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Via Media

In Defense of M. Night

I wouldn’t say that I was ever a M. Night Shyamalan "fan," although was as taken with The SIxth Sense as most other people, saw some value in Unbreakable, but thought Signs, despite the strong faith element, was too measured (and the whole aliens and water thing struck me as silly, considering the H20 content of the atmosphere, but what do I know. Don’t answer that.)

But I do appreciate that he’s actually trying to create something new and meaningful in his work, and that faith and even rather specifically Catholic motifs play a role (he went to Catholic grammar school and an Episcopal high school).


When I saw the first trailer for Lady in the Water, I was intrigued. The first trailer just featured Paul Giamatti being intrigued by the sounds from the swimming pool, etc. Then the second trailer came out – with the suspense and "Save the world!" element added, and I lost interest.

Then the reviews started coming in, and I saw that evil in the film is essentially represented by a film critic character and I thought, "Heh. He’s daring them to hate his movie!" And I thought…well, maybe. That’s sort of amusing. But then I read the spoilers and

(after the jump)

…was sort of appalled at the egomania of M. Night casting himself as the writer whose stories will save the world.



So, no I won’t be seeing it any time soon (as if I would be seeing any movies any time soon) unless any of you can convince me otherwise. Steven Greydanus gave it a "D", Barbara Nicolosi walked out on it, but in Slate…Ross Douthat defends, not the film, but M. Night himself, especially in contrast to other directors of his generation, who may have started off making a small film or two of interest and intelligence, but have, to but it bluntly, sold out to the blockbuster, the sequel, and the comic book:


In The Village, as in all his films, Shyamalan seems to be aiming for something, amid our summers of high-grossing superhero movies and our winters of little-seen Oscar-bait projects, that’s increasingly rare these days: a marriage of entertainment and art, of mass-market tastes and elite sensibilities. This is a hard combination to pull off, as his stumbles have demonstrated, but it’s precisely the goal that the film industry, home to our last mass art form, ought to be aspiring to. So, Shyamalan deserves credit, despite his vanity and his missteps—not because he’s succeeding, necessarily, but because he’s willing to keep trying and unwilling to take his place with those timid, highly compensated directors who know neither victory nor defeat.

The man obviously needs a colleague or two to reign him in, give him feedback and even write with him…

Anyone seen it?

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posted July 24, 2006 at 2:00 pm

I saw ‘Lady in the Water’ this weekend…I thought it was an excellent movie.
Intriguing plot, interesting characters, suspense, etc….very well put together.
Funny thing is…I didn’t care for the 6th Sense or Unbreakable.

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posted July 24, 2006 at 2:26 pm

I like Mr. Shyamalan’s movies because they are different and sometimes kind of offbeat and I appreciate the religious imagery/ideas he inserts to some degree, in all of his movies. Don’t forget about “Wide Awake” – not many have seen it and IMO, it’s a great family friendly movie (although it has Rosie O’Donnell as a nun, yuck). This new one I will probably end up waiting until it’s released on DVD, not that one has to wait long for that, these days.

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Jeff H.

posted July 24, 2006 at 3:47 pm

“Wide Awake” was wonderful in portraying a youngster dealing with the death of a grandfather, the illness of a friend and the work of the angels. A more recent cool film dealing with death of a mother by a REALLY devout youngster is “Millions”. (St. Claire as you’ve never seen her befored!)
I never understood why “Signs” got shellacked so badly. Mel Gibson as a recovering pastor trying to swear (and not wanting to) is hilarious. The work Shyamalan does on Divine Providence in it is awesome.

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posted July 24, 2006 at 4:13 pm

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I also like M. Night’s movies. They’re rather unique and often have a moral underlining the plot.

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posted July 24, 2006 at 4:15 pm

The twist-at-the-end format is getting predictable. I loved Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but he’s probably gonna have to expand his horizons as a storyteller soon.

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posted July 24, 2006 at 4:38 pm

I’ve like other movies by M. Night Shyamalan such as The Sixth Sense, Signs, and to a lesser extent The Village. Lady in the Water was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in quite some time. It was very slow moving and not much to the story. I kept waiting for something to happen and it didn’t. I didn’t think Unbreakable was very good. But Unbreakable is much better than this movie. I should have asked for my money back.

