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Shyamalan’s films

As is characteristic of Shyamalan’s films, there are subtle clues at the beginning of “The Village” that communicate that things are not exactly as they might seem. In the opening scene, Lucius Hunt weeps over the casket of a deceased child. The rest of the village stands back, regarding from the safety of distance that which Hunt is compelled to embrace. There is something odd in how they regard Hunt, as if they cannot bring themselves to be with and comfort him.

The next scene treats us to Edward Miller, senior among the Village Elders, uttering what will become an ironic leitmotif during the movie’s first half: “We are grateful for the time we have been given”. The village’s elders, however, are anything but grateful for the time they’ve been given. In fact, they’ve rejected the entire world they’ve been given. So far as the members of the village who are not among the Elders are concerned, it is circa 1890. Their village represents a stronghold of morality and purity surrounded by a forest full of creatures bent on destruction and violence.

Their community is the religious cult taken to its furthest possible extreme. They live not only apart from contemporary society but their children are, for the most part, completely ignorant of contemporary society’s very existence. They have forced their children to exist in a nostalgia-inspired, artificial society based on their idealized world. Hunt becomes the films first protagonist. He desires to go to “the towns”–all of which may as well be Sodom so far as the Village Elders are concerned–to retrieve medicines that might stave off another loss such as that the village has recently suffered.

He petitions The Elders to leave but meets only resistance, particularly from his mother. Alice tells Lucius of his father’s murder by the inhabitants of the towns as a way of dissuading him from indulging his curiosity. The woods are too dangerous, the towns offer only amorality and destruction. The success of such a grand lie depends, of course, on the credulity of it’s intended audience. The villagers are something beyond naive. In their quest to shelter them from the trials and heartaches that come along with modern life, the Elders have raised a village of psychological and emotional children.

In their world, there is no pain save from that which comes from the outside. So long as they remain under the protection of their Elders and within the clearly-demarcated boundaries of their village they are safe. The Elders, it seems, have cut something of a deal with Those We Do Not Speak Of. The cracks in the facade, however, begin to show early on. The villagers have adapted an antiquated English and it occasionally sounds contrived. There is a perimeter of lanterns and guard posts surrounding the village yet there is no wall, there are no traps nor any of the other defenses one would expect from a community under such constant siege.

There have been skinned animal carcasses found scattered about the village and the Elders have no explanation for their appearance. Alice Hunt, attempts to explain the carcasses as the handiwork of coyotes, an explanation that begs so many questions that it likely wouldn’t impress most modern-day third graders. The village wall is only as strong as the villagers belief in it and the evil of the outside world appears to be at the gates. After he spurns the affections of her sister, Kitty, we come to know that Lucius Hunt and Ivy Walker, Edward’s daughter, have long held romantic feelings for one another.

Ivy, blind since childhood, gradually takes over the role of protagonist but, for a while, she and Hunt share the role. Hunt harbors a deep desire to protect the safety of his village by leaving its boundaries. The represent two ways of questioning the nature of one’s world and one’s place in it. He is purposeful, quiet and when he speaks his words are considered and meaningful. Hunt, while unaware that he is living a lie, is tired of being limited by fear. Ivy Walker, for all the impairment of her physical blindness, seeks to expand her world with an explorer’s passion.

She runs, “like a boy”, as Hunt puts it and has an uncanny ability to always know exactly where she is. While her sister Kitty cowers in a cellar during a staged visit by Those We Don’t Speak Of, Ivy stands at the threshold of her open door. She claims to know that Lucius is out there and that he will come to protect her but she also seems remarkably unafraid. Noah Percy, a character whose innocence is a natural part of his personality, becomes an unexpected antagonist. He is a sympathetic, seemingly-harmless young man who exhibits the signs of a mental handicap.

When he gets in trouble for fighting there’s no doubt that he meant no real harm. Threatened with the “quiet room”–essentially solitary confinement– for causing trouble he promises Ivy to never hit people again and the promise sounds realistic coming from him. But he is in love with Ivy and, though he is “innocent” in the sense that he is mentally a child, he is still a human being. Lucius and Ivy declare their love for one another setting into motion the crisis that will force the Elders to question the worth of the world they’ve constructed.

Noah, in a fit of jealousy, stabs Hunt twice, leaving Lucius with wounds that present a paradox for the village Elders: With modern treatments, he will survive the resulting infection and live; not given antibiotics, Hunt will certainly die. Their enemy, the world, is now their only chance of salvation. Hunt’s mother seems disturbingly conflicted. She questions whether the sacrifice of her son is worth maintaining the lie she and the other Elders have built up and seems, at times, more sympathetic to the needs of the lie. Edward Walker, who has romantic feelings for Sara Hunt, admires her son’s strength.

After Hunt begins to reveal the ruse to his daughter Ivy, he charges her with journeying outside the village and to the towns. She is given written instructions that detail the medicines needed to treat Lucius, a bag of “magic rocks” to protect her and two escorts to help her through the woods. As Ivy travels through the woods t seek medicine, the village’s bizarre back story is revealed in full. The village Elders all represent people whom life has treated harshly. Most of them have lost loved ones to the senseless violence they believe defines modern society.

