It’s been a while since I’ve done a New Age movie, and I realized I still hadn’t done Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water (I primarily realized this while watching Shyamalan’s Devil this weekend which has convinced me he had five great movies in him and that’s it. He’s got nothing left. He could make a semi-decent movie right now and I’d probably spit on it. Unless he somehow finds it within him to outdo Nolan this man has no career left. It’s even worse that I need to write a whole blog on how terrible a movie Devil is.) It’s kind of odd that I put off doing this one as it’s actually my favorite of all of Shyamalan’s movies.
Also I realize that I have to do all these older movies because very seldom does it appear that people get the more spiritual message of these films.
So we at last come to the final great film of Shyamalan where M. Night still could remember how to make movies (and while 5 great films in a row is a spectacular accomplishment, The Happening, The Last Airbender and Devil do seem to almost erase my opinion of him as a writer/director, but Lady in the Water is a great movie regardless). So why is this movie great? Well because it takes most of the topics of his previous themes, that everyone has a purpose in life, that there is a higher order in the universe, that nothing happens by chance, that fear is the greatest enemy in life, that faith and love are a great weapon against that fear, and puts them together into a single magnum opus.
Well first off, Shyamalan had the guts to do what every other person in Hollywood wants to do but doesn’t have the guts to do: he showed movie critics to be small, petty, disgusting people who can only critique things they couldn’t make and praise crap only because they can’t understand it. And then had the critic eaten by a monster. No shock that critics panned this movie.
Now it’s not an overly complicated movie. It’s not meant to be. In fact it has all the subtlety of an Ayn Rand speech. I think at some level Shyamalan knew this was his last hurrah and knew he had to get this message out in no uncertain terms. The story is simple enough; an angel comes down to inspire people, does, is threatened by the forces of darkness, but returns home. Sure it’s dressed up in the following tale:
Once, man and those in the water were linked. They inspired us. They spoke of the future. Man listened and it became real. But man does not listen very well. Man’s need to own everything led him deeper into land. The magic world of the ones that lived in the ocean… and the world of men… separated. Through the centuries, their world and all the inhabitants of it… stopped trying. The world of man became more violent. War upon war played out, as there were no guides to listen to. Now those in the water are trying again… trying to reach us. A handful of their precious young ones have been sent into the world of man. They are brought in the dead of night… to where man lives. They need only be glimpsed… and the awakening of man will happen. But their enemies roam the land. There are laws that are meant to keep the young ones safe… but they are sent at a great risk to their lives. Many… do not return. Yet still they try… try to help man. But man has forgotten how to listen…
But it’s essentially a story of an angel. The difference between this and real life is that we don’t have an angel come to only a few people only once in a lifetime, we have them talking to us, each and every one of us, at all times during our lives. And just like in the movie “but man does not listen very well.” We can choose to ignore those voices of advice, but only at our own loss.
What is the message that they bring? It’s a simple one as repeated several times by the story’s central character “Story” (yeah, not very subtle that you should take her message as allegory, but then again somehow everyone seemed to miss this basic interpretation): “You have a purpose. All beings have a purpose.” This is what Shyamalan has been building up to through all of his films (the kid and Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense had a purpose to help people, Bruce Willis in Unbreakable had a purpose to be a hero and was miserable until you fulfilled it, every person had a role to play in Signs leading up to a moment that made it clear everything is part of a higher plan). It just becomes so obvious in this movie as people are put into purely archetypal (The Healer, The Guardian, The Interpreter, The Guild…you get the impression that Shyamalan is getting tired of trying to get a message across and said “screw it, I’m just going to be so blunt a 5 year old could get it”…it of course went right over the head of critics) roles to show that people do have a purpose in life. The idea that you’re supposed to get from this is that yes, you too have a purpose in life. It may not be obvious, it may not be pleasant at all points in time, but it is your purpose, and you do need to find out what that purpose is. Or as one character states:
“This world is about finding your purpose, right? And the only way to do that is to find your own voice. You told us that. […] Finding one’s purpose is a profound thing. Sometimes it is not always what it seems.”
