Published at: July 30, 2004, 5:53 a.m. CST by headgeek
I suppose I just don’t understand the seething dislike that some people have for M. Night Shyamalan. For some, it isn’t a hatred, but rather a vision… or a particular direction that they wanted him to take his career in. Some see him as stagnant. That he’s simply repeating the same formula over and over and how dare he.
For me, M. Night is a storyteller whose firelight is sprung from a projection booth behind me, and whose shadow plays of morals & lessons, simple truths and complex choices… and even his surprises, well, they’re resonating with me.
I had a hard day of trying to see this movie. The preview screening I was invited to, kinda got slammed in my face, and I was a tad annoyed at those involved, but as the night wore on and I was faced with possibly staying at home and writing my reviews for BOURNE SUPREMACY and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, two movies that I liked, but that didn’t particularly light a fire of instant… I gotta write about it – passion. Knowing that those that kept me from M. Night’s latest would be victorious if I didn’t just find a midnight screening and go… I’d write those reviews on automatic pilot – or worse yet -- dedicate myself to my DVD column, which… yes I know must be done this weekend or Monday at the latest… but all of those things felt defeatist in nature, and I don’t go down, unless… whom, I kidding, I go down in a heart beat, but I don’t give up.
Once the decision was made, I decided to seek out which Alamo Drafthouse Theater was screening it. The natural thought was that it would have to be screening at the Alamo Village, but oddly, it wasn’t. Instead it was out to the far far far North Alamo Lakecreek, a gleaming bastion of cool in a suburban quagmire of yuppies and other scurvy characters. Sure enough, when I get there the big ol line of eager geeks awaiting M. Night’s special brand of storytelling were hopped up and ready to be dazzled. Many AICNers were there, having not seen the film earlier that night, and we were all hopeful and anxious.
Upon taking my seat, they began, what I can only assume was some of the Sci Fi Channel’s Shyamalan faux documentary / expose. After that the trailers unraveled including a great Shiner Boch documentary that looks damn interesting, the trailer for CELLULAR which I’m very anxious to see. The BATMAN BEGINS trailer, which didn’t do a thing for the audience or me – every shot seems underwhelming, the texture and depth of detail seems tragically lacking. And genuinely I hate the lighting package that they seem to be using. The MEET THE FOCKERS trailer played like gangbusters, but the best trailer was the vintage one for Disney’s WATCHER IN THE WOODS – that trailer rocked – and is the perfect reason why the Drafthouse, any Drafthouse is better than every other theater on the planet. That trailer perfectly put me in the mood to see a film fable, something that goes bump, just beyond the point of perception.
I loved THE VILLAGE, once again M. Night has seemingly tapped in to exactly my way of thinking. The first time was with ghosts, the second time was the way I think of superheroes, last time it was the design of the universe, faith in an order and reason to the way of things and just the night the aliens came. I loved that film. However, to talk about this film, what it means, why it works for me, well… It involves spoilers. I’m not going to spell out exactly what happens in the movie, but I’m going to talk about the out-lying and related metaphors and themes that are integral to what M. Night is playing with here. Personally, in advance of having seen the film, I wouldn’t have wanted to read these thoughts, but afterwards… well, it’s all I can talk about. So – I loved it – go with your personal deity or science book and enjoy the film… or not. What follows, would best be understood after having seen the film.
This time, the theme has to do with the bogeyman, that thing under the bed, the closet monster, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, WMD and the other things that are created to pump fear into the minds of those needing fear.
The film is essentially about the need for mythology and legends, why the minotaur must feed on virgins, why the boy who cried wolf had to be eaten. Why is Santa Claus watching, making a list and ready to dish out joy or sadness with an even black gloved hand of merriment? Not only that, but why do parents partake in the various conspiracies of life. Or even at a larger level, why do we as a society fear monger our world, what will be the result of repression and an indulgence of turning our world black & white again and denying the light of color, that bite of the apple. How do we get back to Eden and what rights are we willing to sacrifice to preserve it? When do we sacrifice reality for our pretty delusions, when do we crack our shell of self-imposed simplicity and demand the truth and the knowledge that our minds thirst for as a thinking society?
We create stories and legends. In my room there is a closet, or rather… there was a closet. It’s now filled with items in storage, and walled up with two displayed original one sheet movie posters. Appropriately enough, they’re for William Wyler’s THE COLLECTOR and John Ford’s THE INFORMER – two damn good films, whose titles happen to describe aspects of my particular reality. Anyway… Sometime ago, I’m not sure when, THE INFORMER poster shifted, leaving a tiny gap about 2 inches wide at the top of the closet entrance – down 3 ft to a gradual close. Due to patent not giving a shit attitude, I’ve never straightened it.
