2004-08-10

Napoleon Dynamite Conquered The Village; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Village

No, my post has absolutely nothing to do with Napoleon Dynamite. I just liked the title. Although I really should write something up about Napoleon Dynamite, if only because of how wonderfully random a film it was. In the meantime, check it out for yourselves.

There are so many things to speak of:

  • The Village
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • The Lion King Experience
  • Debue: Initial Public Offering
  • Why Can't Debue Spell Correctly?
  • Dr. Strangelove

I'll tackle these thoughts in separate posts.

First, The Village. I will start by commending Joshua for his review. It was thorough, well though out, and expertly worded. A true craftsman, he is.

The bottom line: I loved this movie. I loved it from the moment I saw it. And on top of that it seems that the more time that goes by in which I can think and reflect on it the greater my love becomes. I have almost identical feelings to Joshua on this film. I will spare the reader from having to hear it all again. I will point out anything that I felt differently about, but for the most part I will try to make this post about combating the critics.

The Critics:

Why do the critics love to bash Manoj Night Shyamalan? Success, baby! Let's face it, if I directed The Village as my feature film debut (debue? I'm joking) I would be hailed as the next great filmmaker. Think about it this way, if this were Manoj's first movie (I'm talking no Wide Awake, no Sixth Sense, etc.) people would be all over it, praising it up and down. I'll explain more later.

Bottom line: the critics, and fans alike, see the need to take a Manoj film and tear it down to the tiniest detail. Now, Manoj did bring this upon himself in a way, but why can't people just go and enjoy the movie? Did people who saw Spiderman, or Napoleon Dynamite, or Chungking Express, or etc., etc., and so on, feel the need to nitpick those movies? No. People need to calm down and enjoy 1:45 min.

The Twists:

You like twists? What is a twist, anyway? Dictionary.com, what say you?

An unforeseen development

OK, that's pretty broad. I would have to say that when Joaquin (off topic: that's such a fun name to say. Go ahead, go back and read it out loud ... Wasn't that fun? OK, continue.) gets stabbed, that's a twist. When we find out that the elders are the creatures. Twist. When we find out that its the Pianist in the creature suit. Twistity. When we find out we're in modern times. Twist (I mean it, turn your entire body around 360 degrees). And I'm sure there's many more.

People always talk about Manoj and his twists. How about in Unbreakable when Bruce Willis finds out he can lift tons of weight? Is that a twist? I'm sure it was for him. And I don't like when people say that Signs relied on a twist. Where was it? Because I sure couldn't find it.

Here's a twist for you! I knew the twists before I went and saw the movie! Ha! And I still loved it. Maybe because I didn't have to look for a twist so I could just enjoy the film for what it was: a darn good 106 minute excursion for $6.80 (AAA tickets rock!).

More on the Critics:

What bothered me most about the cold reception that this film received was that for the most part the critical things that I was reading all were simply a misunderstanding on the part of the critiquer. Let's examine a few (these are not exact quotes):

  • "How stupid is it that they'd send the blind girl into town? Why wouldn't the Elder Walker go, or someone else who could see?" OK. That makes logical sense ... if you haven't seen the movie. I thought Manoj made it pretty clear that Elder Walker needed to remain true to the oath that he took when he settled in the village. He couldn't have sent another elder because he couldn't have been sure that they would react the way that he would (notice that he only told the other elders after he had sent her off, so it would be too late to stop her). He certainly couldn't have sent another member of the village that had the use of their eyeballs. Do you think they would have been a little alarmed when they saw cars and people with fancy clothes and all sorts of modern technology? Yeah, that might have given away the secret. This is why Ivy's companions in the woods were not supposed to follow her past the path. Walker's only chance was to send the blind girl and hope that their secret would be kept.
  • "How am I supposed to be scared by the creature after they've just told me that its the elders?" Huh? OK, but all the elders are together having a discussion about Ivy, so it couldn't be them. So who is it? Great question. This is one thing that I didn't have spoiled before I went and saw it and I thought this scene worked perfectly. Was it Ivy's imagination, were the creatures real? Noah! That great lover of all things violent! Perfect!
  • "There's no good reason to have 1897 on the tombstone except simply to fool the audience." Wrong! Now, admittedly, the film does not specifically deal with this issue. There is really no evidence to support a claim one way or the other. I always lean towards benefit of the doubt. The Elders had set up a village that was supposed to mimic the 1800s. Why would it be so out of the question that they would assume that year, just as they had assumed that style of dress, that style of home, and that style of speak? And, too, Elder Walker was a historical academic. In the village he taught the children, and no doubt in his teaching he would instruct them on history. What history is he supposed to teach that deals with the 1900s?
  • "There are too many villagers." ... pause ... OK, this one is valid. We must let it slide.

Noah:

He loved pianos ... he loved violins ... he loved violence. In the beginning there was Noah and Noah liked to hit little boys. And Noah was scolded by Ivy.

Hmm, he spends a lot of time in the woods. OK, that should have been our first clue. All sorts of animals start getting skinned and the elders seem genuinely puzzled. That's our second clue.

Let me try to break it down as I see it:

  • First animal killed was done by Elders. This was so that the children would discover it and it would lead to the inculcation of border issues in a classroom discussion.
  • All subsequent killings were done by Noah. That's why we see feathers and fur in the floorboards where he had discovered the costume.
  • The killings done during the wedding: Noah is curiously absent from all weddings scenes after the dinner.
  • Some have asked about the appearances of the creature and whether they were Noah. I do not believe any were. When Joaquin is spotted in the woods, that's by an elder. When the creatures come later that night its the elders doing their own version of "Scared Straight." The only time it was Noah was the final scene before he dies.

