The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lady In the Water (2006)

Lady In The Water (2006)

I hesitated to see M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, largely because I’d heard so many terrible things about this tale of a milquetoast apartment manager (the wonderful Paul Giamatti) who discovers a “narf” (a sort of water nymph) living in the bottom of the swimming pool.  M. Night’s blowup at Disney, the book written about the whole thing, his selection of a movie critic as the film’s know-nothing idiot…there’ve been millions of words printed about all of this, and I didn’t want that to taint the experience.

So I went yesterday, and this is what I think: I think that this is Night’s most intimate film.  It is a movie that really shouldn’t have been released as a major tent-pole, which is what every studio wants.  This is not a movie about characters, or even events.  It is a story about story itself, about the storytelling process, about what story means to people on the deepest and most personal levels.

He was putting his heart out there, using symbols that emerge not from the filmmaker’s lexicon but from the realm of dream itself.  It barely seemed an American film at all, and hardly mainstream.  I had to watch it out of the corner of my eye, to listen to it with my heart instead  of my ears.  Wow, I have no doubt that Disney didn’t know what to do with it, and wanted major changes made. Those folks are beholden to their stockholders.  After all—Night wasn’t making it with his own money, was he?  If he had, he could have made anything that he wanted.

No, he went to businessmen, and then complained when they behaved as such.  Which is a common thing for creative people to do—in the sense that creativity comes from that child-like place within us that wants to dance in the living room and have our parents and siblings applaud.

This is the work of a genius, even if it is not, itself, a work of genius.  And I’m not trying to confuse you, but I not saying it ISN’T.  I’m saying that it is a shared dream of understanding, compassion, courage. There is hardly a single human action in the movie that makes “sense” in any logical context.  The “fairy tale” that guides their actions and understandings feels as if it is being made up as Night goes along.

And somehow, that is just fine.  Approached on its own level, “Lady In the Water” is simply an extraordinary film, a haunting film.  I think Night is working at a level where he could crank out half-billion dollar blockbusters in his sleep.  I think that this time he tried something else, and it is up to the individual viewer to decide if it is to their taste.  I felt the magic.  You may not.  With that caveat, I give it an “A.”

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