Category Archives: Shyamalan

Movies for New Agers: “Lady in the Water”

“Man thinks they are each alone in the world. It is not true. You are all connected.”

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.

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Movies for New Agers: Shyamalan Part II–The Meaning In Everything and Fear

The next two movies of M. Night I will be dealing with are Signs and The Village. Both did spectacularly poor given how good they are. This is probably because both were advertised as horror and suspense films. They really aren’t horror and suspense films in any way shape or form.

But what deeper meanings were lost while people looked for aliens in cornfields and monsters among the trees?

“So you have to ask yourself, are you someone who believes in signs, in miracles?”

Really it was kind of hard to miss the central theme of Signs, or so I thought. But when I talked to most people about it they didn’t seem to have picked it up. So just to make sure that we’re all on the same page here, the central theme of Signs was that the universe is full of small little things, signs, coincidences, luck that isn’t just random but all for a very specific purpose. This builds on themes of the previous two Shyamalan movies. It’s not just that people have a purpose and a role, it’s that everything has a purpose and a role. Even the most meaningless of things is really a part in the large Rube Goldberg machine that is life. Why is life such a complex system with little signs and signals? Why doesn’t God just come out and say things bluntly? If you hadn’t noticed he does that too, people don’t listen to the bluntly and they only pay attention to the signs when they have no other option.

But a more subtle theme of Signs is the concept called the dark night of the soul. Broadly speaking here, (understand I’m taking something you can discuss for volumes into a few sentences), the dark night is that point in your spiritual journey where you have reached a moment where nothing means anything. You’ve lost your faith and doubt everything you may have once believed in and you are lost in a dark night of doubt. Nowadays we might refer to it as an existential crisis, but that phrase doesn’t imply the spiritual nature of this journey. The dark night of the soul is actually an important step in spiritual growth because it is only through it that we can move from believing in our faith to actually acting on it. The name derives from the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” written by St. John of the Cross, but the most famous example of it in literature is probably the spiritual despondency of Ajurna in the Bhagavad Gita. In the Gita, Ajurna wonders what’s the point of slaying his ego based desires, he is at a point where the sense pleasures don’t give him happiness but he is still too far from God and Enlightenment to find joy there either. So what’s the point in any of it. The dark night of the soul. But through communing with his higher self, represented in the Gita by the god Krishna, Ajurna (a metaphor for each of us) goes onto slay the manifestation of the ego and metaphorically reaches a higher state. This is a natural stage in our spiritual progression and the trick is not to get bogged down it. I have a friend who seems to have one of these crises every six months or so and she always seems to come out of it much wiser…so I figure in about 15 years I’ll be kneeling at her feet asking the great spiritual teacher to show me the way.
In the movie it is seen through Mel Gibson’s character’s loss of faith caused by the death of his wife. However when the signs come clicking into place, he not only acts on his faith, but in a very underplayed scene at the end it is suggested that he not only returns to being a priest, but assuredly one whose faith is now rock solid. (One could only hope a similar personal revelation would come upon the disgusting excuse of a human being known as Mel Gibson).

On the flip side The Village shows us what happens when you get lost in that dark night and give into the fear. You retreat from the world. Okay so maybe you don’t set up a community that makes the Amish look like they’re on the cutting edge of technology, but giving into fear is a cowardly retreat from the world. And that is what we see in the village; a retreat from the world where only the characters of Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard are willing to face fear and act out of love and compassion. The Village does not contain the higher purpose message of other films, but it does focus on something that is extremely New Age: That the only two opposing forces in the world are fear and love. Everything else is merely the battle between these two forces. And while this theme subtly appears through the whole story it most clear, sadly, displayed in a scene that can only be found in the deleted scene content on the DVD (and I would argue it was a mistake to cut this scene even if it did screw up the pacing of the last act).

Thinking that she has stumbled upon the monster in the forest (really just wind and sound producing pipes) Howard’s character overcomes her fear of being killed and calls out “It is for love that I am here. I beg you to let me pass. It is for love.” While it probably doesn’t help the suspense it is the clearest expression of conflict between love and fear.

This film is also the most negative of Shyamalan’s good movies as it depicts only two (maybe three if you count the security guard) people who are able to overcome the fear that society encourages and forces on them. Otherwise fear is a paralyzing force that literally destroys the people it touches forcing them to try and hide in a made up world…and even there the evils they attempted to escape follow them. The movie quite clearly condemns their cowardice, but few viewers got that their inability to live their own lives without fear made them just as sad as the characters in the movie.

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New Age Movies: M. Night Part I

“Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in the world. To not know why you’re here. That’s just an awful feeling.”

