The Village (2004)


   

Our rating: 5 out of 5

Rated: PG13

 
reviewed by Charity Bishop
 
       

A spine-chilling glimpse into human paranoia, The Village is one of the most thought-provoking films I've ever seen. With rock-solid storytelling and astounding performances, for older teens and adults it's a fascinating ride into the ingenious mind of M. Night Shyamalan. In the middle of Coventry Woods is a small village of harmony and happiness. The inhabitants work together to create true kinship, rewarded with contentment for their hard work. Funerals are mourned, weddings are celebrated. But all is not well in this quiet little place. Yellow flags mark the boundary between the village and the woods. No one is allowed to go beyond the markers for fear of encountering "the creatures." Many years before, these man-eating monsters struck a truce with the founding fathers. They would not come into the village if they did not feel threatened. Until now they have not ventured to cross the borders.

 

With a recent death among the children, quiet and mild mannered Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) desires to go beyond the borders to the towns and gather medicine. He cannot bear watching friends die without proper medical attention and believes that because of his pure heart the creatures will not harm him. His mother (Sigourney Weaver) and the other elders disapprove and turn down his request. Mournfully he returns to work, secretly admiring Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), the local schoolmistress. She lost her sight at a young age, leaving her only able to distinguish vague colors. Her older sister Tabitha (Jayne Atkinson) has fallen in unrequited love with Lucius, and her disappointment at the rejection of his proposal brings her unhappiness. Ivy is concerned for her sake, but convinced that Lucius is actually in love with her. He is too shy and withdrawn to make any advances, and she awaits the day when his hand will take hers in affection and love. In the meantime she must attend to her most needy student, mentally handicapped Noah (Adrien Brody). An adult with the mindset of a twelve year old, Noah is much loved and tolerated but not understanding of the danger in the woods.

 

He has gone beyond the borders and brought back "the bad color," some red berries. It is said to attract "those we do not speak of." What follows is terror as the village is accosted by deadly creatures in the night, who leave skinned animals as warnings and paint red slashes across their doors. Romance, revenge, dark revelations, and a web of unexpected horror unfold into a necessity that will drive Ivy alone into the wood and the mercy of the unknown. From the very beginning the director paints us a multi-layered picture. Through one scope we see the innocence and happiness of the townspeople, who live in joyous harmony and love. Through the other, we see the gripping reality of fear as children dare one another to stand with their back to the wood and refuse to go beyond the yellow flag posts. Shyamalan lures you into a complex and surprising plot with possibly his most memorable leading character since The Sixth Sense. Ivy Walker is a remarkable girl, strong, courageous, and genuinely caring. Her courage outweighs everyone in the village and we cannot help being engulfed with her sense of terror as night falls in the wood and she is left all alone. Having a blind girl as the primary figure was a stroke of genius in a film that takes a little time to develop but then never loses pace.

 

Some extremely thought-provoking questions are asked throughout, asking audiences to probe into their inner soul to determine which is a worse crime, preservation and innocence at the loss of truth or the horrors beyond the creatures in the wood. As the story unfolds we're captivated until the final dramatic conclusion, which leaves us stunned and pensive. To say it's a wonderful piece of writing that had the potential in book form to top the best seller list is an understatement. I think it's the best of Shyamalan's work thus far, proving that not only is he an apt filmmaker, he also improves with time. There aren't the overt religious overtones of Signs but the film builds to a much more interesting peak. It is frightening but most of the scares come from psychological tension rather than creatures leaping out of the wood. Symbolism abounds about pacifism, oppression, fear, and even the bad color (blood). Black boxes conceal dark secrets but also truth, implying that the darker moments in our lives can also lend to greater things with the potential for both good and evil. Best of all the movie is free of content issues. The inhabitants are all about goodness, modesty, helpfulness, and chastity. They pray before every meal. Young people restrain from physical contact prior to marriage. They do not curse or take God's name in vain.

 

 There are some violence and gruesome images, but they're never lingered on lengthily and are used to make a point. Skinned animals are found on several occasions, all fur stripped from their carcasses. A girl is chased in the wood by a monster, a man falls to his death in a pit, another is stabbed multiple times in the chest. Ivy slaps a boy savagely in the face before being dragged out of the room screaming in rage. Many die-hard fans of Shyamalan are disappointed with this film because it doesn't deliver what they wanted -- a terrifying "death a minute" thriller. The Village takes time to unfold and is more about relationships and love than anything else, including many visual metaphors for life. If you go in with unrealistic expectations you are likely to be let down. The director's greatest adversary is increasingly intelligent audiences who are catching on to his plot twists. I'd heard rumors about the ending before the movie opened, so I was not as surprised with the final development as some of the minor climaxes. The person I was with, however, was utterly shocked. If you go in looking for an entertaining ride, your expectations will be fulfilled. Anything more and you might find yourself pre-guessing the conclusion.