The movie also brings up the problem of the false path. Lots of times we get it in our head that we are meant to be something when we’re not…or worse we think we can tell other people what they should do with their lives. “What kind of person would be so arrogant as to presume the intention of another human being?” What kind of person? Well in Shyamalan’s mind it’s the petty self-righteous intellectual embodied in a movie critic…but I might extend that to anyone who thinks they have a right to dictate what another person does with their life. We all have this habit of trying to tell people what do with their lives, especially when people ask us for advice, try and downplay that urge. Advice has its time and place, but don’t let it become a habit. People need to find their own way, and sometimes that involves taking a detour or wrong path for a while so that they can learn with clarity what the right path is—it should be noted that while the first group of people who took on the archetypal roles in Lady in the Water were technically not the right people for those jobs, they were the right people to help set up the situation so that the right people could find their purpose (so were they the wrong people if they helped bring the correct realization about?)
Lady in the Water also shows in a very clear way the nature of the universe in intervening in our lives. In the film there are a group of creatures known as Tartudek, they are the police of this magical world and enforce the rules of this world…and meet out punishment when they need to. However they don’t show up until the very end of the film, long after they could have been really useful. However, while it might seem as if their lack of intervention made everything more complicated for the characters in the story, it is actually that his is merely a reflection of the way the world works. People actually complain, maybe not always vocally but pay attention and you’ll see signs of this; that the world (read God) doesn’t perfectly always line up for them. They don’t always get that raise. Traffic backs up on them. It’s raining. Why me? And with this comes a list of prayers to a higher power for just a string of incredibly small and trivial things (you ever prayed for a parking space?) and the indignation that comes when your prayers are not answered. This is not exactly how the universe works. Yes, I do believe if you’re in tune with the universe everything has a domino effect of working your way, but most of this is more that you’re recognizing the signs and responding, not that the universe is always going out of its way to provide big budget miracles to you. The universe/God only intervenes in major ways when you can’t do things on your own. Tartudek only appears in the film once the acts of people alone are not enough to stop the villain of the film, ONLY WHEN THE ACTS OF HUMANS ARE NOT ENOUGH. If you can do it for yourself, the universe expects you to do it for yourself. That it is hard, you complain. Tough, it’s hard only because you make it so…as pointed out in this movie and Shyamalan’s other films, the universe has been trying to show you signs and messages on how to make your life easier, it’s up to you to listen to that or not.
“Man thinks they are each alone in the world. It is not true. You are all connected. One act on one day can affect us all. “Even more central than the idea of your purpose in life is how connected we all are in life. The lives of almost everyone in the small apartment complex that the story of Lady in the Water takes place are interconnected. It is only through the actions of each of them that they are all able to learn and progress in life. One of the main characters, a writer, (played by Shyamalan himself) writes a book that will one day help change the world for the better. Now some have criticized Shyamalan’s choice of casting himself in this role (even though they didn’t critique him putting himself into all his other films), however this kind of makes sense as, it’s not so much arrogance, as it is the feelings of any artist. Nobody does any kind of art without hoping that it will affect people. Yeah most of the time artists may just be hoping to entertain or please, but you’re always hoping it will affect people. Is it then wrong for the artist of the film, it’s writer/director, to put himself in the archetype most fitting himself (at least he didn’t try and tell us what to believe in terms of politics which many other people in Hollywood are all too eager to do). Not really. But this small matter aside, this central idea that we all have the power to affect change in our own lives and in the world this is not exactly a new idea, but it is one that we too often forget and become depressed about because we don’t immediately see. Shyamalan’s more extreme tale of a single book causing great change is trying to tell us that we can change the world for the better, just not necessarily in the next three seconds. Change takes time…even in Lady in the Water it takes nearly a generation. This should make you think about each small act you perform each day. What will the long term effects of each choice in your life, each moment you could have been creative, charitable, helpful…what will the ripple effects (like how I use the water metaphor there relating back to the title) of your actions will be. How much greater might that be if you actually tried to do things if we intentionally did things we thought would make the world better for years to come. And because all actions have effects that stretch far beyond our own little corner of the world it could eventually reach everyone in the world, thus we are all connected.
…What have you done to make the world better today?
If the movie has a flaw it is in its promise of hope, “The world will line up and reveal we are on the right path….” Yes we are given this in that we see everyone find their purpose and our main character get through his greatest personal problem…but we are only left with all of the characters staring at the sky at the end as if being shown this moment of revelation in the last scene. I know there is probably no way even the greatest artist could show anything even more revealing, but it still feels like I’m being cheated just a little.
The movie is simplistic in its plot and characterization, yes, but that is so you have no choice but to focus on its theme. If you haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t seen it with an eye toward looking at it as a philosophical story you should give it a try.