The Outside World:

Nothing is perfect and we know this. And we are not afraid to point it out. We will not apologize for Manoj when he makes mistakes. The "twist" itself, of the village being modern day, was very satisfying for me. Nothing else would have made sense.

On the other hand, how the twist was handled was satisfying ... not so much. It felt clunky. It felt explicit in its dialogue to a non-Manoj level. The texture of it was out of place. That's the nature of blending these two disparate worlds, but it still could have been handled better.

The Choice:

Some did not seem to understand the significance of the last scene, so I will spell it out here: when each of the elders stands in turn, with Noah's mother being the last one to stand, it is them in effect answering "aye!" to Elder Walkers question about whether they wanted to continue their story. Noah's mother is the most hesitant for obvious reasons.

As with any sad ending, there are some who are put off by it. Bah! I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll say it again: Nothing else would have made sense. You don't go to all that trouble, keep up a charade for close to 30 years and then just turn it in like so much volleyball. You keep it going as long as you humanly can. Right or wrong, it had to end this way. So I guess it didn't have a surprise ending.

I'm out.

11 comments:

Gabe said...

Dr. Strangelove! One of my favorite movies!

"Why do the critics love to bash Manoj Night Shyamalan? Success, baby!"

Vice Versa?

"Did people who saw Spiderman, or Napoleon Dynamite, or Chungking Express, or etc., etc., and so on, feel the need to nitpick those movies?"

Yes. I liked Spider-Man, but nitpicked it quite a bit. Ask Brock. I didn't like Napoleon Dynamite and have many nitpicks for that.

Maybe "twists" wasn't the correct term. I feel a lot of them are laid out, in line with Josh's comment how Shyamalan shows the viewer something and drags it on a little to make sure the audience understands. Something like the stabbing, though, is unexpected and almost spontaneous.

I wonder how the Elders explained airplanes?

What it always comes down to: you like it or you don't.

I think I'm going to purchase Dr. Strangelove right now!

Gabe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gabe said...

Dang, you can't have hyperlinks in a comment? My last phrase was linked to this:
http://www.deepdiscountdvd.com/dvd.cfm?itemID=COL006187

Deep Discount rocks. Cheap, free shipping. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, though. There's also www.deepdiscountcd.com.

Joshua Provost said...

True, certainly cant' knock you for simply not liking it. I think you will find with me and Jeremy (if I may speak for him), that we like films that are "different". If a film is sufficiently different, unique, it throws you totally out of the typical film world, and, as such, simply defies comparison. A lot of the things you might say critically about a film just can't apply, if it's sufficiently out there as to break with convention.

In that vein, Night's movies really can only be compared to each other (I strain to compare them to any other Director's work, at least in this era), WKW's with each other, etc.

We'll see what Jer has to say about Napolean Dynamite, but, man, that's different, in all respects. It just sort of comes and goes, and you might be tempted to say "What's the point?" It just defies convention, and I appreciate it for it solely on the basis of having the guts (or just being too dumb to know otherwise) to do so.

Jeremy said...

Gabe, Gabe, Gabe ... To quote The Lion: "I must make it very clear, brother that I love you but certainly I hate your sin."

I respect your opinion, of course. My only concern is that you slipped into the same sin that I detailed in "More on the Critics."

You stated, "I wonder how the Elders explained airplanes?" And yet, Manoj himself felt the need to appear on screen to state the answer to that very question. They do not have to explain airplanes because Walker paid off some government people to ensure that no one would fly over the preserve. Manoj's got it covered.

Joshua Provost said...

Gabe,

I hope my bro doesn't piss you off. If so, I will lay the beatdown when I go out there in December.

Gabe said...

No, it's all in good fun! I wasn't serious about the airplanes. I just had to throw that in there for kicks. But, I wonder how they did explain it if one flew over? The monsters' "eye-in-the-sky," or "flying monsters?" ;-)

Josh, you must know I also love film and music that isn't conventional and has the cojones to do it. But it doesn't work for me (sometimes) when someone makes a film simply for the lone reason to be different or uncoventional. It can work, but there's a huge risk of purposely crafting the story around that goal, which, I think can make the overall story suffer.

Joshua Provost said...

Gabe,

Yep, I get it. It's far more intersting when the Director is just doing his thing, normal to him, not realizing how unique and different it really is. If you force it, it's bad, yes.

Brock said...

I think that’s the very reason why I didn’t like this film as much as his others. The big twists, or shall we say, realizations of the plot, felt like they were placed there to “brand” the film as a Shaymalan creation. I couldn’t question his character dynamics, drama or ability to involve the viewer in the film; he mastered those abilites long ago and never lost sight of them. And Jeremy answered most of the “plot difficulties” in his response to the critics. But my problem with the film lies in the very fact that he made the ending “the way M. Night Shaymalan makes endings”. It was a twist for the sake of a twist, and a pretty blatant one. In his other films the endings are brilliant. No question. But here in the Village it just feels like he forced that “Modern Day” ending on the story. He’s said many times in interviews before that he considers Unbreakable to be his only failure because of its relatively low gross. I feel that if he measures success in film by box office gross, then perhaps he felt the compulsion to write an ending to this film that he felt would increase his “success”.


And the airplane thing bothers me big time. If you’ve written a story that requires the director to come on screen and explain the reasoning behind why “no planes fly over the preserve” then you’ve probably written an overly convoluted story. ;)

Lindsey said...

I happen to remember spending a great amount of time nitpicking Chungking Express to you, which unfortunately I was forced against my will to watch on more than one occasion.

EggNogg said...

And the W.A.S.P. speaks...