese arm-locked Shyamalan into the
change. Did you know that the major studios employ people
to come up with and register movie titles and make them unavailable
to anyone else? Isn’t that the tiniest bit mean spirited?
Colour me shocked.
acknowledgement and defence of the basics: a narrative is
a series of related and escalating events relayed to provoke
an emotional response in an audience. Twists or surprise endings
are often superfluous to the actual narrative. But not always.
In The Sting, the twist was important in
the sense of knowing the 'good guys' won. In Fight
Club the twist suddenly made a glorious mockery (and
a perverse glorious sense) of what you had been watching. The Sixth Sense's narrative was primarily
someone helps a young boy understand his gift and teaches
him how to control it rather than have it control him. The
fact that his principal helper turned out to be a ghost himself
was a twist that re-defined the adult's sub-plot story but
was largely narrative-redundant. But the twist is what made The Sixth Sense famous - or so it's generally
believed. Do you think that movie would have gone financially
stratospheric if the basic narrative had been flawed or not
worthy of our emotional investment?
flirted with, caught and in triumph hung around his neck the
'twist ending' albatross, such a heavy weight of expectation.
I believe The Sixth Sense was not a hugely
successful worldwide hit because of the revelation that Bruce
was dearly departed. I submit that The Sixth Sense’s
strength was a clear and hugely satisfying narrative that
would have worked regardless of the twist. It was about a
boy - NOT the man.
Unbreakable was an immensely satisfying take on the 'what if' there really
was a Superman? Yes, many thought it ponderous and overly
portentous (I can appreciate that point of view) but I loved
it for those elements despite themselves. Shyamalan's direction
is precise and deliberate. You hear the storyteller's voice
in each shot. Usually that’s a great aspect of a movie.
I found Unbreakable thoroughly rewarding
and hugely entertaining. The twist? The hero's mentor is in
fact his arch nemesis. Big deal. It gave the film an ending
but again, it wasn't so vital to the narrative. The narrative
was about a man understanding his purpose, realising that
his gift was in helping people and realising how he could
do that. It was about a man whose life suddenly works because
he is nurtured to understand who he is. Let's not trivialise
the importance of James Newton Howard's score. Unbreakable has a distinctive and powerful score to rival any being produced
in mainstream movies these days. Since Jerry
Goldsmith's death, I do not see any other composer
stepping up to the plate so to speak. Newton-Howard's work
has been steadily becoming more assured, more confident. He
followed Unbreakable with his score for Signs,
Shyamalan’s follow up.
found a lot to fault in Signs (anticipating
Slarek's editorial hand here, so did he, the whole picture),
principally the polarised nature of the lead character, a
man of God who suddenly denounces Him due to the inexplicably
random death of his wife. I felt the story would have been
better if the man had not been an ex-preacher but an ordinary
guy who used to believe. Gibson was an interesting casting
choice given his well documented religious ardour. But as
a piece of story-telling, setting up and delivering, I found Signs almost sublime. I squealed with glee
at the 'glasses of water' revelation and rate Newton-Howard's
final two cues of the soundtrack to be some of the best film
music I have ever heard. You can forgive a movie a lot if
it makes you squeal. I played those cues to death in the following
months. Interestingly, I played the score before I saw the
film and invited my imagination to come up with the visuals
knowing little as I did about the actual content of the movie.
But there was a piece in Hand of Fate Part One (the
CD's cue name) that just had to be a huge space ship taking
off... It was to accompany a spilled glass of water.
I love movies.
to The Village. Hey, William Hurt, Sigourney
Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody! God - such huge talent!
Brendan Gleeson is also on hand looking eerily like Wayne
Rooney's father. But most of all there is expectation. No
film maker should work with the yoke of such pressure. I don't
care if the higher flying Hollywood set are lauded with obscene
amounts of cash, they are still expected to deliver the goods.
With The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan got lucky.
Lightning strikes are rare enough. The idea that powerful
men and women ply him with unending cash to repeat what is
essentially unrepeatable... He did it once therefore he
is infinitely more qualified that Joe Schmoe to DO IT AGAIN...
Art does not serve such facile masters.
seeing the world - cold and violence ridden - through the
media's many lenses, the director envisages a way back to
innocence and purity. The 19th century village community live
almost Amish-like, secluded in the enveloping woods of Pennsylvania.
There are elders, many secrets, unusual creatures in the woods
and a devoted young couple. There's a twist (naturally) and
once again it does little to further the story itself which
simply put is 'young blind girl risks all to save her beloved'.
Shyamalan's style is punctuated with hand held camera (I've
never seen a film with so much of the backs of actors' heads)
which I assume is meant to unnerve and unsettle given his
usual tripods-and-dollies-set-in-cement style. His framing
is such that it's your expectation of a shot that provides
the suspense. There is a two shot of the lovers-to-be with
a misty background that was screaming for a creature to emerge.
Nothing happens but because of the suspense, I certainly wasn't
paying attention to the dialogue. There are moments of directorial
control that stand out - twice, Phoenix whisks his love away
hand to hand as she blindly stumbles forward.
the film is also curiously overcast, (presumably to up the
ante on the colour red which seems to be forbidden in the
community). But it does make the film look drab and flatly
lit during the daylight scenes. The most shocking part of
the film, one that drew audible gasps from the audience, is
a simple encounter between two men. The action is almost mundane
but the staging tremendously effective. It’s the incident
that threatens to upturn everything those in the village hold
dear... This is perhaps not worth the price of admission
but without Shyamalan's name and the expectation of a satisfying
twist, The Village would have been remarkable
as a movie, twice more remarkable as a Hollywood movie.
vast marketing machine, emphasizing the creatures and the
danger of the woods, so spectacularly misleads that it is
no surprise that the box office dropped sharply after the
first weekend. The Village is a boy meets
girl tale. Most other considerations don’t really enter
into it. If you want to go deeper into the woods then cross
head of the community played by William Hurt, had an epiphany.
What if it were possible to go back to the good old days before
oil turned nations into warmongers to maintain a lifestyle?
How could decent folk protect their children from the horrors
that terrorise the world? Well, with enough money (money again),
the disillusioned parents of the 1970s, could create a 19th
century community (Hurt was a history teacher), one in which
their children would be raised oblivious to the fact that
9/11 actually happened, a world in which 'the middle east'
was some far off land of great tales and legends. The surrounding
woods were supposedly full of creatures that would attack
if provoked - something to keep the kids at home. But in adhering
to the strict 19th technology the village forwent modern medicine
(big mistake) and so modern parents see their children die
from preventable diseases (I can’t imagine any parent
standing by watching their children die from something a simple
anti-biotic would cure). Of course, the blind girl goes looking
for help (she has to be blind, narratively speaking) and finds
it, out there is the nasty 21st century. Shyamalan's idea
is a sweet and sentimental one but it doesn't serve the basis
of what's advertised as a horror film... Let's hope he
can keep the twist at bay and try his hand at a waltz next