Notes from Underground
does take a Village
By ANDY NOWICKI
|If you find this column of value, please send a donation of $2 to TLD. More information appears below.|
After all of the sound and fury attending Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" earlier this year, few of our trusted cultural nags have bothered to complain about a recently released film that, in the long run, may be even more subversive of today's prescribed and rigidly enforced sensibilities.
While it is true that critics don't like M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," most appear too dense to understand what is probably the true source of their hostility. The movie's point, after all, is subtle far more subtle than the blood-drenched "Passion," which boldly and brazenly told the gory story of Jesus's arrest, trial, and crucifixion, sparing neither Jews nor squeamish theatergoers in the process.
By contrast, "The Village" is a somewhat oblique social commentary masquerading as a spooky horror film. It doesn't advertise itself as something controversial; you have to scratch to find what is in fact gutsy and shocking about it. Critics are vaguely aware that it isn't kosher, but they aren't sure why.
Like all of Shyamalan's movies so far, "The Village" features a "twist" ending, which (spoiler alert!) I will reveal over the course of my analysis.
The setting of the movie appears to be a 19th-century utopian community, which sits in a picturesque valley surrounded by dark woods. The woods are said to be inhabited by monsters, known to the townsfolk as "Those We Don't Speak Of." Long ago, a truce was reached between the townspeople and the monsters: if the people stay in the valley, the monsters will leave them alone.
Beyond the woods, we are told, are places called "the towns." The elders of the village warn vaguely that the towns are evil places, best avoided.
Most of the people in the village seem perfectly happy staying put. However, some of the younger folk have some curiosity about the world outside their home.
Without bogging down in the details of the plot, I will say that it eventually becomes necessary for a young woman to make a terrifying journey through the woods and to "the towns." It is when she makes it to her destination that we find out the movie's "twist." Instead of taking place in the 19th century, the setting is in fact the present. The elders of the village, we discover, are Americans who, about three decades ago, decided to flee the decadence and corruption of the modern world and set up an agrarian community inside a nature preserve somewhere in Pennsylvania.
Apparently, these settlers elected to set the clock back and behave as though the 20th century had never existed. They took on not only old-style dress and lifestyle but also (and less plausibly) dialect. In order to keep their children from straying back into modern life, they made up the myth of monsters dwelling in the woods who will not bother the townsfolk as long as they remain in the valley.
The townsfolk live by mores that today have largely been abandoned. Traditional sex roles are embraced; women are in charge of housework and child-rearing duties, while men labor in the fields. Boys and girls are required to obey their parents. Sexual repression is viewed as necessary in order to keep the families together. The patriarch of the community, for instance, refrains from taking up with a certain widow though it is clear he is attracted to her because he is a married man. (Compare that decision with the radically different choice made by a "patriarch" of our country a few years ago!)
In spite of their outmoded customs, and in spite of the fact that the village elders have deceitfully concocted a lie about the monsters and simplistically painted "the towns" as havens of vice and depravity, the movie does not condemn the elders for their decision to secede from the 20th century and shun the 21st. In fact, scenes that take place in "the towns" prominently feature newspaper headlines and radio reports of murder and mayhem, which serve to underline the notion that perhaps the settlers chose wisely to leave when they did. At the movie's end, when the elders decide to rededicate themselves to keeping their community going following a period of crisis, the viewer is relieved: it would have been disappointing indeed if they had chosen to fold up their tents and slink back toward Gomorrah.
The boldest aspect of the film's critique of modernity is also its most subtle, but it is apparent upon reflection. Is it really only a coincidence that the townsfolk are all white? And given that crime is cited relentlessly as a reason for avoiding "the towns," is it such a stretch to call the villagers white separatists, who have left a world beset by social breakdown brought on by multicultural chaos, where whites are not infrequent victims of robbery, rape, and murder?
It could be that M. Night Shyamalan, as a non-white director, can get away with implying that traditional sexual morality and racial homogeneity may actually be desirable things, even for whites.
Lord knows the heat Mel Gibson would take for making any such implication. Still, white advocates should be gracious enough to accept the sympathetic overtures Shyamalan appears to be making however guardedly on their behalf.
August 4, 2004
© 2004 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.
If you found this column to be interesting, please donate something to our cause. You should make your check or m.o. payable in U.S. dollars to WTM Enterprises and send it to:
P.O. Box 224
Roanoke, IN 46783
Thanks for helping to assure a future for TLD!
Notice to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. You should check out our home page and table of contents.