Bewildering Stories

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The Village, directed by M. Night Shyamalan

(release date: 2004)

film review by Mark Koerner

Village cover

Any number of science fiction stories tell us about isolated settlements trying to make a go of it on a hostile planet. Twilight Zone fans may remember “On Thursday we Leave for Home” (May 2, 1963), which plays the notes that all such tales must play to be any good. In these stories, the place of human habitation is warm and comforting; the surrounding environment is hostile. Culture, not nature, is the good guy.

The Village is one such story — or seems to be. A settlement of perhaps a hundred people is surrounded by “Covington Woods,” a forest that seems to go on forever. The Woods are taboo because they are home to the mysterious “those we do not speak of,” i.e. bogeymen. Years ago, the Village people settled down to an uneasy truce with the creatures, marking the boundaries of human territory with rows of torches and banners. They even have a watchtower recycled from The Great Escape and a handy warning bell that they took from the Witness warehouse.

The people look and seem Amish, though with important differences. Their leader is a schoolteacher (William Hurt) rather than a religious figure, the girls dress in bright colors, and the Village elders include women as well as men. A gravestone in the opening scene says “1897,” but the clothes shout “1840 through 1870.” These details, along with the formalistic talk (“I am feeling tired now” rather than “I’m tired”) hint that we are watching an allegory or parable rather than a real historical drama.

As the plot unfolds, the truce between “those we do not speak of” and the Villagers unravels bit by bit. The monsters appear and disappear, smear blood on doors, and, most menacingly of all, skin pets and livestock while leaving the bodies otherwise untouched. During a wedding reception, the Villagers sacrifice a pig for the creatures, but to no avail; the monsters are just too mad — and we don’t know why. But we do know who will be at the epicenter of the upcoming disaster: a blind girl named Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) her betrothed, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), and the Village idiot, played flawlessly by Adrien Brody.

Matters come to a head when one Villager is dying and Ivy and two others volunteer to hike through the Woods to get medical supplies in “the towns” that are said to exist somewhere in the distance.

Any number of science fiction stories also tell us about people who have lost touch with their own past and live in a world where they are ignorant — or are kept ignorant — of a Larger Reality. Total Recall and The Truman Show belong to this family of stories. It is not giving away too much to say that The Village does, too.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Koerner

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