Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Village

By s. Wednesday, December 14, 2011 , , , , , , , ,
81/100 (108 min, 2004)
Plot: The population of a small, isolated countryside village believe that their alliance with the mysterious creatures that inhabit the forest around them is coming to an end.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and Joaquin Phoenix
"The world moves for love. 
It kneels before it in awe."

It's hard to come up with the examples of movies as badly hurt by wrong marketing strategy as "The Village". Advertised as scary horror film, with spooky posters and suspenseful trailers, the movie opened back in 2004 to luck luster reviews. Why? Because everyone expected to be scared, they expected a horror movie. The disappointment and shock must have blinded them, because what we got instead is still a wonderful film. Only it's not a horror - it's a beautiful love story.

The movie is set in the titular village, where a group of people follow a set of rules because of their fear of the creatures that live in the woods that surround them. They have to give the sacrifice of dead animals, they mustn't wear red color or use it anywhere in the village. There are guards on the towers, ready to warn the villagers if the creatures decide to approach. Although the people who live there focus on fear, which as it turns out later on in the movie was the thing that inspire them to settle in the village in the first place, for most of the time they just try to go on. There is a number of families there, on the surface being perfect. But underneath there are hidden desires and shocking secrets.

There are two protagonists in the movie - Lucius Hunt, part written specifically for Joaquin Phoenix who creates very strong performance of a man, who senses that something is wrong, who wants to find out what hides in the woods himself. Lucius is silent for most of the time, he is peaceful, caring and fiercely brave. He is in love with blind and cheerful Ivy Walker, quite possibly the most joyful person in the village. They are completely different - Ivy is always chattering, running around, offering support to everyone with her kind words, Lucius on the other hand works alone, and instead of words uses his strength to help the others.

The bond Lucius and Ivy share is the most beautiful part of the movie - the dialogues are incredibly moving, the execution of the story is subtle, yet very emotional. In one scene Ivy is standing in the open door, with her hand outstretched, waiting for Lucius as the evil creatures approach closer and closer. Just before it reaches her, Lucius grabs her hand and then - he doesn' t let go. That happens a lot of times  in the movie - Ivy wanders around, almost in panic, but just before she succumbs to it, Lucius appears, calm and brave and takes her hand. It's such a simple motive but it instantly establishes that those two belong together. They both "see" the world in a different way than others - Lucius has curiosity and courage nobody else in the village has and he is not afraid to cross the line to forbidden woods. Ivy claims that in her darkness she sees the colors certain people have, like an aura. She is also completely at peace with her disability much like Lucius is at peace with being an outsider.
Bryce Dallas Howard's performance here is one of the most splendid I have ever seen. She makes Ivy into the beating heart of the story. She is enchanting, heartbreaking and uplifting - that is a girl who will probably never see anything in her life, but in her mind she is capable of seeing the kindness of people and she puts trust  in them. She is completely innocent and because of her love for Lucius she is capable of doing the unthinkable - going into the woods to get help. Howard depicts fear, hope, sadness, frustration, infatuation, love...all of these emotions move swiftly thorough her face. I remember how amazed I was by, back then, unknown actress, and to this day whenever she pops out in the movie, like recently in "Hereafter" and "50/50" I'm incredibly glad to see her still delivering such a great work. Unfortunately, because of the amazing cast in "The Help" although she completely deserves the rain of awards for her performance as Millie, it will most likely not happen this year. But it will somewhere in the future, I'm sure of that.
The character of Ivy also enables the entire story to work - she can't see what happens around her, like the audiance does. That gives Shyamalan the window for two twists. One of them is also made known to Ivy, but the other is just for us.The enormous and shocking twist feels a little bit out of place, but only to the delicate nature of the movie. In the context of characters' behaviour it is not only possible but also makes perfect sense - it shows how far people will go and how much they are willing to sacrifice, to at least have a feeble illusion of control in the world that surrounds them.

The cast is very impresive - we get to see Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Pitt, Judy Greer in a very amusing role of Kitty - Ivy's silly sister, Brendan Gleeson and brilliant performance from William Hurt, who plays Ivy's father and the most crucial character in entire village.The music as always in Shyamalan's films is composed by James Newton Howard and it is, right after Howard's performance - the best thing about it. It's so tender and charming, with only few moments of dread - just like the film. The main theme "Ivy's song" is one of the best pieces the composer made to date.
The inspiration for the story comes from  "Wuthering Heights" for the period drama, and King Kong for the community living in fear of predatory creatures arc. The influences from "Wuthering Heights" are very clear with the hostile surroundings and the nature of Lucius. Everything is splendidly shot with the frequent use of yellow and red - two colors that are crucial in the movie. I found it quite symbolic - red symbolizes blood that is shed, sometimes in the name of courage. Yellow which villageres wear not to provoque the creatures to them symbolizes peaceful intentions, but isn't yellow also the color of cowardice? They stay in their haven, afraid of bloodhsed, forgetting that they can't run from it. Evil is, as kindness, innocence and joy, part of human nature. And sooner or later it will come to the surface, no matter how carefully you try to hide.


  1. I completely agree with you. 'The Village' is so gentle, so delicate that my heart breaks when I watch it. The other equally underrated film that comes to my mind is 'Solaris'. Such a great movie was bashed by the viewers just because Steven Soderbergh focused on the book's love story.
    Btw I've never heard 'Ivy's song', I know the soundtrack quite well though. Is there something I don't know about? My favourite piece is 'The Gravel Road'.

  2. "Ivy's song" is a piece played during the scene where Ivy and Lucius sit on the porch, it was released on the extended score, I think put together for possible Academy Award nomination purposes.

  3. Nice defense here. As much as Shyamalan has fallen apart now, I will always support The Village. Marketing and the need for a mindblowing twist undercut the wonderful pacing and serenity here.

    Nice write up!

  4. I always felt that this movie would be excellent, if their was no "twist" involved. For example, if the first 20 minutes were all of these people losing their loved ones and then they are in that supporting group together, hatching up the idea, and then they cut to 20 years later... something like that.

    At any rate, it isn't a bad film (at least not as bad as people say), the performances are solid and yeah, James Newton Howard's music is remarkable. His score for this film is constantly on repeat when I write.

    Great write-up.