Monday, October 23, 2006

Lady in the Water

I finally bought the soundtrack, and as I lay in bed last night listening to it, I tried to figure out why I am obsessed with Shyamalan's movies despite their significant artistic flaws. I think the answer is that each of Shyamalan's movies can be boiled down to very basic human questions. For instance, Signs asks, "Why do we suffer?" The Village asks if we can escape evil, and Lady in the Water asks if what we do is significant. The movies do not promise to definitively answer any of these questions, but they do explore possible solutions. Also, they operate out of a transcendant worldview--there is a meaning outside of ourselves, a coherent universe. In other words, the films give us a voice and offer us hope.

Shyamalan's talent is in bringing his films to an emotional climax. Despite the awkardness he sometimes achieves in dialogue, setting, characters, and plot, he manages to bring these elements flawlessly together at certain points in the movie to ask the crucial question. You don't realize that there are words to the question until you think about the movie later. This is why Lady in the Water moves me so deeply. Yes, it is a hodgepodge of Eastern mythologies and pacifism and trite sayings, but there is a particular scene in which one character says, "But the rules have to work!" Shyamalan has set the confused, frightening little world of the apartment complex against the larger, yet fuzzier world of creatures and prophecies. This is such a human conflict. "What are the rules?" we ask, in desperation--because if there are no rules, or the rules do not work, then the universe is a cruel and random trick.

I think that Shyamalan is a useful reminder, to Christians especially, that art (or more broadly, beauty and aesthetics) cannot be interpreted solely with the mind. The heart and the emotions must be deeply involved or we will be desensitized to many of the implications of the questions we are asking. I think it would be easy for a Christian to criticize Lady in the Water for its structural incoherence, and fail to grasp the overall point of the movie, which is conveyed through aesthetic (wordless, sensual) means.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I agree with many of your theories but take issue with you saying that his movies have sginificant flaws. What flaws and where do they show up.
You say, "Despite the awkardness he sometimes achieves in dialogue, setting, characters, and plot, he manages to bring these elements flawlessly together at certain points in the movie to ask the crucial question." I beleive that the aparent awkwardness you are talking about is just the complexity of Shyamalan's characters showing through and the way they interact with one another. His movies are made in such a way that you cannot just watch them once and draw conclusions, you have to step back and really think about them, maybe even watch them again. The plots and characters are so complex that you have to study them and really think about them. A a master of fooling with your mind Shyamalan's characters may not really be the way they appear.
I have to disagree with you saying that Lady In The Water's point was asking if what we do is signnificant but is man worth saving. The reason the narfs stopped contact with the world was because man became to violent. That is why Shyamalan acted his part and not somebody else, yea he may not be the best actor but he knew exactly what he wanted out of that character. His character was writing a book about how the world needs changed. Story tells him that he will die if he publishes his book but he still proceeds with it. These people believe that the world is worth dying for. The man who sits in his room all day watching news reports about the war is another character who says with all this war does man deserve to be saved.
The hodegpodge of other characters particularly the stoners and a despondent Cleveland Heep show that the ones to help protect and make are world a better place are not the high and mighty but the humble and unknowing who just wish to do their part. Those are my thoughts and I'd like to know what you think the flaws are.
Michael Bisulca

Lee Ann said...

Hey Michael, whether man is worth saving is, certainly, an important question in Lady in the Water, but I don't think it's the central question. The plot itself revolves around whether Cleveland Heep is capable of saving Story, which is what leads me to believe that man's purpose is the central question. Ultimately, Heep and Story save each other, and this double salvation would not have occurred if the other characters had not taken their individual tasks (e.g., interpreting, decoding, seeing) seriously. Additionally, the humble Heep ends up performing the important role of healing.

As I said before, I agree with you that whether man is worth saving is a major question in this movie, but I don't think it is central . . . especially considering the fact that one character (the writer) is not considered worth saving, being portrayed as an object of ridicule and ultimately being disposed of.

I think perhaps our different points of view have a common root in the idea of significance--you're looking at it from the standpoint of whether man is worth saving, and I'm looking at it from the standpoint of whether he can do worthwhile things.

Anonymous said...

I still would like to know what the apparent awkwardness in his films is.
Michael Bisulca

Anonymous said...

I think I agree with Lee Ann that the main theme (though not the only theme) is man's purpose. Because remember all of the focus on the different roles to fill, and how near the climax each character finally discovers how he fits into the bigger picture.

However, the question that automatically follows whether man has purpose or not, is whether he is worth saving or not. Because once you conclude that he has a purpose, you must then conclude that he is worth saving.

As far as awkwardness goes, I've mainly noticed it in the dialog. Certain lines in his movies sound horribly cheesy...or maybe "too obvious" would be a better way to describe them. But I think a lot of it has to do with how absolutely specific Shyamalan's movies are. And so some of his lines come off rather like the honk of a goose, because to smooth out or remove the honking loudness of the line would be to blur the specific intent or purpose behind the line.

I don't know whether this makes sense or not.

Maybe I should leave a fictitious name...I'll say my name is Thelma Francine Webb.

Lee Ann said...

A fictitious name??? That's almost as bad as anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Do ya know who Thelma Francine Webb really is?

Lee Ann said...

I have a pretty good guess!