So I finally got around to watching the movies of M. Night Shyamalan, I had nearly forgotten that yes, once many years ago the man could write and direct…in light of The Happening and The Last Airbender it isn’t hard to see how I could have forgotten this. I started to make notes for a blog only to realize that there were more themes than I could deal with in a single blog. So I’m going to try and break this down by movie. I’m going to go chronologically, since I do see him building thematically upon the messages of the previous movies.

But before I get into the details of the films I want to explain why I bring up these films, because, hasn’t everyone seen them? With the previous movies I mentioned they were clearly not well received initially so someone could have easily missed them–but we’ve all seen Shyamalan’s movies haven’t we? Yes we’ve all seen them, but every time I hear people discuss them, they discuss them only as horror or suspense movies (maybe occasionally discuss Shyamalan’s skill as a director, or lack thereof with the recent films). People seem to have missed that every one of these movies have such a strong emphasis on theme they border on being nothing more than pure allegory for deeper nature of reality. So I discuss these movies, because I feel many (not all, but many) people have missed the actual point of the movies themselves.

The first two movies of Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, give us one of the strongest themes that appear in almost all of his movies: That there is a higher order to universe.

What do I mean by a higher order? That nothing happens by chance, that every piece, every event, every person is put in a certain place at a certain time to do certain things. That each and every one of us is born to fulfill a purpose; destiny if you will. Now fate does not exist, and you have the choice to ignore that purpose, but you won’t learn anything by trying to escape that destiny and you certainly won’t be happy. But even if you have free will to not follow your purpose, the universe is certainly going to keep trying to remind you of your purpose…and only a fool doesn’t listen.

We see this in The Sixth Sense with both of our lead characters. Bruce Willis’s character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, knows that his purpose is to help children, but he literally cannot rest unless he helps the one child he could not, hence his inability to cross over until he has done his job. This is made all too clear in the first scene when Crowe’s wife points out his gift with children and how she loves this gift in him, even though it means that she is put second in his life behind the children he helps. This is why his spirit is literally drawn to Haley Joel Osment’s character, Cole. He had failed to help a child with the same problem and needed to make up for that failure. And Cole has been given a gift too, the sixth sense to see the dead, and he is miserable while he tries to hide from it and as we see quite well adjusted when he embraces it.

“This morning was the first morning that I can remember that I opened my eyes and didn’t feel sadness.”

But much of this theme is lost in all the trappings of a horror movie.

Which, is why this same theme is brought more into focus in Shyamalan’s second movie, Unbreakable. Both main characters do not know their place in the world and do not feel comfortable in their lives because they do know now their place and do not live there. And through this movie Shyamalan makes several points about the higher order of the universe in giving everyone a purpose. The most obvious is of course the one found in our hero played again by Bruce Willis, a superhero who doesn’t know what he is. But once he finds his calling, that he has been given beyond normal strength, endurance and psychic abilities for the purpose of helping others, he finds happiness in his life by pursuing the destiny set out for him: to help people.

But Shyamalan represents this higher order more than in just a single man finding his purpose. I think it is not coincidence that Willis’s character embraces his calling first in a train station. What’s so important about a train station? A train station if a favorite example of economist in showing that just because something appears chaotic it does not mean it is chaotic. As the analogy goes, hundreds of people are going in and out, changing trains, meeting people; trains go in and out at what to a casual observer might appear random. But even though there is no discernible order on a first glance, each person is moving in a very determined and organized way. Each train goes in and out at scheduled time to meet other scheduled times. Thousands upon thousands of plans, each rational and done with purpose–the very definition of ordered. It just appears chaotic because we can’t see the whole plan. This in turn is easily expanded to the greater sphere of the world. It appears chaotic and random, but there is planning and purpose and meaning behind everything. Or the metaphor can be taken down to an individual life where things seem to happen for no reason or without meaning. But nothing happens in any our lives without meaning, purpose, and planning. There is a higher order, a plan in all things.

The last point which is also often ignored in Unbreakable is that just because you have a purpose in life it does not mean you do not have free will. This is not only shown through the personal problems and unhappiness of Bruce Willis’s character when he does not live up to his purpose, but it also is shown in the Samuel L. Jackson character. Jackson’s character is a man who is the very opposite of the superhero, weak, low endurance, victim to all of life’s suffering has the purpose of showing Willis that he is a superhero. But here’s where free will comes in–as Jackson’s character sees life reflected in comic books and comic books reflected in life, he sees himself as the opposite of the hero, as the villain and as such is more than willing to kill hundreds of people to find his superhero. He could have just as easily seen himself in the role of mentor (the Prof X’s and Alfred Pennyworths that litter the field of comic books) and still fulfilled his purpose. But he chose to cast himself as the villain. Just as many of us can chose to do things that are not in our best interest. Even though there is a higher order doesn’t mean we do not have free will.

These themes do reoccur in the later Shyamalan films (even that waste of film called the Last Airbender) but they are built upon with even deeper and more important themes.

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