Fiction is about “suspended disbelief” and being a fan of sci-fi and fantasy fiction I love being taken to amazing other-worldly places with great characters. Over my summer vacation I’ve indulged my passion and watched the last three seasons of the sci-fi show “Farscape“ and the whole “The Lord of the Rings“ trilogy while tooling around my apartment. A friend commented that she wasn’t very imaginative, saying that she couldn’t get into the LOTR thing because she couldn’t get into the whole elves and hobbits and monsters thing. Alas, the best sci-fi and fantasy makes one forget about the funny ears or weird languages and connects the viewer with the fears, struggles and triumphs of its characters. Understandably my friend expressed no interest when I said I was going to M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film “Lady in the Water.” It’s too bad that some people let their need to “be real” get in the way connecting with an amazing story with amazing people.
This film doesn’t take one to an amazing place (a la LOTR) but uses the same thematic thread that made the original “Matrix“ film so powerful: there is something to this life that we’re missing when we just live day to day and there are forces at work who want to keep it hidden from us and others who want to bring us into the light…
I had read a review of the film during my trip to AZ and let’s just say that the critic wasn’t overly impressed. Maybe the critic took it too personally when M. Night chose to use the “film critic” character as a self-referential bit of comic relief. Perhaps Shyamalan just felt the impish need to do away with the whole “surprise ending”/”critics won’t like this” question. If anything, he made a graphic example of what can happen when one depends too much on formulas or the arrogant over-estimation of ones own intelligence. “And they made a decidedly satisfying ‘thump’ when they hit the floor,” to quote another sci-fi character.
When I told my brother I’d seen the film he asked how Paul Giamatti, previously seen in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man,” did. The film works primarily because of Giamatti’s performance. For the most part they don’t give best-actor awards for work done in sci-fi/fantasy films, but Giamatti most definitely deserves more than just a nomination for his work here. The critics may not like the work because Shyamalan poked fun at them. And others, like my friend, may pass the film by because they’re not into “those kinds of movies.” And worse than all that are the film-makers (often sci-fi) who forget that all the special effects in the world are not going to help a film with no story or characters whom we don’t give a damn about. Shyamalan definitely kept this film in the hands of Giamatti and his strange neighbors, reserving the special effects to brief glimpses and an beautiful ending sequence.One of the more satisfying things about this movie is that Shyamalan pokes fun at himself, the genre, and the movie industry’s complete lack of imagination and soul, while at the same time not forgetting that he’s telling a story that originally began as a bedtime story for his daughters. This brings me back around to the attraction these stories have for me, the sense that we can be greater than we are, that our existence has a purpose and that we are connected to the one(s) who set things in motion in the beginning. The truths are not in the narrative itself but in the vision of ourselves that it presents. I wonder if we can remember that when we read about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as when we read about orks, elves and narfs. JBB