the village

Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) in The Village.
Photo: Touchstone Pictures

Maybe it seems strange to discuss a movie years after its release (2004), but since M Night Shyamalan is frequently ridiculed in film discussions, I thought I’d take the time to defend him, at least in relation to The Village.

As a little reminder, according to the product description the film is about:

“An isolated, tight-knit community lives in mortal fear of an oppressive evil inhabiting the forbidden forest just beyond their tiny village. So frightening that no one ventures into the woods … until one villager dares to face the unknown. “

MARKETING

To discuss and defend this film I first want to go back to before the movie even premiered. Part of the issue with this film was marketing. Many people hated the film because of expectations. Take a look at some of the early trailers. It was previewed as a scary film about monsters, but what everyone got instead was a metaphorical artsy, even romantic film. Most people don’t like to get an apple when they’ve been expecting an orange. Somehow it just doesn’t taste as good.

THE TWIST ENDING

Beyond the marketing, I also don’t think people liked this film because they said they figured out the ending. I can figure out the ending to almost every movie I watch, but that typically doesn’t ruin it for me if the story is executed well. That said, I don’t think AS many people figured the whole thing out as claimed. It was popular to say you did, though. I’m sure some people did, but not everyone. I even had one person tell me they figured it out by the good teeth and the “design” of the modern fences. I was like, “really?”

Besides, even if you did figure out the ending I don’t think this movie is just about having twists. So just because you figure out the end of the movie doesn’t make it bad.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

In college, I had the opportunity to read up on a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne stories. Most people are familiar with The Scarlett Letter, but he also wrote stories such as “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “The Birthmark,” and “Young Goodman Brown.” If you haven’t read them I recommend reading up on them, you might see some of the parallels between The Village and Hawthorne’s stories. They have similar themes, metaphors, symbolism and especially use of color. What I find most interesting about Hawthorne is his use of color, particularly yellow, red, and pink. Red in his stories symbolizes sin, sorrow, love, etc… (IE: The Scarlett Letter) Yellow symbolizes innocence as does pink. His stories also have the prevalent theme of innocence and the loss of it due to sin.

The reason why I think the film succeeds (if taken in context and looked at objectively) is because I argue M Night created a modern day Hawthorne story.

Going back to The Village, The reason why I think the film succeeds (if taken in context and looked at objectively) is because I argue M Night created a modern day Hawthorne story.

So let’s take a closer look:

COLORS

Lucius wears the safe color.
Photo: Touchstone Pictures

This movie deals with colors a lot, but especially yellow and red. Yellow in the film symbolizes innocence. If you notice, none of the elders ever wear the safe color. Only the younger ones do. They are never seen wearing yellow because they are not innocent. The elders try to avoid sin and sorrow, but by doing so become sinful themselves. There are key moments when certain characters lose their innocence, and to represent this they are covered in red.

  • Noah loses his innocence by stabbing Lucius. He’s covered in his blood to show his loss of innocence.
  • Ivy loses her innocence when she finds Lucius covered in blood. To reveal her loss of innocence by experiencing sorrow for the first time she stands in the field covered in his blood. It’s also important to note that she has red hair.

Noah is a symbol himself. Because he is mentally ill or cognitively challenged, whichever the case may be he represents the purest kind of innocence. He’s portrayed in the beginning of the film as a child. He laughs, hits the other kids, is put in time out; takes the bad color without thinking, as if he doesn’t quite know right from wrong. Everything that happens to Noah in the film could arguably be the elder’s fault. They never leave to get him help, which could have in fact stopped him from becoming insane.

Isn’t it ironic that the most innocent character turns out in fact to be the killer?

Isn’t it ironic that the most innocent character turns out in fact to be the killer? M Night was definitely trying to say something here.

THE ROCKING CHAIRS

Arguably the rocking chairs are the hardest symbol to figure out. But clearly, they are important, as Shyamalan takes quite a bit of screen time focusing on them.

Personally, I think the chairs also represent a loss of innocence; this time through sorrow. If you watch the film, you notice that they are usually empty. No one sits in them. But Ivy’s father tells her that he sat in that rocking chair when he first found out that she was blind. This scene implied that he lost his innocence because he didn’t take his daughter to go back to town to receive medical attention, and therefore she became blind (symbolic of him keeping her in the dark).

At one point Ivy almost sits in a rocking chair, but then doesn’t. Later both she and Noah sit in rocking chairs because they have lost their innocence. They have felt true sorrow and grief.

Also, note the scene when the dance room from the wedding party is empty and all the chairs are empty. I think this was saying the elders were, in fact, innocent from these particular animal killings. The whole town was innocent.

Going back to grief, the rocking chairs certainly represent sadness and mourning. Because the town hides from sorrow, they never mourn. Nor do most of them have reason to mourn. They sit in the chairs when they have reason to mourn; hence why the character August Nicholson sits in the chair when he mourns the loss of his son.

IVY’S BLINDNESS

Ivy symbolizes the fact that the elders keep the villagers in the dark about the real world. It should be pointed out though that Ivy can, in fact, see a few colors. She sees a color when she sees Lucius and she sees a color when she sees her father; two different colors. Yet she never specifies what they are. Mr. Walker says to Ivy that she “sees light when there is only darkness.” I think she sees the color yellow when she sees Lucius and the color red when she sees her father. But she never says because she doesn’t want them to know. I think she sees yellow in Lucius because he is innocent, and she sees red in her father because he is not.

THE MONSTERS

In my opinion, the best horror films reveal that the real monster is, in fact, you. Hence why in Signs Mel Gibson can’t overcome the aliens until he first overcomes his inability to forgive, and why there are so many mirrors in it to reveal who the real monster is. The monsters are called “those we don’t speak of,” representing the secrets we ourselves don’t speak of. The monsters represent the worst parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. The elders have in fact become monsters by trying to hide from sin, sorrow and the monstrosities of human nature. The black boxes they each keep in their house represent their inner demons as well as their inner secrets.

SUMMING UP

While there are many more symbols and metaphors I could go into, the ones I’ve discussed are the main ones.

Beyond the beautiful use of colors and symbolism, the film is well written, suspenseful, beautifully shot and acted. Not to mention the incredible music score (one of the best out there). I think that The Village is an intelligent film with artistic merit and with many great pieces of literature as its influences. The love stories in it are powerful because of the subtlety and the symbols and visual imagery is incredible.

I also want to point out again that just because you figure out the ending of a story, it doesn’t make it less great. This is not a story about twists or being scared, it’s a story about real people and how their inner demons affect them and the people around them. You can’t hide from sin and sorrow; it’s a part of life and has a way of finding you no matter how hard you run from it.

If you haven’t seen The Village or maybe didn’t like it the first time around, I suggest giving it a second look. I think it’s much better than people typically give it credit for.

Have you seen The Village? What did you think of it? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment and comparison? Sound off below…

 

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