Reading the reviews and blogs, you’d think people universally disliked M. Night Shyamalan’s films. The critics obviously dislike him, and reviews of The Happening appear to be following that trend, with the Tomatometer currently showing 20%. I haven’t seen it yet, but I probably will try to catch it in theaters. Oddly enough, as much as I love Night’s films, I’ve never seen one in the theater.
Shyamalan is definitely an interesting filmmaker, in my opinion one of the best since Hitchcock (I know I’m in the minority here, but what else is new?). I love his slow, deliberate style, as well as his use of color and setting to achieve the feel he wants. It seems to me that his movies end up just the way he wanted them to, and that’s pretty rare.
One of the things that critics seem to dislike about him is his continuing themes of faith and purpose, rooted in the worldview that we are living in an open system, where there are things that we will never quite understand. And, his movies are just plain fun. I’ve read some blogs that claim that he is a Christian, but I see no indication of that. However, it is apparently true that he chose Mark Wahlberg to play the lead character in part because of Wahlberg’s Christian faith (which was also a factor in Mel Gibson playing the priest in Signs). In The Happening, apparently there is also hints of Intelligent Design, which is probably to be expected with his purpose theme. I suspect that the film won’t get the thumbs up from evolutionists.
I haven’t seen Shyamalan’s pre-Signs films, but I own DVDs of everything since, and they are among my favorites to rewatch. Here are a few thoughts on each of these movies, just in case you cared about my opinions. (I’ll pretend, anyway.)
The Sixth Sense
This is, of course, one of the best end-of-the-movie-twist films ever made. The tight script and directing gives no hints as to the ending.
While one of his least-known films, also starring Bruce Willis along with Samuel L. Jackson, this is perhaps one of his best. While he wanted to market the movie as a comic-book superhero story, Walt Disney Studios insisted on a thriller marketing approach, which Shyamalan has counted as one of his biggest mistakes. It is, in reality, a very good, dark, superhero film.
Signs is just a fun movie, perhaps going a bit over the top in its exploration of purpose, with faith-issues prominently featured. Mel Gibson is wonderful as an Episcopalian priest who has lost his wife in a freak accident, and losing his faith in the process. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect, as are the 2 kids in the film. This is one of what I call “the dead wife films” that came out about the same time. For whatever reason, it seemed that this was a popular theme, used in The Mothman Prophecies, Dragonfly, and one other I can’t recall at the moment. Perhaps White Noise?? The movie would have been much better had the cheesy alien stayed out of site. Perhaps his 2nd biggest mistake?
This is one of my all-time favorite films. The cinematography is excellent, as is his use of color. Like his other films, the directing is very tight. It’s another movie with a twist, moving a bit away from his purpose/faith theme, instead dealing with how we deal with the evil in our lives.
The Lady In the Water
I hesitated to see this one after seeing the previews and hearing it was based on a bedtime story he made up for his kids. When I finally saw it, I was blown away. It is simply a hilarious movie, starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter, who also starred in The Village). Full of incredibly quirky characters, Lady is very, very fun to watch. The concept of purpose is again key in this film, which seems to parody the script-writing process itself, especially with Bob Balaban’s character. Balaban plays a film critic, who presents an ongoing critique from within the film itself. I think it’s pretty clear that Shyamalan was having a lot of fun with this character, while making it clear what he thought of film critics as a whole.
Well, that’s it for my mini reviews. I’ll pose a review after I see The Happening, so check back.
I would not have called The Village creepy, but it does maintain an air of mystery through most of the movie; then when the truth is revealed, you see everything in a new light. I have never seen the film as anti-Christian in any respect. It’s about what happens to people when they let fear control them; some religion is that way, but not all.
Aside from the suspense and mystery of the film, there’s certainly nothing offensive (aside from some minor violence). It’s actually a “cleaner” film than many movies geared to youth. Personally, I’d have more problems if they’d shown something like “A Thief in the Night,” or “Left Behind.” But, that’s just me.
In a sense, I can see how The Village fits in to Shyamalan’s overall themes, plus he deals here with the concept of man’s sinfulness, as he shows that evil is not something “out there,” but as Walt Kelly so aptly put is, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
My sons recently saw The Village at a church sleepover for youth. (As a old school holdover, I simply cannot follow the spiritual logic that goes into choosing such a movie—even if above average Hollywood quality—for a middle and high school church sleepover. One reviewer said it was decidedly “creepy.”) When one of my sons described the basic plot for me—I’ve not seen it, which in this case is integral to my point—my thoughts were similar to Mike’s: that the movie suggested how religion uses fear to keep people from freedom and hope. No doubt the thematic development is more complex than my son related, but even so, even if this movie is about “how we deal with the evil in our lives,” it may not very clearly indicate a redemptive way to do that. The Village may be a decent movie and fine fare for family philosophy fodder, but as unannounced and unprocessed entertainment at a church youth event? Something seems amiss.
After seeing The Village I am surprised to read that M. is a fan of Intelligent Design. (standard disclaimer about ID and religion in 5,4,3,2…) The Village looked to me like a slam on religion as a tool to use to indoctrinate against phantom fears, and in favor or a more noble, hidden purpose. I enjoyed it as much as Sixth Sense and for the same reasons that you like his movies. I just don’t place him quite as high as you do. Hitchcock?