“If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire… It’s the only good fight there is.” ― Charles Bukowski
One of the most underrated (and incredibly hated) films of our time gets the philosophical low-down, instead of a smack-down as it’s been getting for nearly a decade. Underneath the “meaningless”, “silly”, and “near awful” plot, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking studies of human nature I’ve seen.
A profound story of the prevailing of human nature and the consequences of trying to stunt it, The Village features the journey of a young blind woman and her quest to retrieve medicine from the monstrous outlands for her beloved.
Our beginning central character, Lucius (played masterfully by Joaquin Phoenix) is a sturdy, often wordless man of candour whose philosophy consists of living and working simply. The film is set in an unknown period in history, though most likely in the late 19th Century. As a result, the isolated though quaint village is a self-sufficient and friendly collection of people. Lucius, always on the sterner side of life and rarely seen with a smile (though has a heart like few other graced in film), is taken aback by our second-half central character Ivy Walker (stunningly portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard), a jovial and loving childhood friend who questions everything Lucius knows.
I’d like to take some time to talk about one of my favourite couples in film. Ivy and Lucius are superficially, indeed, an odd match. Ivy is blind, carefree, loves abundantly and – let’s not forget to mention – one of the strongest heroines in film. Lucius is fully-sighted, troubled by his village’s simplistic existence, and fearless. Both, however, are exactly the same through the revelation of their life goals – to better and further their village. Of course, this would lead anyone to ask why they are so troubled by their meagre lifestyles and the answer is – a shaky truce with creatures that dwell in the woods surrounding the village. Rituals such as throwing meat sacrifices into the woods, abiding by a curfew and steering clear of the colour red are all traditions that are said to keep the creatures at bay. Because of this truce, the village is ill-equipped of medicine and other vitalities. In such a peaceful village, surely you wouldn’t need medicine? *Knowing glance*
It is too easy to label everything in our society. In fact, as humans, it is in our nature to want to categorise everything we can, in order to understand and make sense of our circumstances and of others around us. This is one of the problems critics have had when critiquing The Village. It is not a romance, per se. It is not an adventure film, an action flick, or a drab horror. It is, as I said, an intriguing story of the dangers of attempting to stop human nature. Throw into the mix stellar performances from heavyweights such as William Hurt who plays the town elder and Ivy’s father, Sigourney Weaver as Lucius’ mother, and other priceless performances – and it makes The Village one to watch again and again.
In the little old village, Shyamalan introduces us to Noah (Adrien Brody), a (obviously undiagnosed) mentally challenged man who sets in motion a chain of events that unravels the entire village’s existence, not least his beloved Ivy. It is Noah’s simplicity that personifies the simplicity of human nature. Human nature will perpetually astound you and, paradoxically, will confirm itself through its consistency. “Expect the unexpected” as the cliché goes.
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is” ― Albert Camus
Noah’s acts of simple human nature and the human condition are a reminder to all that building flood and sea defences can only go so far. In trying to protect itself, this little village is founded on principles that have survived for eons, but are shaken to its core with the revelations of one mentally challenged man. Through these acts, Ivy begins a journey into herself, inverts movie formulas and ultimately proves what she playfully utters to Lucius one misty night:
“I see the world, Lucius Hunt. Just not the way you see it.”
Remember what I mentioned earlier about the colour red, and how it is forbidden in the village? Think about what red represents and, even simpler, think about what things around us are red. Watch the film a second time, and you’ll begin to understand why red is a “bad colour”.
“Two kinds of blindness are easily combined so that those who do not see really appear to see what is not” – Tertullian
As you can tell, I’ve told you nothing of the intricate details of this magnificent and thoroughly under-appreciated film. All I ask, if you’ve been spurned to see it, is that you give it a chance.
- Undeniably unique storyline
- Authentic, genuine romance
- A lesson in underplay, subtlety and tension-building
- Top performances from Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt. Special mention to Bryce Dallas Howard who made a loveable and realistically pure heroine. I’m also shouting out to Joaquin Phoenix’s Lucius who I now call “Luscious Lucius”. What a gorgeous man Lucius is.
- The “twist” end makes for rigorous re-runs
- Shyamalan’s characteristically off-beat and dead pan humour shines through in key moments. See “you run like a boy” scene.
- Not scary enough, if at all. This is down to a major marketing disaster – it is certainly not a horror film, though has its moments of tension and suspense.
Shyamalan carefully paces this slow-burning journey, and I feel it pays off abundantly. Criticised for being too slow, The Village features admittedly smoulders over time with gorgeous – and beautifully dark – scenery and good old character development. Peeping in to the everyday lives of some of the inhabitants of the little village gives us an insight into Lucius and Ivy’s lives, and more importantly, works as a clever tool in deciphering the film for a second, third and fourth watch. Nothing is too explicit in The Village – regular readers of this film site will know just how much I love the understated, underplayed and downright subtle. Barely anything is made too clear for us, and it begs for us to work it out over time. I can guarantee that this film will be playing in your mind for a few hours to come, if you allow it to. All too often – we miss the point.
“This was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness. It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending, but the knowledge that another’s well-being is more important than one’s own” ― Melissa de la Cruz