Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review: Lady in the Water

"Never listen to critics."

That's what my closest friends have often told me... they believe as I do, that you should make your own mind up with regard to what you consider good entertainment. So what am I going to make of the largely panned 2006 M Night Shyamalan film, Lady in the Water?

I actually enjoyed it and got a lot out of it... I have even gone back and watched it several times. It's not a perfect film by any means... but I found myself sympathising for the characters quite a lot, especially Cleveland Heap - a man who was once a doctor but who "checked out" of life and became an odd job man at a block of flats after his life was struck by personal tragedy. Into his life and the lives of those around him, comes Story - a water nymph. In a scene reminiscent of the opening of Watership Down, the film's prologue (viewable below), tells us of the relationship between her people and humankind:

I very much saw that opening segment as a parable of the Fall of Man in Genesis. I felt really sad whilst watching the men walking away from the sea with their houses... and the nymphs are forlornly beckoning them back with open arms. Similarly the last part of that section where the Lowryesque man sits alone in his house as the nymph calls out to him. All that very much reminded me of the human condition - how we often think we are alone and without support and yet God is there calling out to us. Probably the saddest part of the entire Bible is that first question that God asks Adam and Eve when they originally rebelled...

"Where are you?"

It's the same question he asks every one of us when we are lost in our sin... in the hope that we hear his voice and turn to him. It is asked with a voice of deep sadness for where we have been, deeper hope for what we can be if we return to him... and the deepest love of the One who made us in his image and values us as his children despite all we do... even sending his Son to pay for our mess.

Another part of the film that really touched me was a scene called "The Healing". It comes close to the films climax, shortly after everything goes horribly wrong. Cleveland and the residents think they have it all worked out - they know where everyone fits into the jigsaw puzzle to make the story end as it should. However, they get it horribly wrong. It turns out that none of the people they had thought filled certain roles, were in fact the right people at all. In a moment of crisis and blind panic they go back to the drawing board... finally understanding that sometimes the logical choice is not always the right choice (funnily enough I've been talking about that in my blog lately too). In my mind this illustrates a major theme of my beliefs and my blog: how humanity is so certain it knows how to take care of itself... believes it is independent and has little or no apparent need of God and so chooses to ignore or disbelieve. Yet in actual fact we are just as naked as Adam was back at the dawn of civilization. We are like the Emperor who was duped into believing he was wearing the finest of robes...but who was in fact naked. We are still completely dependent on God. There is so much we don't understand... we make ill-informed guesses based on limited information and short term projections when we have a Father in Heaven who is omniscient and knows exactly the right choice.

In the film, Cleveland realises pretty swiftly that he is not a character called "The Guardian", but his greatest challenge comes when he realises he may have another far more important role to play in the story in a touching scene that you can view below:

What is most touching about that scene, is that there are actually two healings going on. Cleveland used to be a healer and put all to the side when he lost his family... now when someones life is in danger, he is forced to face his pain and recognise his calling once more.

I must confess I am fast becoming a fan of James Newton Howard's film scores. His music is so evocative and emotive. I especially love how he brings everything to a crescendo in this last scene:

I also loved Cleveland's last line of dialogue:

"Thank you for saving my life."

You just know that despite everything, his life is going to be back on track from that point.

The critics largely attacked the film from every angle when it came out. They savaged Shyamalan for giving himself the substantial role of a potential author who will one day perish at the hands of people who resent his writings and whose works will one day inspire a great leader. They saw it as messianic self indulgence... it probably didn't help that he negatively portrayed a film critic as a character within the film - red rag to a bull. I actually suspect he foresaw what they were going to say and baited them.

I actually see the film more as a parable... and in the end aren't all the best stories parables of some kind? Tales that pass on valuable messages about life, morality and relationships?

The wonderful thing about parables is that they reveal the true nature of the heart. If you are hard hearted you will see them as silly stories and quickly move on... not stopping to consider what lies beneath. If you listen intently and receive them as a child would, you begin to hang on every word... and you want to no more.I believe this is why Jesus used them so frequently - to separate those who really wanted to hear what he had to say, from those who didn't care or who had a bad motivation for listening.

So don't listen to the critics... give the film a shot - you can probably pick it up for about £3 in the sales, that is how much it cost me.

As an afterthought... don't you think it's strange how we can put of watching/reading/listening to something for ages, for no apparent reason... only to turn to it randomly in a moment where it carries deep meaning and personal significance for us?

Or is that just me?


  1. Anonymous5:33 am

    Hello, you have a nice blog here, mind 2 exchange link?

  2. Anonymous10:51 am

    I liked the 6th sense but from there his movies only went downhill :(

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. I respect and value them.

    Wilhb81,you are more than welcome to exchange links.

    Daldianus - I know that is an opinion shared by many people. I think one of the reasons I like his films so much is that they are often about characters who are on a journey of realisation... and I usually relate to those characters.

  4. Anonymous9:29 pm

    I agree with your blog about "Lady in the Water" and M. Night Shyamalan's storytelling techniques. Perhaps, the critics were expecting more of the same, but this story taps deeper into the "true nature of the heart" as you put it.

    The film was not perfect and a few scenes and characters were a bit contrived, but it was a good story. Those with child-like wonder and trust can appreciate a good story without picking it apart. "Messianic" tendencies? Oh, please. I loved that part of the film.

    I feel for Shyamalan because of the pressures and expectations of Hollywood's snarling critics. For heaven's sake, let the man tell a story. Enjoy it--or don't.


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