Archive for August, 2004

The Village

Unlike Roger Ebert (note: Ebert’s indignant negative review is a thing of beauty) and Stephanie Zacharek, I never promised Disney, Touchstone, or M. Night Shyamalan that I wouldn’t reveal the plot twists in Shyamalan’s most recent film, The Village (IMDB). I will try to put most of these revelations below the fold to protect readers who haven’t seen the film, but hopefully my review of the film will protect readers from ever seeing the film in the first place. In my initial conversations with Jim about the film, we did work out a fairly interesting “symptomatic” reading of the film, noting that The Village has a fairly engaging treatment of “isolationism,” of the need to withdraw from a dangerous and threatening world. Such an allegorical reading works pretty well, but in retrospect, I’m a little less impressed with the way in which the film works out that concept.

The basics of the plot: we begin with a small, isolated 19th century village where the villagers are threatened by a group of creatures who live in the woods beyond the edge of the village. These creatures (who have a pseudo-ominous name I’m too lazy to re-type) have, according to the elders, killed villagers who fail to observe the rules of the truce (don’t wear red, don’t go beyond the edge of the woods, etc). The elders succeed in frightening the children of the village from ever stepping foot into the woods to find “the towns” that apparently exist nearby. Despite these dangers, the villagers lead a happy, if unexciting, life, in which teenage girls are preoccupied with marriage, and schoolteachers recite lessons to attentive students (that part I liked). However, because of an “accident,” it becomes necessary to go to the towns to obtain “medicines” that will save one of the villagers. I’m probably revealing too much above the fold and do so at the risk of incurring the wrath of M. Night.

Visually, the film is relatively interesting. Roger Deakins’ cinematography fits the film’s narrative nicely. While Zacharek faults the film for having “an Old Sturbridge Village vibe” (I compared it to an Abercrombie and Fitch, or better, L.L. Bean, catalog photograph), the artificiality of the village seemed apprpriate to the film’s overall meaning. This artificiality translates into our perceptions of the characters who inhabit the unnamed village: we have the the kindly teacher (William Hurt), the spunky blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard), the village idiot (Adrien Brody in a rather disappointing performance and an even more disappointing make-up job), and the heroic and kind young man (Joaquin Phoenix), all recognizable stereotypes from similar fictions, and while I appreciated Dark City’s use of film noir stereotypes in conveying the artificial reality in that film, the treatment of the artificial in The Village falters considerably.

Spoilers ahead.

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Interstate 72 Revisited

Returned late yesterday evening from visiting friends in Champaign-Urbana for the weekend. I had a great time, and now I’m finally in front of a functioning computer with a working modem for the first time in days, so here are some basics about my weekend. I got to spend a lot of time with Jim, Renee, and Rowan. It was terrific to catch up with JR&R, especially Rowan, who is now aged 10 months.

Before taking the Brittain Fellowship at Tech, I taught for two years at the University of Illinois in a non-tenure track position, a job I deeply enjoyed. NTT’s at Illinois often get the chance to teach upper-level film and literature courses, which is pretty rare, and C-U is a fairly cosmopolitan college town (and getting better). While in C-U this weekend, I had the chance to revisit some of my favorite C-U haunts, including Cafe Kopi, where I wrote and revised countless pages of my dissertation, and the coolest video store I’ve ever encountered, That’s Rentertainment, where I rented most of the movies I discussed in my dissertation. It was also very exciting to see the improvements in the New Art Theater, and I enjoyed visiting the C-U Farmer’s Market, something I was too lazy to do when I lived there before (my antipathy towards mornings is well-documented). The only “negative:” I was bummed to learn that I would be missing a Barack Obama speech in Champaign by two days (he’ll be speaking, I believe, at the Champaign YMCA).

I also had the chance to catch up with one of my dissertation advisors, who now teaches at UIUC. Over coffee, she made some great suggestions about my Capturing the Friedmans paper, including the observation that CTF might be compared to An American Family, the pioneer 1970s PBS “reality TV” show about the Loud family. More details on the paper (and that comparison) coming soon.

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