 

 

SYMBOLISM IN 'THE VILLAGE'

 

My review doesn't really cover the religious aspect of the film because obviously I don't want to give away plot twists, but for those of you who've seen the production, you may wan to peruse the following. Firstly I think it's the sort of movie with something for everyone. No one will come out of it without having grasped some form of truth or at the very least a reminder of life. You cannot say the director had any particular purpose in mind or meant anything that I got out of it, but nevertheless his film is deep enough to connect on an internal level. There were several things that stood out to me. The first is innocence and preservation at the cost of freedom. Fear kept the villagers imprisoned so that they were unable to reach their full potential. It was a happy, positive community but all were terrified. At what cost should innocence be preserved? Up to a point, we should remain innocent. You cannot go out into the world without being affected, which is why parents protect their children. But to prevent them from going into the world at all, when they're fully prepared, is wrong. You have to let go at some point and place your faith in God.

 

SPOILER

Toward the conclusion of the film we learn several important things. The first is because of crime and evil in the world, a group of individuals decided to create their own little place of safety where no evil would invade. They managed to convene in the village and succeed in their goal up to a point, but only by oppression. They instilled fear into the people they desired to protect the most, and therefore removed all their liberty and freedom. Yes, it was preservation of innocence and values, but at what cost? Basically what the elders did was terrorize their own community by keeping them bound in fear. Secondly, even by taking such dramatic tactics, they still could not prevent evil from entering. There should have never been any strife or discontentment in the village because they have closeted it all away. But evil is in man's sin nature, therefore Noah was driven to murder out of jealousy. He was innocent in the sense that his mind was handicapped and impaired, but not truly innocent. No man is innocent, because we are fallible and condemned by human nature, that of sin. You cannot shut evil out because it exists in mankind! You can attempt to isolate it, yes, but never will avoid it completely. Even Christians cannot completely avoid evil, because it is our enemy. Our only means of prevention is to deal with it.

 

In a community bound by fear and oppression, only Noah knew the truth. This is why he was so amused by the "creatures." He found it funny because he was in on the secret. He held no fear because he knew they didn't exist. On these grounds, if this deception is all right in the eyes of leadership, then how can they condemn him for giving in to sin nature and attempting to murder another human being? Is one sin so worse than another? Noah was mentally deranged but knew what he was doing deep inside. It's the old truth that deception breeds deception. The elders were involved in a cover up -- for the right reasons perhaps, but by all the wrong methods. How could anything come out of it but tragedy? Noah held no respect for truth and goodness because beneath the pretty cover-up was evil. On the outside, the village is peaceful. It's happy. Its members are content. Weddings and feasts are the norm... but beneath it is ugly, made so by the hideous secrets of those in control. You cannot judge a book by its cover, nor a person by the pleasant expression on their face.

END OF SPOILER

 

It also speaks about pacifism. None of the villagers were willing to take the offensive. They waited around in a huddle waiting to be attacked by "those we do not speak of" rather than becoming top dog. If you are powerful and dangerous, the creatures will not contend with you. This is interesting given recent events. America is the single most powerful nation in the world, and we've had to prove that in recent months. Mess with the US and you're in for trouble. The "If we don't bother them, they won't bother us" mentality that is so horribly rampant in our society is completely and utterly wrong. To not care about the rest of the world, to avoid showing any force, to sneak off in submission rather than stand up to the bullies in our lives only proves that we are cowards and weaklings. You cannot co-exist with monsters. The treaty will inevitably be broken and the consequences will be terrible. Christianity is all about compassion but also strength. When someone strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. If someone makes us carry their burdens a mile, we should take them an extra mile. However, this is not a message of pacifism. This is a message about giving more than we're asked to give. About showing mercy, but not weakness. If the villagers had shown more strength they could have uncovered the truth. Deception can only last while there are those weak enough to resist fighting it.

