To this day, I’ve never seen The Sixth Sense. Yes, I already know the big secret. It’s impossible to not know it if you’ve had any exposure to popular entertainment since its release. What this blissful ignorance of that movie means to me as a movie lover is that to me M. Knight Shyamalan is not M. KNIGHT SHYAMALAN(!), but just another accomplished director of popular cinema. You might think that means I don’t like his work or don’t give him much credit, but that’s not true. What it does mean is that when I’m watching any movie by this Writer-Director, that came after his stellar debut, I have the advantage of objectivity.
For some reason I was never enthusiastic about seeing The Sixth Sense, and the fancy has never struck me over the years. When Shyamalan’s next film Unbreakable came out however, I did see it on DVD, and I actually liked it in spite of all the negative reviews. It was certainly not perfect but it was a good idea that was decently treated. Signs I never warmed to, and once when I tried watching it at home, I fell asleep after the first 10 minutes or so. This is one of only 3 movies that have put me to sleep after having consciously decided to watch them. The other two I will get into some other time, but I never attempted to watch Signs again.
The Village was Shyamalan’s next film and it was slightly doomed before it even started. Early on a script was leaked and torn apart by critics. By now Shyamalan had enough notoriety to have as many staunch detractors as fans, and they never ceased to bad mouth this film all the way from script, through production and after its eventual release. Once again “the secret” was public knowledge and considering how much emphasis the Shyamalan marketing machine was always placing on “the secret” in every subsequent film, I decided to stay away. I was genuinely not intrigued or interested.
Recently, on one of those rare occasions when I was clicking through channels on the television, I stumbled upon a blank screen on one of the many movie channels. It was that split second before the screening of a movie begins. I stopped to see what it was and the music swelled. The music held me from moving on, and a few beautiful foggy shots and some simple titles later, I was unwittingly engrossed in watching The Village.
The thing that struck me first is still the thing that comes first to mind when I think of the movie. The music was beautiful, enchanting and mysterious. It is little wonder that the soundtrack by James Newton Howard was nominated for an Oscar. I would say it not only deserved the nomination but the statuette itself for its haunting quality. From the get go the music surrounded me and nudged me forward in this newly discovered world. The world was not fantastic but the sound of it hinted at more, and at mysteries and secrets still to be uncovered. It made me feel, to a point where I am sure I could have closed my eyes and still enjoyed the experience of listening to this story.
I never closed my eyes. Because as stark and regimental as the visuals were in content, they made up for in the tantalising painterly quality of the presentation. The cinematography was excellent and the lighting was a character on its own. It acted and reacted to everything that was happening in this insular world and pulled me along in the narrative. It made me care about this place almost as much I cared about these people.
Possibly the strongest element in The Village are the performances by some of the lead actors. Actors like William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver who play the village elders are tempered and strong, but it is the performances of the young de facto leads of this piece that are truly noteworthy. The narrative hinges around the lives of the characters played by Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Howard. Phoenix plays a sensitive young man struggling with the restrictions imposed on the inhabitants of this settlement, and wanting to break through the barriers of the forbidden woods that surround them so as to get better medical help from the outside world. Howard plays Ivy Walker, a blind girl and daughter of William Hurt’s character. In her lack of sight she provides a new viewpoint on what surrounds these people. Bryce Howard gives a stunning and nuanced performance and quickly becomes the protagonist of this tale as she finds love, loses it and tries to win it back against all odds.
You know the biggest secret about The Village? It’s not really a tense psychological thriller about killer monsters from forbidden woods at all, but rather a beautiful and heart felt romantic tale about very real people. The device of the “big secret” is at best a tolerable background in which to set a gripping story. Is this movie perfect? No not really. I think the narrative and scripting are good but some of the directing and editing are jarring in places, sometimes swaying ever so slightly towards the shoddy.
I have used the word beautiful several times throughout this write-up, because I can’t think of an appropriate synonym for this occasion, and because this is a very beautiful movie. The Village is beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to and beautiful to experience along with a cast of well enacted nuanced characters whom you really grow to like and care about. Ignore the silly secrets and watch this movie because it is a great example of what can be done with cinema and because it is a worthy experience.
I’m really not quite sure what all the complaints were about regarding this movie from the vocal group of card carrying Shyamalan detractors. I’m not a huge fan of M. Knight Shyamalan, and I don’t hate him either. I am however now a big fan of this movie and I recommend it to anyone who is not religious about their love or hatred of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, Lady in the Water, Shyamalan’s face or whatever else you might choose to be unreasonably religious about. Thankfully for me, I never watched The Sixth Sense, and I have the advantage of objectivity.