02 February, 2005

Conclusion to Bad Movie Weekend

I finished the third bad movie last night. I would have finished Monday night, but PBS had a shockingly good biography of Fidel Castro Monday night, and I came in early enough to learn quite a few things that "they" don't teach us these days. This was not your usual, starry-eyed, romantic biography of Fidel: it documented Castro's self-aggrandizement, his miserable track record on the Cuban economy, his history of exporting revolution, and his ruthless oppression of people who express criticism of his regime.

One quote was especially telling: when communist regimes started to embrace openness and reform during the late 80s, Fidel responded that openness and reform "represented a threat to fundamental socialist principles."

Think about that a second: openness and reform represent a threat to fundamental socialist principles. This man is a hero to the left throughout the world?


Anyway, I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about The Village and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Let's dispense with the second one first. What an awful, awful movie! Sky Captain contributed absolutely nothing to my life except the pain of watching a film where the contrast is turned up too high.

Okay, I'll admit some of the dialogue is witty. I laughed a few times. Big deal. When you watch a film like this, it should have either something new, or stunning special effects. This film has neither — as I noted before, the gimmick of coloring the film a certain way is an annoyance — and I'm glad I only wasted $0.99 for the "privilege" of watching it.

The Village, on the other hand, was a genuine surprise. Maybe it's one of those films that only I can like (for another review, see Flos Carmeli) but I thought this was one of the best films I've seen in a while.

Some context is probably in order: I like plot twists, and Shyamalan's film The Sixth Sense has the best plot twist I've ever seen, right at the very last minute. You think it's going to be a trashy, warm-fuzzy, group-hug film, but it's not! — Well, actually it is. However, the plot twist at the end, along with the superb acting by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osmet, more than make up for it.

The next two films from Shyamalan were increasingly disappointing. The plot twist in Unbreakable was clever, and the film has some really good moments. I should probably watch it again. As for Signs, the less said, the better. There was no plot twist, as far as I can tell; it was just a bad B-movie with no particular purpose. — Well, I suppose one could say it encouraged prayer. So does Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: In both films, I was praying the ending wouldn't be as stupid as I feared, and in both films, God failed to answer my prayer.

As for The Village, lots of people have written or said that they knew how it would end 15 minutes into the film. I'm here to tell you that either (a) they're liars, or (b) they read the script. I don't think it's humanly possible for anyone to know how this film would end, because there are more plot twists than you can shake a stick at. The most cynical and secular of people would have guessed one of them, sure, but the rest? Give me a break.

The film is, in my not-so-humble opinion, a warning about how idealistic people deal with the modern world. If you don't like plot twists, and if you're not terribly idealistic, I suppose that you won't find anything worth thinking about, but I saw myself reflected in some of the villagers. Fidel Castro probably would, too, if he could be bothered to watch imperialistic propaganda.

Now, the rest of this paragraph will discuss some aspects of why I found the plot twists compelling, so you should skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen the film. The key plot twist to Shyamalan's three previous films is that our fantasies become real:

  • ghosts are real — more real than you think!
  • superheroes are real — as are supervillains!
  • aliens are real — and in their final dying moments, people can tell us the future! Wheeee!
I can spot a pattern when I see one: in a Shyamalan film, the monsters are always real. It came as quite a surprise to learn that this time around, the monsters aren't real! Neither is the village! These religious refugees walking around in 19th century fashions, and practicing 19th century religious refugee traditions, are not in fact living in the 19th century. Nor are they particularly religious, aside from a sort of civic community religion. I have a notoriously bad memory, but if I don't remember God's being mentioned once in the film, then I can't imagine that this film has pretensions to religion. Best of all, I felt genuine sympathy for the bad guys; i.e., elders of the village. I've been there.

Plot spoilers end here. The music was excellent, too.

So, The Village restores my faith in M. Night Shyamalan. I may be reading too much into it that I wanted to see, and admittedly the film isn't such a life-altering experience. Nevertheless, I can (and will) recommend it to lots of people, who will probably hate me for it, the same way people hated me for the George Clooney version of Solaris, which I also enjoyed.


Anonymous said...

I also liked The Village more than I should have...

I think the lack of religiosity was a clue to the fact that these weren't late 19th century people - I kept thinking "They're kinda like Shakers or Quakers, but where's the God-talk?!?"

I'm not sure the elders were meant to be 'villains,' exactly, though that's how many people read the movie (in that annoying sort of self-righteous Baby Boomer way where authority figures are ALWAYS evil.)

Yes, they did a bad thing to deceive their children about the outside world, but in other aspects I thought they were pretty morally admirable - the speech William Hurt gives after his daughter leaves the village was inspiring. I was actually surprised to see authority figures portrayed so sympathetically. I felt the movie was presenting the situation as an nearly unavoidable moral dilemma that everyone (or at least idealistic folks) needs to wrestle with.


jack perry said...

Thanks for your comments; as usual they are well-said.

I didn't think of the elders as villains so much as "bad guys," and I should have put that in quotes, because they're obviously not "bad" either. That's one thing I really like about the film: you've hit the nail on the head there.

I never thought of them as Shakers, rather Mormons. If they were Shakers, we'd have a hard time explaining the children — unless the children were orphans. Hmmmm...