Wednesday, August 16, 2006

LADY IN THE WATER - a deeply affecting fairy-tale for adults

I know I'm gonna catch all manner of crap for this, but I found THE LADY IN THE WATER to be an enchanting and deeply affecting movie. I wasn't even going to see it because the reviewers had universally panned it. But The Kid wanted someone to take her and, as I am also on vacation, I was roped in.

So, why have the critics panned this movie? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that M. Night Shyamalan (the writer, director and supporting actor) comes across as an arrogant twat in most of his press coverage. "Night" as he styles himself, appparently sees himself as a visionary auteur who is misunderstood by an uncaring and insensitive world. In Night's personal mythology, mean studios and film critics embody all that is wrong with the world - cynicism, conformity, and (ironically) arrogance. Now, I am not for one minute arguing that film critics can't separate the work from the author - you can hate Wagner the man but love his music, after all. But it is very difficult to separate the two when Night creates a movie that really is just an elaborate representation of his personal mythology. To some extent, I have very little sympathy for Shyamalan. Would it really have been so difficult to cast an actor other than himself as the writer whose work will be so criticial to man's future that the sea-nymphs have sent one of their own to "awaken" him and ensure the work is completed, even at risk to her own life! Not content with casting himself as the saviour of the world, Night then goes on to depict as a film critic (played with suitable froideur by
Bob Balaban) as an arrogant false-god who comes to a violent and deserved end! I was all ready to hate a film that seemed such an extension of ego but.....

Why did THE LADY IN THE WATER weave such a spell over me? Maybe because I am still just a six-year old kid at heart, wanting to believe in sea-nymphs. Maybe because I like the idea that ordinary people can come together to achieve a great good. (Hokey, I know.) I think it is because this movie, like THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE before it, touches on two subjects that have pre-occupied me over the past year: the difficulty of grieving and the difficulty of knowing what purpose life has for us. That Shyamalan chooses to tackle these subjects by using elaborate metaphors and child-like fantasy may seem odd or difficult, but I found it worked really well.

If I look at things objectively, THE LADY IN THE WATER worked for me because first and foremost it created a fantasy world that was internally consistent and so credible. Second, the cast was universally excellent, from
Paul Giamatti as the world-weary Janitor/hero to the supporting cast that includes Jeffrey Wright. Maybe it's because the movie was shot by Christopher Doyle - a man who is known for capturing luminous, haunting images but who can also unsettle with his choice of what is in the frame and what isn't. So often in THE LADY IN THE WATER the camera focuses on the person reacting to dialogue rather than capturing both of the talking heads. Or we look through water, or around corners. There is a particularly stunning shot near the end of the movie where Paul Giamatti's janitor is saying goodbye to the sea-nymph as she is taken back to her world by the eagle. It would have been difficult to show such an event conventionally without breaking the magic. Doyle shoots it up through the swimming pool so that the action is just distorted shapes in the moonlight.

Like I said, THE LADY IN THE WATER has been much maligned by critics and I can see why. Despite being aimed at adults it's an out-and-out fairy-tale in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm (i.e. it includes a fair amount of sexual tension, some racial stereotyping and a lot of scary stuff.) But I have to tell it how I felt it, and for the
second time this year, risk losing any shred of credibility I had as a reviewer. This movie appealed to the little girl who believed in fairy stories in me. As a simple story of faith and hope in a world filled with terror and disaster it affected me deeply. So I would urge you to give it a shot.

THE LADY IN THE WATER is already on release in Thailand, the US, Singapore, India, Chile and the UK. It goes on release in Hong Kong, Iceland, Mexico, Egypt, France, Argentina, Spain and Germany in August 2006. THE LADY IN THE WATER opens in Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Estonia, Australia, Hungary, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal and Italy in September. It opens in Japan on October 21st 2006.


