2004-08-10

Innate Desire Fulfilled

OK, I finally have a few minutes, so here is my take on The Village.

Rather than wait to until the end to summarize, I'll just say up front that I think this is as good a film as Night has made, on par with Unbreakable. No bones about it.

Now that is not to say that I disagree with all of the criticisms leveled by Brock and Gabe. I actually agree with most of them. However, I feel that for some reason Night seems to attract criticism do a greater degree than others. Perhaps he has set the bar so high with his previous work, or been so successful so quickly, that he is set up to be shot down? I think that if anyone else's name was on this film, it would get a lot more credit than it did.

I don't think it's fair to hang a film largely on whether the twists were as effective as they could be have been, or how predictable they might have been (and some people had some clues going in). Since when does a film have to have a twist, no, two twists, to succeed? Night could just tell his stories straight out, and they would be interesting enough. Instead, he shows a lot of patience in developing a sort of controlled release where he reveals very little, very little, very little, then a whole lot all at once. In the end, the story is told and all is revealed one way or another. Personally, I think Night does a better job of getting there than most.

Also, we are sort of arbitrarily labeling twists (in this case "The Shed" and "The Outside World"). While I agree that Night would be no means debate the significance of the latter, the former was just one of a number of pivotal moments, and I don't think you can set this one apart.

The scene that caught me the most off guard was when Lucious was stabbed. What a great scene, and probably the biggest shock of the film for me. We all know how much I admire the willingness to do in the "hero" (I thought for sure he was a goner).

A number of scenes in the Woods were very effective. Just the presence of the monster after it had been revealed that it was "just the elders" was great. Was this a real monster after all, the original source of the "rumors" the elders based their act on? Was her fear and isolation overcoming her even though she knew the real nature of the monsters? Then Brody gets killed, and that's a pretty big twist as well.

The whole movie was (I think intentionally) quite disorienting, and an aura of tension was evident throughout. Even simple things like getting the medicine from the guardhouse had me on the edge of my seat. And that is not to overlook the many overtly-horrifying scenes like the outstretched hand on the porch and ensuing moments in the basements, the guardtower, and others. All this tied together with Night's slow and studied, beautifully composed and arranged shots of the interiors and exteriors adds up to a great film in my mind. Plus, it's a love story at heart, which, if done effectively, always has the greatest potential for an emotional impact, and I think it works.

If I really wanted to analyze and second guess, I could, and I have, and there are a lot of questions, some of which have been resolved in the context of the story, and some that have not. However, these are just the concerns of someone who likes to analyze films, and none of them detract from the film "in the moment" for me. They are interesting, though, so here goes.

I didn't like the way the film began. Over the first ten minutes, I really felt like I was being led through the Village and being shown very deliberately a number of things. All of this was in the interest of setting up the story, and that always needs to be done. To me, it was all too overt, though. Night had a way, in his other films, of conveying much of this information through inference, rather than spelling it out. I felt like I was being guided too directly. Look at this? Understand? OK, now look at this. Understand?

Similarly, the end of the film seemed rather abrupt. The film really flew by with me, and I didn't realize I was nearly 100 minutes in, so it seemed like it should be more. I guess Ivy returning to Lucious was intended as closure, and I don't expect to see Lucious healed up and happy because of having the medicine. However, having no reaction shot, no shot period, of Lucious, left me a little empty.

That also ties in to an overall complaint about the second half of the film, that we weren't taken back to Lucious more often. This is a lover story and Ivy's motivation is supposed to be saving Lucious' life. You feel this as she departs, but she seems so isolated for so long that you lose this and the drive to have her out there in the Woods faded for me. They cut back to Lucious at least once, the nice directly overhead shot, but that's all I remember. We needed to see that more often, just to symbolically keep that connection alive. After a while, it was like, What's the point?

Some other things are already resolved for me. I thought there were a lot of inconsistencies in the Village. Specifically, the language seemed very awkward, and unspecifically the whole place felt awkward. The language, I initially concluded, was a result of a lack of research and adherence to the period (the imagined period), or a more overt attempt to create flowery, poetic language for its own sake. In the end, I think this was all intentional, as a clue that this place wasn't real, and many of the people were, in fact, playing a part.

