Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wednesday Reboot: The Village

The Village was released in 2004 and stars Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and Joaquin Phoenix. It was directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan.

The movie opens at the funeral of what can only be a small child, judging by the size of a casket. The year on the tombstone reads 1897.  The community gathers to eat when suddenly a horn is blown.  They all stop and stare and look into the distance.  When nothing happens they continue their meal.  It seems that the community is very much a rural setting with gender roles that appear very defined. Though men and women are both on the town council, the women knit during it.

It seems that the community is terrorized by a group of beings which they call, "those we do not speak of." When an animal is found dead with its fur removed, the children begin to speculate that "those we do not speak of" are terrorizing the people of the valley but Edward Walker, their teacher, tells them that they are not in danger and that they have a treaty with "those we do not speak of". More animals continue to appear, but the elders say that it must be a coyote or some kind of "mad animal."  Apparently the color red attracts "those we do not speak of" and so they bury everything that they come across with this colour.

Lucius Hunt is a man of few words, but he senses that there are secrets in the town that no one will speak of.  He asks to go to the towns, to trade for medical supplies but to do this he has to walk through the forest of "those we do not speak of."  He believes that they will sense his bravery and good intention, and let him pass, but he is rejected by the council.  When "those we do not speak of" make an appearance in the town, the citizens lock their doors and windows and hide in shelters under their houses.  Lucius believes that he is at fault for their appearance because he crossed into the forest out of curiosity. The next day, the community leaves an offering of a dead pig at the border of the forest.

A romance is clearly developing between Lucius and Ivy Walker. She is blind and very much a free spirit.  When Lucius tells her that she runs like a man, Ivy sees it as a compliment. Though Ivy cannot see, she claims that certain people have a colour surrounding them.  It's actually Ivy who proposes marriage by asking Lucius if he will dance with her on their wedding night.  Lucius is frustrated that Ivy always wants to lead but he admits that he loves her and promises to dance with her on their wedding night.

When it is announced that Ivy and Lucius are going to marry, Noah Percy pays him a visit and stabs him in the stomach with a knife.  It seems that Noah is also in love with Ivy.  When Ivy leans that Noah was found covered in blood, she walks to Lucius' house and finds him unconscious. Noah is locked away and when Ivy goes to see him, she smacks him several times across the face, until she is dragged out of the room.  Ivy asks for permission to go to the towns to retrieve medicine to save Lucius.

It turns out that Lucius has an infection and needs antibiotics to survive.  Edward is thinking of going back but he is reminded that he took an oath not to return.  Eward cannot shake the feeling that what happened to Lucius is a crime. Edward takes Ivy aside and tells her of her grandfather, who was the richest man in the town.  Apparently he was killed in the his sleep by his business partner.  From this we learn that most of the elders have a history of violence in their families.

When they walk into the forbidden cabin, Ivy learns that "those we do not speak of" are not actually real.  Apparently, they were based on a myth of the area and created to keep the community afraid of going into the towns. Ivy asks about the skinned animals and Edward tells her that he believes that one of the elders is responsible. He asks for forgiveness for the lies and then says that she cannot understand the pain that caused them to make this decision.  Edward gives her directions to the towns and makes her promise to tell no one in the towns where they are. 

When the elders meet again, Edward tells them that Ivy has asked to go to the towns for medicines.  They are not at all happy but he asks who they think will continue this place or this life if they don't protect the young.  He feels that if they did not make this decision that they could never again call themselves innocent. When asked how he could have sent Ivy because she is blind, Edward says that she is more capable than most.

The two young men who escort her into the woods turn back through fear and so Ivy must go on alone.  They tell her that because she is blind that "those we do not speak of will have pity on her."  Though she has been told that "those we do not speak of" are not real, she is confronted by one in the forest.  Considering that Ivy is blind, how did she know that the creature was several yards in front of her? She tricks the creature into falling into a hole and he dies.

Back at the village, Noah's parents realize that not only is he missing but so is one of the suits they kept under the floorboards. All of the dead animals were Noah's handiwork.  Back at the village, Edward opens up a memory box and holds up a picture of all of the elders dressed in modern clothes in front of a counseling centre.   It turns out that  living in the village was all Edwards idea.

Ivy stands on the road and she is met by a ranger named Kevin wearing a uniform with name Walker on it. Interestingly enough, Walker is also the last name of Ivy and Edward.  When she tells him her name, he goes into an outpost and gathers the things on Ivy's list.  His supervisor warns him not to get into conversations because it encourages people to get curious.  Apparently the government has even ordered that planes are not supposed to fly over the village.

Back in the village the elders sit and watch over Lucius and a boy comes running in to announce that not only is Ivy back, but that she killed a creature in the woods.  Noah's parents begin to cry, realising that their son is now dead.  Edward promises to find Noah's body and give him a proper funeral. He says that they will tell the others that Noah was killed by "those we do not speak of" and that his death has given them a second chance to continue, because now they will all believe in "those we do not speak of." 

When I originally watched this movie, I really liked it and I still do. It makes sense to me that victims of violence would want to run from their memories and a place that had caused them so much pain. I don't understand the absolute dedication to such rigid gender roles though.  In the village, the survivors also created an all White, straight, cisgender world, which leads one to believe that marginalized people are responsible for the violence in the real world. I don't like the idea of a privileged utopia, as it suggests that life was better when marginalized people knew their place.

The Village is one of the few movies in which you will find a disabled person as a lead character. Ivy is smart and capable with a strong sense of right and wrong. Her father however casts her by a super crip when he says that "she is more capable than most."  Though he claims that he chose her because she is inspired by love, I highly suspect that he chose her because she could not see.  Edward wants as little corruption from the modern world as possible. I am further troubled that the villain in this movie was Noah Percy - the only neurologically atypical person.  It sets up a binary of good disabled versus bad disabled.  It is also worth noting that neurologically atypical people are often cast as violent and people to be feared in the media. 

I like the idea of a communal society, where everyone works for the betterment of the community rather than personal gain.  The acting was stellar though at times William Hurt, who plays Edward Walker came across as condescending but I believe that is the fault of the script and not the actor.  The Village is unique in the genre and asks the question if you could really escape the modern world, would you?