Edward Miller was an educated man, a professor of history, no less, who decided that the solution to life’s ills lay not in forward progress but in a nostalgic quest to reconstruct a bygone age. His family wealth enabled him to set up a wildlife refuge–protected by a fence and designated a no-fly zone by greasing various government palms–that conceals the village from the outside world. Those from the outside world employed by the preserve have no clue as to the existence to the village inside and are encouraged to never ask questions. Ivy’s courage outlasts that of her escorts and she makes most of the journey alone.

Along the way, she encounters one of “Those We Do Not Speak Of” and is attacked. She baits him into a hole where he perishes. Though Ivy cannot see it, the monster and the one who had been skinning the animals are revealed to be Noah. Again, there is great darkness behind the mask of innocence. At the same time, Edward Walker is arguing with the other Elders and says that what is precious about the village is “innocence” and “That, I’m not ready to give up. ” Interestingly, while Walker and the others find themselves forced to drop their masks, their language becomes less archaic and more passionate.

Though they’ve gone through great pains to hide it, they are people who feel displaced by contemporary society but are, nonetheless, products of that society. Ivy, meanwhile, clambers over the wall and drops in front of the Land Rover of a very surprised security guard. After explaining that there is a medical crisis and that she needs help, she reveals the depth to which the lie spun by the Elders has influenced her. Genuinely surprised, she tells Kevin, the security guard, “You have kindness in your voice. I did not expect that. ” Ivy succeeds and the medicine is delivered to the village.

Now having to deal with the fact that their village and all it stands for has been tainted by exposure to the outside world, the Elders must decide whether it is worth it to continue the lie or to come clean. They all agree that the village is worth preserving and we’re left with the impression that life will continue on much as it has for the villagers, where it will always been the late 1800’s and they will always be a people besieged by mysterious, malevolent forces that exist at the perimeter of their community. There are two apparent crises in Shyamalan’s film.

One, moral relativism. Is the evil of the outside world so great that it justifies robbing another human being of what would be their natural life for their own protection? The Elders, for all their affectations of moral offense at contemporary society, are the worst type of liars. Their lies have not only offended the concept of truth but have caused the lives of their children and peers to be unnecessarily restricted to arbitrary boundaries. Where all of the Elders have suffered at the hands of those who rob others of their lives, the Elders themselves commit the same crime.

The difference being that the Elders do it over the course of a lifetime rather than in the fraction of a second in which death is delivered by the murderer. Walker and the Elders believe that their little village is an antidote to the sad condition of the world; an ideal born of love, hope and compassion. But such justifications have often been uttered by madmen and tyrants and their will has mostly been an awful thing when given force. The children will never know the wonders of the age into which they were born.

While a radio in the preserve’s guard station gives the daily casualty count of the Afghan war, the children in the village will never know that there is a radio or that there are other voices outside their walls that bring the power of information and knowledge, no matter how harsh it might be. They will never be afforded the opportunity to decide for themselves who they are, where they fit in and what the world means, much less their place in it. And, that is the second crisis. The ontological crisis presented by the very meaning of the village and everyone in it is a heady one.

Though the world around them is a complete fantasy, it shares an unbreakable connection with the contemporary world in that their community and, indeed, their lives, are constructs designed to refute the contemporary world altogether. There is no way their village could exist without the perceived evil of the modern world as its opposite. Without the evil outside, the “good” inside has no meaning and, indeed, no purpose. . Lucius and Ivy represent this paradox well. Lucius defines himself by his boundaries and, in seeking to expand them, he seeks to expand himself.

Without those boundaries, perhaps he would have no purpose. Ivy simply controls her fear, a skill which The Elders never quite acquired. Where she was willing to ignore her fear and confront the modern world in an effort to protect that which she found dear, they simply ran away and hid. As a film, The Village is beautiful and effective if a little heavy-handed. Some of the metaphors, such as Ivy’s blindness, are something less than subtle. Lucien’s outburst when he declares his love for Ivy is an awkward mess of clinches, pretentious symbolism and pop-psychology.

The anachronistic dialog is sometimes unconvincing and this makes the desired illusion–the movie taking place in the late 1800’s–a little hard to believe. Shyamalan’s success with Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense make his set up for the twist ending more transparent than it otherwise may have been. At the point of this film’s release, Shyamalan’s penchant for twist endings was well-known and made it quite difficult for the audience to suspend disbelief. By the time the monster shows up at the end of Ivy’s journey, we know it’s not real and aren’t for a moment fooled into accepting that it may be.

Where the Sixth Sense managed to succeed because of it being an essentially supernatural story, The Village somehow never manages to reach the level of supernatural dread that defined The Sixth Sense. There is always a suspicion that the monsters are not real. It somehow always feels that the whole thing is a put-on designed to fool the viewer into believing that they are seeing something other than what is apparent. Of, course that is exactly the trick that the Elders sought to play on the Village.

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