This week my home viewing has been concentrated on the work of M. Night Shyamalan, whose first four major movies (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village) were some of the first reasons why I began really loving movies in the first place. To be honest, I find it difficult to defend his latter work, and for many people this begins with The Village-–for them a convoluted period monster flic that slowly bleeds out what little believability it begins with until it limps, dying and confused, into its closing credits. But I am here today to proclaim that not only is it my favorite of Shyamalan's films, but it might be his best work altogether.
Reason #1: Dat Music, Tho
The films mentioned above all have superior music gifted to us by James Newton Howard. But the jewel in the collection is the beautifully melancholic suite he composed for violinist Hilary Hahn on The Village. Each note is full of sorrow and hope and loss, and the score is one of the greatest meditations on those themes in music. As a soundtrack it is risky, because it runs the possibility of overrunning the screen image it is meant to support, but it never overplays its hand or becomes pedantic. Indeed the music is the perfect accompaniment to the photography, and the mood which it carefully creates and maintains. Speaking of which...
Reason #2: Roger
I know, praising the work of master cinematographer Roger Deakins is like saying bacon is tasty, but that doesn't mean it can't be done genuinely. Of Shyamalan's films this is by far the best looking (although Eduardo Serra does some cool stuff in Unbreakable.) I mean, tell me that just the still frame of that chair on the porch doesn't make you want to cry. Tell me (if you've seen the movie, of course) that it doesn't infinitesimally increase your understanding of and sympathy for the characters. Tell me his use of color (while often brought to our attention by the dialog) never feels immaturely attention-seeking in itself. Indeed, it is the images Deakins captures, together with Howard's music, that floats the picture when the rest of it is shaky. This brings me to...
Reason #3: The Reason Most People Don't Like It
*This section gets spoilery.* While it is a solid aesthetic achievement, what really gets me (in a good way) about this film is how poorly its internal logic works out. And this is why most people don't like it. "Gee," they say, "it sure seems flimsy that they could live indefinitely in a wildlife refuge and no one would know." "Wouldn't Ivy immediately figure out that it was Noah and not a creature that she killed?" "Why do the elders speak in the weird 1890's speak even when they are alone?" "Couldn't they have brought modern medical supplies with them? No one born there would know the difference. Actually, why did they pretend to be homesteaders in the first place?" And so on.
The point is, I think that this flimsy logic is the point. Misreading it (and therefore being disappointed with the movie) comes out of misunderstanding what the movie is about. It is a love story above everything else. It is also an exploration of fear and guilt, and how those intersect with love. And to me, the fact that a story that they invented to preserve love from the corrosion of fear and guilt makes no sense at all, but that they desperately cling to it anyway, only adds to the poignancy of the whole thing. It is a kind of tragedy the sibling of which I cannot think of. Brendan Gleeson's character says of Ivy, after she has gone, to let her run toward hope. The beauty of the place is that she is free to do it, and if it is worthy, she will be successful. The tragedy is that the place is not worthy, but she will come back anyway and think, for a moment, that it is.
So I take for subtlety what others take for poor plotting. The film manages to tell a very sobering and melancholy tale without ever being despairing. It preaches earnestly and sincerely about love, its powers and wonders. And it turns around and mourns over the false hopes that love can inspire. I cannot think of another movie that makes me feel the way that it does. In doing so it reaches a tonal ambiguity that isn't found in the rest of Shyamalan's work. In that regard it is his most artistically satisfying piece for me, and the one that I can come back to most often. Finally...
Reason #4: Just Because
I know that the film is not without its faults. The dialect is sometimes clunky and distracting and the editing near the end cannot decide whether it is brilliant or just confusing. And I have tried to elucidate real reasons why I love this movie. But I think it comes down to the fact that I love it, just because I love it. Maybe it's because it came at just the right moment in my life: earlier and I would have ignored it, later and I would have scorned it. Maybe it's because it was the first movie that I ever sat through the credits of, thinking that I didn't know what I was feeling. Maybe it's because everyone has to have a terrible movie that they love, and this is mine. I don't know. But I hope you have at least one that you love and you cannot explain why, even when IMDb tells you that it is worse than that last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Seriously. Look it up.
And here's a selection from the score, in case you didn't believe me earlier.
by Chase Harrison