2004Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt
here’s a simple way to enjoy The Village, M. Night Shyamalan’s widely panned new film. First off, ignore the hype about how it has a twist ending, and how the twist is really lame. In fact, better yet, make sure that you don’t spend the whole movie wondering what the twist will be. Go ask someone what it is. Go online, or talk to your friends, or ask a kid who just came out of the movie theater. The kid will tell you, “Fuck, that was so gay. The whole movie is just...
Well…want to hear it? Thanks to the Internet, I can tell you in inviso-text: the monsters outside the village aren’t real, and the town elders are a bunch of hippies who were traumatized into leaving the real world. Okay, now we can focus on the real story.
"And now we’ll paint some happy trees…"
And the real story is summed up in three words: Bryce Dallas Howard. I don’t just mean that with the lovely red-headed Ms. Howard, a star has been born—although it has. But I’m mainly knocked out by the character they gave her, and the journey that Shyamalan sets her on.
This is a fairy tale. It takes place in a beautifully evocative 19th century village, presumably in an Amish-like part of Pennsylvania. If you’ve ever been in rural New England, maybe you’ve had the experience of driving through miles of woods on a grey, fall afternoon, surrounded by trees until suddenly you come to a clearing—and there’s a town, huddled by itself in the middle of nowhere. This is that kind of town, but without even a pizza parlor or video store. Shyamalan falls in love with this town, with its pre-modern clothing, the golden flowers the ladies weave into their hair to celebrate a wedding, and the town meetings (still a fixture of New England local politics, but instead of calling the town leaders “elder” they usually just say “jackass”).
Howard plays Ivy Walker, the spunky blind daughter of William Hurt, the town’s leader. Her story is what matters here, though the village has its own secrets, some intrigue between the characters and some suspense. Some if it may seem contrived, but all of it figures perfectly into the moral dilemma at the heart of the film: namely, that the problems of the world outside the village have unexpectedly intruded upon their lives, and only by leaving the village on a perilous journey can Ivy set things right. Nobody is supposed to leave the village, ever, and the way that they break the rule is handled extremely responsibly: there are no plot contrivances, and all of the choices that the characters make—and unlike most movies, the characters have to make real, and difficult, choices—have a consistent moral logic.
Most depressing see-saw EVER
So, knowing that the house is in order, let’s focus on Ivy. She is as amazing a character as ever graced a modern fairy tale, passionate but hardy, scared but determined, overwhelmed but resourceful. I’m going to list my three favorite scenes in the movie, which are among my favorite scenes of any movie this year, and I’m doing this just so you’ll know ‘em when you see them:
- Ivy’s “leap of faith” moment in the doorway, when the town thinks it’s in dangerIf you focus on Ivy’s journey, all of the film’s ideas start to work. What is a monster? How can we possibly shut the monsters out? What is fear? How can you remain innocent in this world? What sacrifices should a community make to preserve its values? (The film understates this, but the first scene—where one of the elders has to bury his son, who died of illness—is crucial to the dilemmas that arise later on.)
- Her scene on the porch with Joaquin Phoenix (because I’m a sucker for that stuff)
- What happens in the woods
And most of all, what is courage? Howard displays it in spades. She’s the post-Buffy, post-Disney heroine that I thought pop culture had gotten rid of: a believable, almost mundane person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. And when she reaches her final conflict, near the end of the movie, I’m reminded that Shyamalan’s biggest trademark isn’t his knack for a twist ending, or his gift for rejuvenating genre films: it’s the way he puts his characters in showdowns that are small, hardly anything in the scheme of big-budget movies, but that are nevertheless deeply consequential for our protagonist. His heroes never pull children out of burning buildings or fly backwards around the world to reverse the flow of time: they prove themselves in moments so simple and true that they resonate with our own lives, they are completely believable, and they’re more heroic because of it. And with The Village, he gives us that revelation again, and it’s worth the entire journey.
By: Chris Dahlen
Published on: 2004-08-09