Sat July 31, 2004
A less harrowing experience than his other films but a more intellectually satisfying one.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
The very noun "village" connotes a closed community often out of time with an outer world grown increasingly forbidding. M. Night Shyamalan's ("Sixth Sense," "Signs") "The Village" incorporates those notions and more modern isolationism and xenophobia stemming from ultraconservative politics and "9/11" to create a less harrowing experience than his other films but a more intellectually satisfying one.
A late nineteenth-century hamlet in rural America is plagued by threats from monsters in its forest to the extent that the town fortifies itself with encircling high torches and a watchtower along with animals sacrificed and tossed to the woods as supplication. The fortified Utopia has the simple architecture of a Shaker Village and stilted English speech patterns often associated with Puritan life. There is a similarity to Arthur Miller's "Crucible" and the attendant problems of dealing with the unknown, in that case witchcraft and in this one, vague outside forces only briefly sited looking like red-cloaked college football celebrants with Howard Hughes nails and guttural speech after being over served.
Associated with the frustrating search for a perfect existence as chronicled from Thomas More to Hawthorne is the constant need to adjust for imperfection especially in the human body. So medicine from the city is frequently the catalyst for facing the developed world; "The Village" is no different. Rather than facing the disrupting intruder, the recluses must become intruders themselves to survive. In this film a striking parallel occurs with a "Twilight Zone" episode, in which Cliff Robertson's settler wagon train must send a member over the hill for medicine. Facing the outside world means endangering all that you have guarded from it but possibly saving your life.
A sub theme about the power of love nicely parallels the isolation one. Each character seems to struggle with embracing and exposing love with consequences. William Hurt is believably torn by his and the other elders' decision to live and love apart. His blind daughter, played charmingly by Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, expectedly sees more clearly than anyone else. Joaquin Phoenix creates the right mood of ambivalence about the whole isolation. Only Adrian Brody as a disturbed troublemaker is underdeveloped as a character. Yet he does point out the obvious corollary that the enemy may be within.
The teens in my audience were restless for at least the first hour because the solemn tone and stilted conversation seemed as old as the village. They were not ready to forsake a good scare for lofty idealism, a good Shyamalan plot twist for an existential exploration of life's purpose.
"The Village" has Shyamalan's patented twist but not as shocking as those in "Signs" and "Sixth Sense." The writer/director here reinforces the notion that "these days isolationism is not a good policy," as the fat Ferrari warned Rick in "Casablanca."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.