Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Songs of Innocence and Experience

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE

FURTHER COMMENTS ON THE VILLAGE

NB – CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

Little Red Riding Hood was having difficulty with her colourblindnessThe family – and therefore the “wildlife preserve” – is called Walker because Walker is George W Bush’s middle name. During Shyamalan’s teasing cameo in the park-rangers’ office – “we maintain and protect the border” he shows himself leafing through the Philadelphia Examiner and reading a story about 19 American soldiers dying “overseas”. Shyamalan’s pictures are seldom as complex as they may first appear, and The Village can thus be taken a fairly bald allegory for the climate of fear whipped up by Walker and company (and companies) – and a fascinating fuure double-bill partner for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

See also The Truman Show, The Wicker Man: the crazed, misguided idealism of Hurt’s Walker standing in the lineage of Ed Harris’s Christof and Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle. Though The Village picture’s basic equation remains Witness + Dogville (Howard replaces Nicole Kidman in upcoming Dogville prequel Manderlay.) Further reading: Shirley Jackson’s short story ‘The Lottery’, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others. The difference being, all of these predecessors hang together under analysis. Why can’t The Village make similarly solid sense?

Walker and the others must have exiled themselves to The Village in the early 1970s – before the birth of their children, the oldest of whom are the thirtyish-looking Kitty Walker (Judy Greer), Noah Percy and Lucius Hunt. So why would they go to the bother of pretending that they were living in the 1860s? Couldn’t they have had this artificially “innocent” community without adopting old-world modes of speech, dress, etc. Wouldn’t they just have created a Kibbutz? And how handy that history-professor Walker hails from such a mega-rich family! The rationale for this rickety background would seem to be more dramatic than realistic: it gives Shyamalan the chance to craft a better, twistier, more surprising story.

Shyamalan shows signs that he realises the script doesn’t really hang together – he clumsily inserts a line to explain how aeroplanes don’t fly over the preserve, and it’s only moderately convincing. Which is much more than can be said about the ludicrous business involving Noah Percy and the ‘creature suit’ he oh-so-handily discovers under the floorboards of the ‘Quiet Room.’ And how sloppy to have ‘crazy’ Noah the one responsible for the animal-skinnings, and for knifing poor Lucius in order to kick Shyamalan’s plot along towards its lofty goals.

The attack on Lucius is a breathtaking moment – but the whole ‘twist business’ is becoming Shyamalan’s downfall. After The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, he seemed keen to break different ground – the only twist in Signs is that the picture isn’t much good. But it did much better box-office than the vastly superior Unbreakable. Early word soon got out that The Village – originally announced as The Woods – was a return to twist country. Which immediately set everyone puzzling…. The isolated-community angle was surely the give-away: the ‘monsters’ would perhaps turn out to be modern-day Americans. Or perhaps they’d be aliens and the setting, while ostensibly Earth, would turn out to be on another planet – as in the seminal 1964 Outer Limits episode A Feasibility Study.

It’s clear from the start in The Village that All Is Not What It Seems. Though reference is made to ‘prayers’, this “1897” American community is noticeably lacking in a church or any clerics. There are no shops (are they supposed to be anti-capitalist?), no police (anarchist?), no electricity, no doctors. This last element is, of course, what sends Ivy on her perilous quest – but why didn’t they foresee the problems a lack of medical supplies and expertise would present? Why does Edward send a blind girl out through the forest? Why doesn’t he just go himself? How did he know she wouldn’t discover the truth?

Is the picture about her faith in herself and Lucius, or about Walker’s faith in The Village? That’s probably the philosophical nub of the whole thing. But it’s hard to contemplate such weighty questions when your mind keeps wondering about stuff that would work fine in a fable, but not in film. Such as where do they get their hats from? And their pianos? Who tunes them? Who makes all that paint?

13-14. 8. 04

by Neil Young