M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie out called Old. It’s got mixed reviews. It was around this time in 1999 that his little movie The Sixth Sense starring Bruce Willis, fulfilling a contract obligation to avoid a massive lawsuit, stunned everyone with one of the best plot twists ever.
Unfortunately, it ruined the filmmaker’s career, because like a magician or illusionist, we were too busy looking at the wrong things. Instead of enjoying the show, we’re screaming “Smoke and mirrors!”
Unbreakable told us at the beginning the focus was going to be on comic books, but we were expecting something else. Signs was really about a man rediscovering his spiritual faith but we blasted the fact that the aliens were harmed by casual water. Well, maybe they didn’t know anything about water on their planet. Recent fan theories argue the aliens were actually demons and only blessed water is dangerous.
In 2004, The Village was released to mixed to negative reviews. What continues is going to be MASSIVE SPOILERS so if you haven’t seen this movie, please stop reading this now or else.
The studio and commercials behind The Village built it up as a creature feature, but it’s more of a psychological thriller about the sometimes brutal nature of human beings. Like a Scooby Doo episode, we realize at the end that the creatures that are referred to as Those Who We Don’t Speak Of are costumes the elders of a Pennsylvania community called Covington wear to scare the younger people.
Look around. We do it every day in this country. When I was growing up, law enforcement and parental groups used to talk about Stranger Danger, some scruffy person who drives a windowless van lurking around playgrounds. When, in actuality, many perpetuators of crimes against children are family members, neighbors or family friends.
Rapists are portrayed as shady characters lurking in the shadows, but it’s actually well-dressed and well-groomed people the victims knew.
From the moment we begin to comprehend things as young children, our parents and elders are telling us things we shouldn’t do and places we should stay away from. It seems we’re told “No!” more than “Yes.” I remember one of our elementary school librarians once said folklore stories were told to keep the youth from preventing into places unknown.
And that’s the ideology behind the elders of the community in The Village. We’re presented at the beginning with an Amish-Mennonite style community, even though they don’t follow any religion. This community is living in the Pennsylvania countryside in the 1890s according to a tombstone marker as a grieving father August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson) is grieving over the grave of his recently deceased son who died still in the primary school age range.
Edward Walker (William Hurt) is the local schoolteacher and more or less the chief elder. We learn that this isn’t the first time August has had to bury a child or family member. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) makes a suggestion that they venture among the village to the nearby towns for needed medicine and health accessories but is criticized by his mother, Alice (Sigourney Weaver), as she tells him the towns are full of people who are wicked and awful human beings.
Many other people speak of the towns people this way including Lucius’ friend, Finton Coin (Michael Pitts) who often sits in the watchtower making sure “Those Who We Don’t Speak Of” breach the village borders. It’s explained the villagers and these creatures have a mutual understanding they don’t cross into each others areas as the creatures live in the wooded areas around the village. This is another reason why no one is allowed to venture pass the village to the towns out of fear of encountering them and bringing harm to the village.
Of course, the creatures are really nothing more than costumes the elders wear to randomly scare the villagers There is audio played over PA systems that scare the villagers. And the elders even go to extreme lengths to throw large slabs of meat into the woods as peace offerings, only to retrieve them later.
But according to Edward, one of the elders has taken matters to the extreme, skinning small animals and leaving them around the village and even going as far causing other problems while everyone is gathering at the wedding ceremony of his daughter, Kitty (Judy Greer).
However, a coordinated “breach” is arranged just to frighten the villagers after Lucius travels too far into the wooded areas. So, why have the elders done this to the people?
They are all members of a support group that met in the early 1970s in Philadelphia. Their loved ones and closed friends were victims of violent crimes. Feeling that modern times led to an increase in crime, Edward suggested they all live on his family’s farm land in the countryside. Apparently, Edward’s father was a very rich and wealthy businessman who was murdered by a business associate which is why the villagers have shunned the concept of currency.
So, for about 30 years, they have shunned modern society and took living off the grid to the next level. Everyone seems to live in a community where everyone helps everyone else out. The kids splash each other while doing the dishes. The teenage girls enjoy a nice twirl and dance while they sweep porches. Lucius helps deliver wood for August’s fireplace.
Everything seems to be what they were looking for. However, their refusal to recognize modern science and medicine has led to deaths. Sound familiar? With more than 600,000 Americans who have died of Covid-related issues, this movie is more relevant now than in 2004, especially with Delta variant cases on the rise as well as RSV in young children.
I also note that none of the villagers are BIPOC, which leads me to wonder if this is Shymalan’s intention. Could the way the villagers talk about the people in the towns the same way white people talk about BIPOC. After World War II, there was white flight in many metropolitan areas, Philadelphia included, where “urban” became a derogatory word for non-white people. I’m sure Shyamalan, who was born in India, but grew up in Pennsylvania experienced some prejudice and racism.
The Village was released in a post-9/11 world where America was fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which at the time was being criticized for being start under false pretenses, i.e. that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Racism was grew against brown-skinned people in America. The lies and deceit of the Bush Administration seem almost identical to the lies and deceit of the elders. And you can see the lies and deceit of the Trump Administration along with other conspiracy theorist pushing the Big Lie the election was stolen and the damage it is created.
