Monday, August 22, 2005

The Apologist

Meme of the month? Reconsidering previously maligned art. DS gave it up so beautifully and convincingly for The Life Aquatic; I revisited Closer just last week; and watching The Village with LK and NB on Friday night really made me revise my thoughts on where it belongs in Shyamalan's body of work. I was proud to have been one of the few people who actually liked the movie when I saw it the first time around with CTLA last year, but I wasn't exactly immune to the effects of the critical whipping it took and, as such, considered it a lesser effort. But, seeing it again with the benefit of some distance made me appreciate a lot of the really subtle, really weird ways he's dealing with the issues he's interrogating here. In addition to being a nifty little commentary on American isolationism (as The Onion AV Club, in their estimable quest to be one of Shyamalan's few hip, credible defenders, was right to point out), the movie builds on that idea to explore the rather uncomfortable place where privilege and survival intersect (cf my thoughts on The Pianist—is it mere coincidence that Adrien Brody features prominently in both films?).

Because of his father's money and influence, William Hurt's character, Edward Walker, is able to provide the means for the physical establishment of the village in question. Though the lifestyle and the reasons for living it might appear creepy and reactionary to us as an audience (ahem, that's a big part of the point), it is nevertheless rooted in the pursuit of what the small, self-appointed community feels is good and true and noble. Things get a bit more murky, however, when, about halfway through the film, Edward allows his daughter to venture out into "the towns" to get medicine for her mortally wounded fiance, the only person in about 20 years who's been granted permission to do so, despite other deaths and illnesses (incl. those of young children). Is this decision really as compassionate as he claims? Is it really a valiant attempt to ensure the perpetuation of their way of life through the children that will result from his daughter's marriage? Or is it simply that he feels unique in his grief for his future son-in-law, that it's somehow a different, exceptional situation this time because it's happening to him? Does his fear of death (his own death, and the deaths of his loved ones) cause him to bend the rules of his own creation because he so desperately wants his DNA to flourish? And what does any/all of that say about the human impulse to jettison previously cherished principles when the going gets tough? Is it a sign of fundamental weakness of character or a sign of hard-won maturity? The moral/ethical spectrum being explored here is fascinatingly complex and should provide a stinging corrective for those tempted to dismiss Shyamalan out of hand for...whatever myriad things the haters are tempted to dismiss him out of hand for: his hubris as an artist (grandiosely, "AN M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN FILM!"), the minimalism he paints with, his Christian sympathies, his indebtedness to (early) Spielberg with respect to genre tweaking and heartstring pulling, etc. (None of which, for the record, I happen to have a problem with.) Um, and the monsters are still scary, too, even though I knew they were coming.

Also caught up with Junebug this weekend, which is up to its ears in indie cred, thanks to the appearance of Will Oldham in a small walk-on role and a score by Yo La Tengo.

I ran by the Metro this weekend to pick up tickets for the upcoming Sufjan Stevens show, and, oh brutha, if this is what we have to look forward to, now I really can't wait!

Natasha Lyonne—WTF? (Via the IMDB.)

RIP, Bob Moog.

Ever true to form, I'm a day late and a dollar short: happy birthday, DS! Hope you had a grand celebration. (When I say it, the phrase "a dollar short" ends up sounding like some kind of British colloquialism for measuring height: "I'm a dollar short so I should probably lose two stone, eh?")


brendan said...

Never saw The Village, but I liked Unbreakable.

I was sitting in a restaurant (in the lobby of the opera house) in Aspen, Colorado abou three weeks ago and I see a flyer on the wall for a Sufjan Stevens show on July 30. I'm like, "oh cool" and then I'm like "hey, todays is July 30th!" but I already had plans for the evening.

I should have gone.

DS said...

thanks, A! and thanks for the This Aquatic Life shout-out (though my actual rambly defense appeared FYEO). I'm inspired by your open-mindedness and looking forward to revisiting some old wincers to see if they have revitalized. Expect a full-throated thesis extolling the virtues of "Independence Day" or any non-"The Game" David Fincher coming soon.

Anonymous said...

yay! thank you for your Village read, though I am late to it. it's everything i wanted to raise to Ann Andrews when she said: "it was only scary because it's scary to think people would actually DO that!"
uh, er....fine.
i loved it even though it freaked my pants off when i had to return home to the cabin in a fog-covered field, past the deer eyes... (just tell yourself it's really Adrien Brody out there). such intentionality in forming communities happens all over Christendom, from monasteries to camps to miliaristic cults. what in us desires to pull away like that? when is it holy and when is it self-indulgent? at what point should the barrier come down?

i'm spitting your thoughts back at you - sorry.
thanks also for the welcome. :)