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elena maria vidal

posted July 24, 2006 at 4:49 pm

I have enjoyed all of M.Night’s films very much, although I have not seen the new one. He may not be Catholic but there are always spiritual truths in his films which remind me of some of the great mystical writers such as Saint John of the Cross. “The Village” especially had elements of “The Dark Night” and “The Spiritual Canticle” in it. His films always leave me with something to ponder.

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Jeff Miller

posted July 24, 2006 at 5:06 pm

See Catholic blogger Steven Riddle’s blog for a positive review.

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kathleen reilly

posted July 24, 2006 at 6:38 pm

it’s bizarre how critics seem to absolutely *loathe* the movie — with a vengeance — but lots of “lay” reviewers seem to love it. That fact alone makes me want to see it.

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Charlotte Allen

posted July 24, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Don’t you think it’s interesting that the first entry in the crossword puzzle is “in human form,” and the answer (given by the boy, I think)is “incarnate.” Christian themes of healing and redemption seemed to be everywhere. I don’t think it’s his best movie, but I was riveted nonetheless. That apartment building alone was worth the price of admission.

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michael hugo

posted July 24, 2006 at 7:17 pm

I loved this movie. It had a quirky, “independent” feel to it, despite the Hollywood production quality.
I thought casting himself as the writer was a little strange, but I was enjoying myself too much to really notice.
It is a fairy tale set in a modern apartment building. It has interesting characters that you care about, along with an intriguing plot.

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posted July 24, 2006 at 9:22 pm

I really really like M. Night’s stuff…I had NO idea he did “Wide Awake” which is one of my favorite movies, and I really loved “Signs”. I WANTED to like this movie. But I really just couldn’t. There were certain points where I felt like it would start to get good…and then not pay off. It was the most frustrating film I have ever seen. Also, I was put off by M. Night playing the writer who will bring great changes…but I loved the girl who played his sister (she was in a Law & Order episode..yea i am a law&order junkie) and I enjoyed the Korean university student. I was really disapointed by the film (and the random cave man animation at the beginning was just hilarious in its ridiculousness…probably NOT was M. Night was going for). I would recomend Pirates of the Caribbean over this movie ANY night.

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Robert Duncan

posted July 25, 2006 at 7:18 am

Mark Butterworth reviewed it for us at Spero — he likes it, and then to respond to criticisms he wrote a defense of his review. I personally don´t know what to think.

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posted July 25, 2006 at 8:33 am

I like Night’s movies, and I expect I will like this one too. His vision just resonates with me, artistically and spiritually.
If he’s not a Christian, he darn sure could have fooled me.

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posted July 25, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Who knew that this movie would turn out to be a St. Blog’s pop culture controversy? Now I’ll have to see it . . .
Elena Maria, I am intrigued by your comparison of The Village to the writings of San Juan de la Cruz. Would you be more specific, please? I’d really like to know what those spiritual truths in the film are. Thank you. :)

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posted July 25, 2006 at 12:56 pm

I saw the movie, and it was a lot better than I had expected. (I had read the Decent Films review of the movie before, so I was expecting to be jerked around, but a friend wanted to see it, so….)
First off, Shyamalan is cast as a writer whose stories will affect a person who will change the world, which is different from the megalomania of his being a writer who writes stories that save the world. Whatever his motives, spending too much thought on this and on the depicition of the critic as “arrogant” sort of misses the point.
On the whole, it is a modern-day fairy story. I like the semi-twist wherein all the previously concieved archetypes were the wrong people for the specific jobs in the scheme to save Story, which in a way is a reminder of hope that the world is still original and human life dynamic, even if the cynics (like the critic) claim to have seen it all.
Overall, I think CS Lewis would’ve loved this one.

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Andrea Harris

posted July 25, 2006 at 11:31 pm

Really I’m not sure why it’s so bothersome to some for a director to act in his own movie, even star. The only important thing to consider should be, does he act well in it, or is he stiff and amateurish? Expecting a movie director to be humble and self-effacing (which I think is what is irritating people about M. Night Shyamalan — describing him as “arrogant” and so on) is an exercise in self-defeat. Creative people have big egos, there is no getting around that. Truly humble, self-effacing people don’t do things that get them in the public eye.

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