 

Then there was the implication that even when you know truth, deception still clings to you. When Ivy is in the wood, even knowing there is nothing to fear, she is still bound by fear. Ivy has been told the truth, but old habits die hard. She was raised believing the wood was evil, that monsters dwelled within prepared to envelope her. When she became covered in mud, she started crying and trying to rub it out of her clothing not because it was filthy but because it was covering up "the safe color." That's the devil's greatest advantage over us, that even when there is nothing to fear (as Christians there really is nothing to fear, because God is on our side!) he still manages to make us afraid. This is why we cannot accomplish all God has in store for us, because we're intimidated and frightened by the "creatures" we think are lurking just beyond the tree line. This is why good habits must be encouraged in youth, and old habits put immediately to death. We need to force ourselves to think positive, to believe the best in every situation, to convince ourselves we are courageous, otherwise when we go in the wood (the world) we will be intimidated and terrified.

 

SPOILER

Ivy was attacked and chased by a "monster" and managed to defeat it. What she didn't know was that it wasn't a monster, but a paper tiger -- a masquerade, a deception. Noah had become "the monster." When we finally have enough courage to become what God wants us to be, there will be creatures leap into our path. We need to remember that they're nothing to be frightened of and with God's help, can be defeated. Nothing is worth doing unless it's difficult. You can only show courage by action in spite of fear. There was no real danger involved for Ivy (although it is possible that Noah was just angry and confused enough to harm her) but even in believing there was, she rose to the occasion. She didn't cry and give up, but continued to fight. She had more goodwill and courage than everyone in that village combined, and she was blind! No matter who you are, or what handicaps you suffer -- mentally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise -- you can do anything in Christ. He is your strength, your protection, and your cheerleader. It is when we're the most terrified that we learn what we're made of; only then can we give the greatest victories.

END OF SPOILER

 

In each elder's house is a box of "sins" kept to remind them of past wrongs. I think we all have a black box in our lives, someplace where we lock away our secrets in the hopes they will never be discovered. But inevitably the truth comes out. We need not keep the black box, because Jesus is our salvation and forgiveness. If He can forgive and forget that sin, we have no right to cling to it; it only haunts us further and reminds us how unworthy we are. It impairs us from releasing everything into His hands, receiving personal forgiveness (God forgives us, but sometimes we take longer to forgive ourselves, and cannot if we dwell constantly on our failings), and is a cloud in our life we don't need. What is kept in those boxes is not previous sins, but the truth. The elders have locked away reality, giving themselves justification for their crimes, which are even worse than the past. They may have fled from violence and other forms of evil, but have fallen into their own trap by providing a different kind of terror. This is important because when we cling to our own black boxes, we too are sinning. We're sinning because we haven't let them go, that we haven't allowed God to free us from them. We might also be entertaining false humility; we're secretly proud that we remember because then we can be humble, impoverished, humiliated peons unworthy of God's love. Everyone is unworthy of it! But He doesn't want groveling subjects; he wants genuinely thankful souls willing to drop everything at His feet and continue believing they've been forgiven.

 

Ivy proves that true love can overcome any obstacle. She is blind, but it doesn't stop her from being courageous in the name of love. Love is blind! True love thinks not of its own safety but the desire to help others, as Ivy seeks to help Lucius. In the end it is love that preserves and saves him; love that leads her to truth, just as Jesus' love brings us Truth, and takes away Fear. Without love, Ivy would have never wanted to go into the woods. This action prompted her father to reveal the truth to her, that it was all a deception and her life was not risked going beyond the borders. Similarly our desire for truth leads us to greater truths... that Jesus died for our sins, that He loves us more than anything, that in a life of faith we can find assurance that even when we fear, He is still waiting for us, walking with us through the wood. He might not always speak, but He is constantly there. His Love redeems us from darkness, saves us from hell, protects us when we need it most. His Love is the strongest power on earth, stronger than anything else. Just as Ivy's love allows her to do great things, Jesus' love grants us power and strength.

 

It's interesting to note that red is the "bad color" to the villagers. We may draw the conclusion based on the history of the elders that they chose it for what it symbolizes -- red is the color of blood. Blood implies violence. Whenever we see red in the film, it has a negative connotation. Red flowers are plucked from the earth and buried. Red berries symbolize terror to Ivy in the wood. Her hands and blouse become covered in blood when Lucius is stabbed. Throughout the ages, blood has been highly symbolic because it is life. Without blood, the body cannot survive. This comes into play even in medieval imagery when vampires were so feared -- because they stole another's blood in order to live. But to Christians blood is much more important. It was Jesus' blood that saved us from death, His willing sacrifice on the cross. This blood defeats the enemy (Satan) and empowers us as God's beloved children. The elders chose to shun the color red because it is the color of blood, a reminder of the great evils in the world beyond the wood; but to us, it is imminently more important.

 

You can watch the film and see political ramifications, or you can see spiritual lessons. I would almost go so far as to say it reeks of allegory. The themes are there, provided you have the courage to look for them.

   


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