About two years ago, my nephew was in my room wanting to watch cartoons on my computer, and decided to start pounding the keyboard on my desk (his random beatings at the keyboard is actually the origin of my BLADE 2 review, much to my astonishment) and being outraged at his instant tantrum, and not wanting to spank him or beat him, but wanting him to stop, and him being 2 years old not wanting to stop, I looked up in my dark room at the closet crack and I noticed something odd. In the darkness, incredibly faint was an inexplicable inhuman eye-shape… most likely a bit of cloth. In an instant I alerted my nephew with an exclamation, “Oh No Giovanni, Look, The Eye Is Staring At You!” and pointed to this dark crack into the unknown horrors behind the walled up Amontillado domain of hell.
Giovanni said, “WhatisitHawe?”
And somehow my brain said aloud, “It’s the Little Boy Eating Monster that lives in my closet named L.B.E.M.” Pronounced, “EL-BUM,” one word. Giovanni instantly stopped being bad and crawled up onto my bed and was quite scared, as he saw the unblinking hideous eye within. I told him not to worry though, cuz L.B.E.M. only eats bad boys. I explained that Good Boys were like Grapes, and L.B.E.M. didn’t like grapes, he liked dried up raisins of boys… BAD BOYS were his food. L.B.E.M. loved the taste of Bad Boys and he could smell them wherever they were.
The next several days, Giovanni was an angel. My house, his house, wherever he was, he knew that if he were a Bad Boy, L.B.E.M. would eat him. My sister was astonished, as Giovanni was right smack dab in the midst of the TERRIBLE TWOS – and seemingly in an instant he was minding and wanting to help. She asked what Father Geek and I had done. I explained, “L.B.E.M.” to her, and she loved it. She passed it on to her husband… and moreover, she told her best friends (with kids the same age) about L.B.E.M. but because they had little girls that were being bad, it necessitated the creation of L.G.E.M. (Little Girl Eating Monster). All of a sudden, the terrible twos were over and Giovanni was well on his way to learning the difference between Good behavior and Bad behavior. I generated images of L.B.E.M. – we recorded noises and dialogue and growls. We had a possum problem in the attic last year, and of course… L.B.E.M. was living in the walls and the ceiling (Gio’s invention, not mine) and around Summer of last year, Giovanni began actually drawing L.B.E.M. and just adding to the legend. When he’d go to the post office with my father (his grandpa) he noticed the pictures of kids on the wall, and informed his abuelo that L.B.E.M. got them.
Essentially – L.B.E.M. serves a great purpose… he’s the mythology that compels my nephew to be good. In the same way that his early rudimentary beliefs and lessons regarding Jesus, from his trips to Mexico have resulted in his own personal understanding of what happened to Jesus as he’s pieced together from displays and picture books. He hasn’t seen THE PASSION yet. But the results are quite startling. He’s an incredibly emphatic GOOD BOY. Always wanting to help and be a part of things, and never ever wanting to be a Bad Boy.
In the same way, M. Night’s “Ones we cannot speak of” are the same things. They’re a doom right out there. They’re the ones that need “crackers and milk” aka “sacrificed animals” as offerings. The stories inspire fear and good behavior. However, as you’ll learn over the course of watching this movie, any paradise is ruled and ultimately touched by human nature. Fear, jealousy and desire still root in the hearts of man, and compels a bloodlust and the scenes involving this revelation are heartbreaking and powerful.
The film is entirely relevant given the society of fear we live in and is being proliferated at every corner of our world. The constant alerts, the unseen, ever-present enemy. There are people absolutely phobic about not only the terrorist threat just down the street, but to an even higher degree… the fear of crime and incident. A belief that something will get them, because the news reports on murders, accidents, threats and travesty. Human suffering and wallowing in it only breeds an ever-evolving bitter and resentful class that will eventually walk outside and notice that the sky is indeed not falling. That there is no team of horses pulling the sun across the sky, and that… well SOYLENT GREEN is made out of people!
I feel that Manoj has once again crafted an exquisite story of simple beauty and scope. A small tale with universal strengths to touch and affect. I loved in particular the performances of Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and the precociously beautiful Bryce Dallas Howard, the latest Howard to grace the screens. Also a special shout out goes to James Newton Howard’s wonderful score, again, this is a composer that has found his Director to do his best work with. Great work!
Shyamalan’s direction is again at his patient pace. Told deliberately and purposefully. Allowing the story to breathe, the actors to perform and the scenes to unfold. However, with all things… there will be different perceptions. After all, some of you still believe Daddy was hurting Mommy in bed that night, and that’s why she screamed. And you’re still confused why she was happy that next morning. Sometimes – you simply have to look and re-examine with better eyes than that! I love this movie.