The Village
Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Judy Greer, Jayne Atkinson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, John Christopher Jones, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg. Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan.

So I just saw this great movie called The Village, about a man who goes looking blindly for something he really can't understand. You see, it all starts when this publishing magnate-cum-disgraced political titan dies with an enigmatic word upon his lips that no one can make sense of, so this other sorta faceless guy hops around visiting the dead dude's family and acquaintances, hoping one of them might unlock the secret behind "Rosebud." No one's too sure, even though they have other anecdotes to tell, and in the end, the inquisitor guy winds up in a giant warehouse of the dead guy's stuff, having gotten no farther in his quest for knowledge than when he started. But then, in the final frames, it turns out that the dead publishing dude is actually still alive, and the whole "Rosebud" thing was a total ruse to see what people would say about him if they thought he was dead. So "Rosebud" winds up meaning, like, a blooming rose—a symbol of life and vitality (hello, still. alive.), and that's like a totally obvious clue for anyone paying attention. If you figure it out ahead of time, your prize is getting to leave the theater feeling like a friggin' genius!

Naw, I'm totally joshing you. That movie isn't The Village, it's Citizen Kane, with a pretty cool surprise of my own devising thrown in at the end. Pretty cool surprise, though, huh? Okay, but The Village: it's about this upper-crusty enclave in Connecticut in the 1950s, where this perfect homemaker played by Julianne Moore befriends her gardener even though he's, you know, black, and she isn't. And Julianne's got her own problems, believe me, because her husband is gay or, as he might say it, given his internalized self-hatred, he's a "homo." But these people aren't too good at sharing private struggles, because they live in this Village where everyone looks down on non-conformists and members of minority groups, even though the Villagers pretend to be all smiles and giggles and afternoon daiquiris. So the gay husband basically has to leave the Village, and later the black guy does, too, and you just bawl because this woman basically can't leave and is stuck in the Village, left behind by the people she cared about. So it's like this giant relief when, in the concluding moments, Julianne wakes up on her couch in the San Fernando Valley, having fallen asleep in front of All That Heaven Allows on Turner Classics. (The gay husband looks a little like her real husband, and the black gardener, he must be some repressed memory from her past or something, or maybe a local neighbor that she introduced into her dream, I don't remember which.) Crazy, upsetting dream, man, especially if you're a chick, and you realize that this little potboiler melodrama from the '50s still has complete resonance in our time. So, like, Whew! that it was all a dream, man. Julianne really dodged a bullet there. But what I like is that it's still a pretty "meta" moment, where the viewer contemplates the illusions of film, and even the illusions of Reality.

Hey, did I getcha again? HA! That's totally dope! Yeah, Far from Heaven, dude. Sometimes you've just gotta mess with people a little bit, pretend to tell them a story when you're really just waiting to blow their f-in' minds at the end. Yeah, I totally got you, man. Pass me another Labatt's. Hey, but I don't wanna become known as the boy who cried wolf or anything, so for real, I'm gonna tell you about The Village. No, for real this time, I'm not playing. Listen up.

Okay. So there's this farming community out in this glade in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, in the 19th century. No, I'm totally not shitting you, this is the real plot of this movie. I mean, I know you don't really see anyone do much farming or anything, but it is definitely olden times, because girls wear these long sort of gingham dresses and sweep their front porches with brooms made of twigs. Okay. So the villagers are a bunch of white people who seem kind of happy just doing their thing, as long as they stay out of the surrounding woods, which are inhabited by savage, murderous red-skinned beings. At first you might think they mean, you know, Native Americans, and that these villagers are racist as a mofo. But no, it's cool, we're actually talking about freakin' monsters, man, who go apeshit at the sight of red. The color yellow seems to maybe neutralize them or something, because the townfolk wear a lot of yellow and hang yellow flags around the perimeter of their village, which makes it look a little like a Renaissance Fair. A good idea: if there's anything I am guar-an-teed to stay away from, even if I were a monster, it's a freakin' Renaissance Fair. No thanks, dude. But the flags are also a good symbol of the truce made between the Village People and the monsters. Like, Don't tread on me. And hey, if you're going to be surrounded by fanged, clawed, porcupiney, eight-foot-tall monsters, it's at least a lucky break when they have both language and consciousness and can negotiate truces.

So all right: life in the Village, everybody's fine, a little puppy love and heartbreak over here, your compulsory village idiot over yon, women with their hair swept into buns. Your basic bucolic scene. But then the monsters start raiding the village again and scaring all the people into their basements. (This, by the way, is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, and after The Sixth Sense and Signs, people should know that just being in the basement is a sign of Death's cold fingers poking around upstairs.) The least scared person in town seems to be this spunky blind girl who's in love with this reticent, buttoned-up carpenter guy; they're both kind of into the idea of peeking around the Woods and seeing if they can find one of these beasties. But then something else happens and one of these two has a big life-threatening crisis, meaning the other one has to go through the woods to get help from the nearest town. So it's, like, wish fulfillment, 'cause these characters have just been dying (pun intended!!!!) to walk through the woods anyway, even though it is kind of scary. I mean, gimme a break. Even though the monsters are referred to as Those We Do Not Speak Of, everyone friggin' Speaks of them alllllll theeeee tiiiiiiime, sort of like how people who hate big government can't ever talk about anything except the might of the government. So, that's the plot. And why not give it away, it's the blind girl who has to walk through the forest, dance in the dark, exile from Dogville, what have you, and then—are y'all ready for The Coolest Ending Of All Time???—when she gets out of the woods, it's like modern times. The elders of the Village have been tricking all the younger folks, just to keep them from straying into the corrupt and violent outer world! But they're such hypocrites, because they're using fear and violence themselves as tactics for avoiding fear and violence! But the blind girl doesn't even realize this, because she can't see, and even when some unsuspecting modern dude says stuff to her like "vehicle," she's like Huh?, because what's a vehicle? Must be a cultural thing——

