I’m a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan, so I enjoyed “The Village,” but I also understand why it’s getting mixed reviews. I saw it with Dr. Deb, who loved it, but I was torn for most of the movie. I’ll try to keep the spoilers down, though I’ll need a few to make my point. Please see the movie before reading any further.
[More spoiler space, just in case]
The movie creeps along, partly because the adults . . . all . . . talk . . . like . . . KIRK. They have a fake 19th-century accent that jarred me throughout the movie. People who are sensitive to that sort of anachronism write reviews saying that Shyamalan can’t write a screenplay to save his life and ask (rhetorically) why great actors like William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are willing to recite such garbage. Or they may claim that the period dialogue tripped up the poor unfortunate actors.
The truth of the matter is exactly the opposite—the use of language in the movie was quite sophisticated. Shyamalan wrote some amazing period dialogue for the children. They spoke fluently, quickly, and . . . NOT . . . like . . . Kirk. They fell in love, gossiped, and played like real farmer boys and girls. The adults sounded like they were faking it because they were faking it. The children sounded real because they were native speakers of Fake Farmer Boy. It took me until the credits to figure that out. Children will grow up speaking a language fluently even if there is no natural version of the language. That’s how artificial languages like Esperanto or American Sign Language turn into real languages.
The next big bone of contention is the twist. The twist was not surprising enough, and not just for those party-pooper types who always see it coming. Unlike his previous twists, this one dates back to the Twilight Zone (as reviews have pointed out). More importantly, it doesn’t actually change anything. The premise of the movie (that parents would turn their backs on civilization, dening their children “medicine” found only in the forbidden towns, in order to preserve their way of life) was clear early on, and is pretty common sci-fi/fantasy fare. It’s been done, not just on the Twilight Zone but in the first half of this movie.
Maybe he was gambling on an audience unfamiliar with the tropes of sci-fi, but people who don’t like sci-fi are not going to be able to wrap their minds around parents denying their children medicine (to the point of letting the blind girl go blind) for the sake of a greater good. Thus you get the angry reviewers who think it’s unconscionable, or simply unconvincing. There’s a relatively narrow market of people like Dr. Deb who are capable of fascination with the idea yet aren’t tired of it already—and even she wasn’t surprised.
I did have a problem with the movie, unrelated to the above. I’m not sure what “The Village” was about. “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” had twists that made both the characters and the viewers see the whole movie in a different light. The contrast between the two versions (two movies for the price of one) made it interesting. “Signs” didn’t have that. Instead it had some silliness about water, and a serious twist about asthma that changed the whole movie for the main character (restoring his faith), but not for the audience.
In “The Village,” the girl who “sees” the twist is blind and misses the whole thing. The adults already know about it and decide not to change a thing (or so I took it). The audience sees the twist but already knew the moral premise of the villagers’ situation. Nothing changed. In story terms, “The Village” is a premise without a plot, although it had some lovely character interaction and a fine subplot with the girl in the woods. And maybe that’s what the reviews mean about the “gotcha”—a story that’s about what the reader knows rather than what the characters do will always seem contrived.
But then I’ll take M. Night Shyamalan’s contrivances any day. Even without a clear plot or theme, it’s still an interesting and gorgeous movie.