That aspect of the actors playing characters that are "playing a part" adds the convenience to offload blame for poor performances from the actors to the characters. In essence, it could be said "William Hurt wasn't a bad actor, he was simply playing someone who was struggling to play his part in the community". Bare minimum this obscures the root of any deficiencies, though I thought all were well done, with the parts of Ivy, Lucious, and Brody's character done very well.

In the Woods, I didn't appreciate Night showing the monster in full frame for as long as he did, if only because it seemed to break with style and was very unexpected. I really enjoy seeing the bushes sway at the side of a frame and little more.

Jeremy tied together for me the various killing of animals, forays into the woods, reports of said forays, and how they relate to the elders perpetuating the myths, Brody getting involved, etc., and that all seems to check out logically.

Not too logical, though not out of the realm of possibility, is the shear number of Villagers measured against the number of elders that founded the place and their immediate families. It just seems there are a lot of people that are unaccounted for. Certainly, they could have brought more people with them, but then, why aren't those people elders as well? It could probably be easily explained, though I don't think the movie attempts to, and even alludes to this (though it might), so any explanation would seem to be our rationalization, not an element of the story, and could not be proved one way or another.

All in all, I thought The Village was a great film, and would struggle to compare it to anything, even other great films I have seen recently, if only because Night seems so far afield as to defy comparison to anyone but himself... the toughest competition of all.

5 comments:

Joshua Provost said...

Hey, I forgot to mention my reaction to "the big twist." I thought it was great. I guess I didn't see it coming. Though I get Gabe's point that the people that would be most shocked by this revelation would be the young villagers (and they never did find out), I felt it, just a different kind of shock. My shock was "I can't believe he had me fooled the whole time, on the basis of a single tombstone at the front and nothing else." The great power of suggestion. True indeed, it was a trick on the audience, not on the characters, such as in Unbreakable where it is revealed that Mr. Glass created te disasters, and the pain Bruce feels, which you feel along with him. Different, but, too me, very good.

Gabe said...

Nice review Josh.

As I mentioned before, I wondered if I would have praised the movie if the ending had the shock factor I expected. Does that bad apple spoil the bunch?

Does Shyamalan's high bar of success lead us to base our opinions of his movies on the endings? If that's the case, then I think they become distracting. I think Shyamalan should give the twists a rest and prove he's indeed a solid film maker by telling a story without them. Signs didn't really have a surprise ending but it did rely on some twists.

I'm sure he could do it. Check out Stuart Little!

Brock said...

I think my big problem with the surprise ending lies in the fact that this film was very well told until we reached "the big twist". I totally agree with you though Josh when you say that he has a way of revealing things, very very slowly, and it works nicely.

Now I want to see it again...

EggNogg said...

One thing that I cannot believe is that I called the mutant porcupine. (Best description of the “monster”) I was very in groused in this whole movie, but unfortunately I think that I was let down.

So far, the two big movies that I have seen have let me down. Spiderman II and The Village; Spiderman I thought was not as good as the first because of bad acting and I still do not like KIRSTEN DUNST as Mary Jane. (Sorry Josh)

Second, I liked The Village but, I have to agree with Josh that the plot points were shown to you and you were lead through them as if on a leash. I think that I was also expecting more from Night, but in his defense I do not think that this lack of respect for this movie comes from any lack of deepness, but just a lack of something that I cannot put my finger on.

I also do not think that I would buy this movie because of the aforementioned opinions because once you have seen this movie there is no reason to go back. I think even more of The Villages flaws would stand out on a second run.

Jeremy said...

Many people say "What's the point of rewatching a Manoj film, since its all about the surprise ending?" OK, they don't say Manoj, but whatever.

I love rewatching his movies. There's always some little detail that he's placed in there for you to find after you know how it all ends. It seems like every single framing of the camera and word spoken have a true purpose. Like Joshua, he's a true craftsman.