Society is full of lying to achieve end goals. It’s been reported the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War invented falsehoods to get people to fight against the British.
But what makes the elders’ lies and deceit different is they’re doing it out of grief. C.S. Lewis once wrote “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” The elders are living in fear of having to lose another person to a violent act that they have thrown that threat onto their young ones.
This leads to animals being skinned and in a plot change when Lucius is violently stabbed by Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), who is an intellectually disabled person. Noah seems to laugh and smile every time he hears about “Those Who W Don’t Speak Of.” It’s suggested that he knows of this ruse but because of his mental abilities, no one would believe him. I think it’s theorized he was the one skinning the animals, since this issue is never addressed but just in passing.
Noah stabs Lucius because Lucius and Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is blind, have announced their intentions to marry. Kitty was attracted to Lucius and in one the few scenes of comic relief, Kitty pours out her emotions to an unsuspecting Lucius. Ivy and Lucius have a bond that is so wonderful in how Shyamalan writes them and directs them. They don’t speak a lot to each other but you can sense they’re closer.
Whenever there is a panic, Ivy literally reaches out knowing Lucius will come to her aide and grabs her hand to guide her. Howard is one of those actresses I’ve never cared for mostly, but here, she nails it the character.
To save Lucius who needs medicine, Edward and the elders send her out into the woods where we discover that the village is in a nature preserve owned by Edward’s estate that pays a fortune to keep trespassers out and even from aircrafts flying overhead.
Ivy does encounter a creature but it’s Noah in disguise. Shyamalan should’ve directed or edited these scenes better because Ivy is still under the belief that the creatures may be real as Edward says there were rumors of the creatures who existed there in the wood centuries before. I think the way the movie is presented is to show that Noah had a violent side all along as he intends to harm Ivy as well.
The irony is the elders weren’t able to keep violence in their village despite scaring others into believing they would be physically harmed. Violence begets violence. And the threat of violence begets violence.
While the movie does seem to have a rushed ending as the elders decide to continue the lie and pass it along to younger generations. Since Ivy is blind, she can’t see the young park warden in his modern clothes nor his patrol vehicle, she isn’t aware of the ruse. But even other young people who initially go along with Ivy but turn back when they get scared would still be confused.
A lot of this does rely on convenience that the other youth with Ivy would get scared or the likelihood a young recently hired warden would notice her immediately climbing over the fence and also be willing to help her out and keep it secret.
I think at the heart of this movie is this notion people have as they get older is that the “olden days” were better and simpler. The Twilight Zone did an episode of this when a man played Buster Keaton goes to the future and takes a modern man back with him. At first the man admires the simple life but realizes it’s not for him and doesn’t like it.
We hear this every day in this country as the better days were many decades ago and there’s nothing that irritates me more than when some member of the Baby Boomers or Silent Generation goes off on a rant about younger people and modern technology. What they’ve failed to realize was there were harsher days back then, they just failed to realize that.
My own mother grew up without electricity. She didn’t have electricity in her home until her senior year in high school. She was a graduate of the Class of 1962.
Like the fathers in Captain Fantastic, The Mosquito Coast, and Leave No Trace, they’re forcing their kids to live in a world that will immediately change on a dime when they discover the outside world. The criticism of home-school children is that parents are keeping them away from certain people and certain ideals.
Unfortunately, these will only lead down one of two paths. The youth will either continue on and become worse than their elders. Or the youth will rebel and knock that system down. I don’t know if this was what Shyamalan was trying to convey, but it does happen eventually. Look at how those raised during The Cold War in Europe stopped their way of lives in the 1990s.
Younger generations in America are embracing more socialism ideals as they’re turning their backs on capitalism. There is currently an almost universal hatred of Boomers by anyone under the age of 40 and for good reason. And the Boomers are like the elders of the village trying to keep the ruse going on as long as they can. That’s why the Big Lie is so popular among many older people.
It’s easier for some people to accept that Trump was cheated out of a second term and there was illegal actions at the polls. Instead, younger voters just didn’t want him in office.
In 2004, it was easier for some people to accept that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the events of 9/11 but it was actually our own policies and actions in the Middle-East in the last quarter of the 20th Century that led to it.
Part of the reason I think people didn’t like this movie was because people wanted it to be a creature feature. Shyamalan even said the plot twist was that there is no supernatural. This is a reminder of the 1963 Bronx Zoo exhibit touting “The Most Dangerous Animal In The World” and it’s a mirror.
The performances of Howard, Weaver, Phoenix and Gleeson are very good. Weaver later said she had nightmares about this script for two weeks. One performance I initially didn’t like was that of Hurt’s. Edward seems to ramble on talking in an 19th Century dialect and seems to overact.
But I’ve realized, he’s playing a role. And he’s playing it badly. Edward has built it in his mind that this is how a man would behave in the latter 19th Century that even in dramatic moments, he is still carrying on while it’s obvious the other elders are trying to speak normal.
The Village was released on this day, July 30 in 2004. Reviews were bad and it underperformed at the box office. Over the years, it’s gained new appraisals by newer audiences. Like the famous gorilla suit experiment, Shyamalan had us thinking we were watching one movie, but we were watching another. We didn’t know all along, this was Ivy’s story.
Many movies are initially hated but become more well liked overtime. Times change. People’s attitudes change. And we need to allow that change.