Wait up—huh? No, man, I am speaking the truth! This is the plot of The Village! I done kept it real, this story is the best. I mean, think about it: people in flight from terror who "protect" themselves and their children with more "terror." That's some pretty deep shit, and it reminds me of some things going down right now that rhyme with Smashcroft and Dumbsfeld, if you get my drift, man. (Hey, pass me that brewski.) I mean, okay, granted, it's not that believable even at the beginning that this really is the 19th century, since the dialogue sounds like a third-grade school play about the first Thanksgiving. Like they say "fortnight" and "I am but scared!" and "Do not tell anyone else of your burstings." Sigourney Weaver is in this movie, and when she asked Joaquin Phoenix, "What nonsense are you saying?" I totally thought she was dogging the script!!! And I was like, tell it, Sigourney! But it was actually just more dialogue. Okay, so that part of the movie isn't so good, even when you realize that this is totally "pretend" 19th century, but even then, like, it's not as though these people's kids would know how anyone did talk in the 19th century, so why are they all going to the trouble of this Austen/Edwardian/Hawthornean/Jacobean mishmash talk? I guess it's just to fuck with our minds a little, and that's cool, because that's a totally important ambition for a movie to have.

All right, I hear you, maybe the acting is a little lame, too. I mean, it was cool to see real stage actors like Jayne Atkinson and Cherry Jones and Celia Weston all hangin' out, commuting from New York to be in this PA movie. (Did you see Enchanted April or A Moon for the Misbegotten on stage, man? Hootie-hoo, that stuff was crazy. And Celia Weston was in True West, and that shit will totally screw with your mind!) Yeah, so it sucked that they didn't really have anything to do. Joaquin Phoenix is kind of boring, too, you know? And Adrien Brody, that guy's follow-up from winning an Oscar is to act and look like Agnes Moorehead in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte? Weird choice, brother. Hey, someone told me the blind girl is played by Ron Howard's daughter, and she was all right, but a little boring. It's hard to make a good impression when you're having to exchange love declaratives with Joaquin Phoenix and share half of your scenes with a bunch of trees and faked-out sound effects... which reminds me: what are all those growly, snorty, stick-snapping sounds everyone's always hearing, if the monsters are fake? Sorta weird. Whatever, though, man, this movie toyed with my mind and made me ask big questions, so I guess it didn't really have to be all deep or consistent. I mean, it woulda been cool if this movie had real performances, and layered characters, like Toni Collette's or Haley Joel Osment's in The Sixth Sense, or Bruce Willis' in Unbreakable before all that weird stuff about him being a real comic-book superhero totally wrecked that movie. But that's cool, Night isn't really about the performances anymore. At least he still screws with my head.

I thought the music by James Newton Howard was pretty cool. And the cinematography by Roger Deakins. Well, okay, I mean, actually the cinematography was all right. I mean, Rog is maybe on vacation a little these days, kind of overplaying the whole "fog" thing in House of Sand and... and being stuck for anything interesting to do in Intolerable Cruelty. And The Village, I mean it looks professional and some of the framings are sorta cool, but they're so dictated by Night's obsession with yellow/red and his megalomaniac stinginess with details that Rog's photography can't really take on a life of its own. He's just illustrating the plot most of the time and doing weird things like shot-reverse-shots from a blind girl's perspective. And he gets to film a stabbing scene as an alternation of straight-to-camera close-ups, a technique I like to call DemmeCam. So, the more I think about it, I guess a lot of the photography was sorta boring. Yeah, well, I mean, you can't have everything.


Hey, wait a minute, maybe this movie sorta sucked. I mean, for the first half the dialogue is inexplicably preposterous, the characters are one-dimensional when they're even that, and the village itself only seems to exist in the screenwriter's mind, since it seems like the adults only sit around debating things while the kids play chicken with the monsters. I mean, who's feeding these people, you know? The spooky stuff is what holds it together. And then later, we understand why the village was implausible, but then the spooky part is gone, and I think the whole "fear" thing is kind of interesting—I mean, when you think about it, this Village has a Red Scare, you know what I'm saying??—but I guess it's not that interesting. I mean, every movie that's out right now is about the same stuff, but not all of them have fake porcupine monsters and bad dialogue and smug little director's cameos. I mean, the end isn't anywhere near as lame as the endings of Unbreakable or Signs, but at least Unbreakable was awesome for a while (and shot by Eduardo Serra, who's the friggin' man), and at least the aliens in Signs were real. That birthday party video from Brazil or wherever, I mean, that freaked my shit out, you know? And The Village is just like, lame. Even if it seems like a good idea on paper. I mean, M. Night Shyamalan gets all Fahrenheit on us, and that's cool, but I mean, I too think the War on Terror is hypocritical B.S., but I don't go around making badly-written movies about it. Hey, maybe it isn't enough for a movie to have a twist, maybe it has to work as, like, an actual movie. Dang. Ah well, man. I mean, it's not the worst movie I ever saw, but I guess now that my mind's been played with, I actually think I just got played. That sucks.

You have to admit, though, Citizen Kane with a still-living fakeout Kane would be amazing. I mean that is deep. Or, like, Lost in Translation that turns out not to be in Japan, but inside a giant megacomputer simulation of Japan, and the secret whispered in Scarlett's ear is straight-up binary code. Or, hey! The Wizard of Oz where Oz and Kansas are fake, and Dorothy is really just a hooker in Philly or something dreaming of two lives that are better than her own—that would be, like, a comment on disenfranchisementarianism. Hey, let's make that shit, man! Let's trick people out! C–

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Score: James Newton Howard

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