Thursday, August 11, 2005

Shyalaman's The Village -- a vindication

Warning -- for those who have not yet seen the suspense film The Village -- this post contains massive spoilers -- if you've not yet seen the film, but want to preserve the surprise, then read no further.

This film received a lot of dislike -- Horror fans seem not to have liked it (and the referenced posts point out some plot absurdities-- not on a site for the faint of heart -- horror fans like their websites a little grisly). The critics seemed to hate it. It seems that everyone was expecting M Knight to give us another chiller like the Sixth Sense (and sadly, it was marketed this way). In so doing, they set their expectations wrong.

I agree with Allan Andrychuck's comments on IMDB: "The Village is about seeking innocence. It is endearing and flows nicely. It does take a couple of turns but they are far secondary to the story itself. Some very important things are said here and its done in a very entertaining way. This movie is for the core movie buff, as it does not have the elements that would brand it any particular genre."

This is a thoughtful movie that reveals some deep yearnings of the human heart. The story starts in what appears to be an isolated 1870's village. The village is surrounded by woods that are inhabited by horrible creatures. Years ago, the elders and the creatures made a pact to stay out of each others' territory. However, a horrible injury sets up a situation where Ivy, the blind heroine, asks to risk the wrath of the creatures to leave the village and go to "the towns" to seek medicine for her injured fiancee.

It is here we find out that the creatures were all a myth created by the village elders to keep the inhabitants in the village. Ivy is allowed to go -- but alone. She receives detailed instructions and a list of the medicines needed. And when she arrives on the road to the towns -- we find that this story actually takes place in the present day.

The elders of the village were all people who lost loved ones to horrible murders. They were in a support group together during the 1970's, and one of them (a wealthy heir) suggested the idea of relocating to a remote area and creating a peaceful village. What they create is a fine little society, filled with many moments of joy and pleasure (seen in children dancing while sweeping a porch, in a wedding celebration), but also filled with sorrow and heartache (seen in the opening scene -- the funeral of a child who died of illness).

The elders created the village and the deception that sustained it because they were desperately wounded people seeking innocence -- seeking escape. Are they all that different from the legions of suburbanites looking for a patch of green earth and good schools? Are they all that different from city dwellers moving to the country seeking to reconnect with some forgotten sense of vitue and rightness and goodness. This film is Frontier House meets Brigadoon. The village is built entirely upon the all too human hope and dream that people of goodwill can create a haven of peace and beauty free from suffering. It also plays heavily into the mythos of "olden times" when things were simpler and better.

Sadly, the myth doesn't stand up to reality -- pain and suffering continues. Children die or are born with mental handicaps. Jealousy erupts. Violence arises. The human sin nature is not so easily subdued. They have not escaped suffering, merely contained it. As the elders debate the wisdom of letting Ivy go for the medicine (and risk the outside world finding out about the experiment), one says "We can move towards hope, that's what's beautiful about this place. We cannot run from heartache. My brother was slain in the towns, the rest of my family died here. Heartache is a part of life, we know that now. Ivy is running toward hope, let her run. If this place is worthy, she'll be successful in her quest." Even among basically decent folk, there will be suffering because we live in a fallen world under a curse.

This is a subtle film that's ultimately not about suspense or plot twists -- it's about love -- the love that drives Ivy to great courage. It's about dealing with hurt (which is what drives the elders to withdraw from society); it's about taking steps to create a culture of truth, beauty, and goodness in the face of the forces of chaos and destruction. Are there plausibility stretches? Sure (though the careful viewer can see how Shyalaman covers his bases -- the stilted affected 19th century speech really bothered me at first because it didn't sound natural. But when I found out they were all playacting, it made total sense -- they were living out their fantasy of 19th century). But the overall theme of love, yearning for innocence, and the inescapable nature of sorrow in this earthly existence make the film an underrated gift. It reminds us that our calling is to create a culture of blessing, not in isolation, but in the midst of the chaos -- but that we have the City of God to look forward to -- the city where there are no more tears and death and suffering are conquered.

Soli Deo Gloria