starring Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrein Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, July Greer and Michael Pitt
written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
From the same director as the sadly unscary horror movie Signs, The Villagesticks to the pattern of Signs, thus telling us more about M. Night Shyamalan’s personality and artistic vision. What a bore. We saw no aliens in Signs, and there were no monsters in The Village, which is what I wanted to see, based on advertising for it that I saw. Well, bravo! Maybe this is Shyamalan’s point. The aliens and the monsters are within ourselves. We are the aliens. We are the monsters. And that is the real horror. Well, excuse me, but I already knew that. Doesn’t everybody?
For most of the film I believed what I was seeing. It was presented as a pioneer American village in the 1890s, but with an awful, supernatural thing living in the nearby woods, thus limiting the inhabitants’ mobility. But as it turns out there is a clever twist. A very clever twist. The village is not a pioneer American town at all. It is a contemporary town hidden deep inside a restricted wildlife preserve, peopled by idealistic men and women who fled the vices of modern American cities in order to live in “innocence”and raise their families in a condition of innocence. That means a life totally isolated from the world. No modern conveniences of any kind. No money and commerce. Living off the land. It is totally Rousseauian. But a person doesn’t have to be a university professor to understand the folly and impossibility of it, founded on classic Grecian hubris.
I think the error of the idea that getting back to, or closer to Nature restores us to some kind of lost condition of virtue is immediately obvious. First, because humans occupy a morally fallen condition, meaning that we take depravity with us wherever we go. Second, because civilization is not that which alienates us from Nature so much as it is that which protects us from it. Nature is not nice.
As the‘pioneers’ have children and raise families they ceaselessly spin the tale of‘creatures’ living in the surrounding woods in order to scare their children into passively living within the crazy lie. Like children going on summer camp and telling ghost stories to each other before sleeping at night in the pitch dark cabin in the middle of the pitch dark woods. Until one day the lie cannot be sustained any more. Isolation from the world does not prevent depravity and loss of innocence within their little paradise. A man is mortally wounded by a fellow villager and his fiancé opts to brave the creatures in the woods and travel to the outside to get life-saving medicine. But before she goes the village headman, her father, tells the awful, unbelievable truth to the girl. The horror is the realization that existence as she knows it is based on a lie, which is a vital lesson for all of us to learn because it is so true of all human life.
Social coexistence depends on the acceptance of certain conventions - usually a pack of lies. Cultural life rests on a social mythology. Running away to live in isolation in the woods, close to nature, will not purify us of vice and deliver us to innocence, or make the children born there innocent and pure by association. That is a false vision of humanity. Humanity is naturally fallen and depraved, as anyone who foolishly chases Rousseau’s dream will discover. The founders of the Village were wrongheaded from the very start.
It should have been scarier, with real monsters.