  1. Bina,

    i read your review for KANK and i was so impressed, it felt
    like i was reading the words of an intelligent person who knew when she was being played and when she was being duped, then I read this thing and i am like shocked.

    that movie was beyond bad, incoherhent and embarrasing.
    it was stuck together by spit and made so sense, i mean it created an anything goes and lame story.

    when was it fun?
    what was so fun about that oversized nymph who can't take the few steps it takes to get back into the dumb pool. why would she go back, it looked so boring in there,
    where was the magic?
    where did she go with the dumb eagle.

    why didn't paul's character just talk to the asain girl near the end about the meaning/what to do w/ the nymph i mean he did get all the info about her from the asian girl in the first place/////he recruits the whole apartment except the people who know

    how come the nymph kept giving night's character such bad news, its was really funny.....everyone laughed

    why did she sleep in his lap the first night? that was so weird.

    i feel bad for sarita, she was good and keeps getting stuck in these dumb movies.....


  2. I know I know. I can't believe it myself. But please keep reading the reviews - normal service will return!

  3. Hey Duncan, hey cuz. In fairness to Bina, whenever she gives a review that is against consensus she tells us that too, so we know to take it with a pinch of salt. However, I also suspect she was smoking crack during that screening!

  4. "(i.e. it includes a fair amount of sexual tension, some racial stereotyping and a lot of scary stuff.)"

    Sounds like my little corner of Newbury Park to me ;)

    Oh, and sorry bina, this film was a turd. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  5. But Nik have you actually seen it? I am amazed at all these people who seem to have seen it just so they can be mean about it!

  6. Girl, i went to the movie even though I had to go alone cause no one i knew would go. everyone i know is burnt out on SHAMMY and just over it, but i like the genre and the idea of a spooky, cooky thriller made me want to go, and sadly i was
    dissappointed as soon as the film got going....this huge half naked woman walking around and acting like she had eaten a donut stuffed with ruffies just made me feel uncomfortable....she was far from NYMPHISH if u get what I mean, but SHAMMY used her any way
    --i'm going to go out on a limb here but i suspect he's in love with this girl cause he tried very hard to make a dumb movie.
    even the group grope at the end with everyone in a prayer circle felt so lame and forced and the whole time i'm thinking i should be getting emotional but i'm just feeling embarrassed, like i walked in on someone taking a volatile dump, and then the scene felt so phony and i felt like he was being way to manipulative by laying on the crap in that PAUL'S life --like the dead family and the stutter --tooo much already....oY!


  7. I think Bryce is beautiful and looks perfectly waif-ish.

    But on a more serious note, your comment raises a vital question: Is Shyamalamalan hotter for Bryce than K-Jo is gay for "King" Khan?!

  8. well lets just say that i was at a certain
    JWMarriot reaching for a bagel w/ cream cheese
    and locked eyes with K-JO just before he had a
    meeting in the ladies room with his main squeeze.
    ----that is all i can reveal at this moment ( cause i forgot the name but i will dig it up and come back with it)

    SHAMMY is defintly hotter for BRYCE cause he practically bet his career on it. IF he is not in love with her then he definitly wants to BE HER.

    And will please someone tell NIGHT that the SHAG he's sporting now works only for JAPANESE TOURISTS cruising on MELROSE !


  9. Does that mean his main squeeze in a lay-dee?

  10. Wow, the impossible happened!! You liked a movie that I liked.

    I much enjoyed the movie. I wasn't too impressed with the acting though, but the story itself definitely captured me.

  11. Excellent. Carrie, it's good to have you in my corner!

  12. Hey Bina, you got another one. I finally saw the flick tonight and thought it was quite enjoyable. Does everyone else realise it was a PG? As in for kids?

    Maybe I'm just greatful it didn't rely on some silly twist. Glad to see Shamalayan break out of his mould finally,

  13. Cheers Ali - nice to get some more support!

  14. I know that most of the world hated this movie but in the end this is a M. Night movie and any deadpan who have seen his previous movies that his writings are out of the box.

    This time maybe a little too far out of the box, but for me it worked. Will I see it again? will I buy it on DVD? most likely not and will only purchase the DVD when it goes onto sale or find it at a discounted rate.

    But the end of it I enjoyed the movie. In the dark the storie worked for me. The comic characters in the show is very much a cado to Night's facination of Comics and personally think this move was first of all made by Night for Night and not so much for other audience in mind.

    Anyway I think and feel that the story and characters are not half bad as everybody makes it to.

    Ronni Marker