Night Shyamalan has curly hair--so I mean… of course it’s a no-contest decision that I *love* him, right?
What hangs in the balance is The Lady in the Water (TLITW), his latest movie, that the critics claim to hate and audiences seem to like.
I like it lots.
But then my willing suspension of disbelief is virtually superhuman and improbabilities and plot holes don’t bother me. Much.
When we saw the movie this weekend, Big A set up a parallel snarktrack in my left ear, making me giggle quite a few times, which I would then try to neutralize, a little too late, by telling him sternly that it wasn’t funny. There is plenty to snark about--Shyamalan sets up an entire mythology--a generally difficult task given that the purported events are neither in the hazy hobbited past or in a galaxy far, far away but rather in a contemporary Philadelphia apartment complex. Plus the entire running time of the movie is an hour and a half; establishing a mythology takes lots more time. George Lucas took decades; Tolkien took a lifetime. True, E.T. did a great job in an hour and a half, but then it had superficial trappings of science and zero gigantic flying eagles to baffle us.
But back to the simplistic TLITW. Shyamalan professes that the movie has its origins in a story he made up for his kids--I’ll buy that. There is an innocence and affection about the tale, an earnest conviction in the goodwill of humans, a distancing of evil to television news (footage of the war loops endlessly on the tube) and night-fears; siblinghood is elevated to a powerful influence, and cooperation rules.
The clearly multi-ethnic, but simultaneously ethnically ambiguous, community that is the apartment complex in which TLITW entirely takes place must work together save Story--a nymph from an alternative world--often putting the lives of its members in danger and on nothing but the word of a waifish, half-clad girl. This is the sort of blind, narrative-saving faith that Shyamalan seems to expect from his viewers. But TLITW is not quite Peter Pan, where we can discharge our responsibilities as audience by clapping as if we believe in fairies. Plus, really, blind faith is something no liberal should demand--after all it is superstitious faith in divinely revealed narratives that is the cause of much of the world’s troubles.
To offset what may seem a authorial demand, so often the events on screen seem a collective exercise in creativity and commitment. Saving Story is a process deeply connected to the way in which the story is saved from nothingness by being reconstituted through a Korean bedtime tale, a child reading a cabinet-full of cereal boxes, a cabal of potheads. The story is pieced together, put together by means of trial and fatal error. The implied metacinematic element --the tagline, after all, is “Time is running out for a happy ending”--is pronounced especially in the fate of the character of Mr. Farber, the movie-critic, but the strong suggestion is that the world’s welfare depends on individuals who choose to work towards a collectivist good.
So that’s the warm-fuzzy/nebulous-fuzzy message--that we’re all connected purposefully: the possibility that a writer severely blocked will meet a mystic nymph and then miraculously go on to write a book that years after his death will sit on a shelf in a kitchen in the Midwest and that a young child who reads it will be inspired to become a brilliant orator and the leader of change in the United States.
Hell, Yeah. If we’re willing to believe this account of a Welsh lad listening to 60’s pop on the BBC being influenced by the pre WWII Italian thinker Gramsci to the extent that he names his rock band after one of Gramsci’s books--Scritti Politti--and goes from Madonna-ish and Michael Jackson-like pop arrangements to Reggae and Kraftwerk collaborations and despite dabbling in Derrida, begins to focus on the non ironic, life-affirming power of love; sure.
But back again to TLITW. It’s not a scary movie--I was startled a couple of times (but then my mom’s arrival in a room can startle me--much to her distress) and honestly, the scariest bit was recognizing the once gorgeous Sarita Chowdhury.
And I’m not interested in quibbling about whether the Lady (btw, Bryce Dallas Howard‘s flawlessly planed face is magical in the extreme) is really a girl or is in the water or out of it or flying on an eagle, or if Shyamalan is an arrogant, pretentious, film-school egotist or not. Ummm, did i mention that he has curly hair?