Lady in the Water - Questions in the Water

20th Century Fox
Duration: 120min
Category: fantasy
Available: On DVD
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The movies that are the most fun to review are the ones on which we are torn. The ones we love are fun to praise but that gets tired fast. The ones we hate are fun to trash but that gets tired even faster. Itís the ones that trouble us, the ones we react to in complicated ways, that are the most fun to talk about.

Lady in the Water is one of those movies.

Lady in the Water isnít really so much a movie as it is a thesis. Itís hard to explain to someone who hasnít seen it but M Night Shyamalan hasnít made a ďmovieĒ in the sense that we think of Hollywood films, so much as he is making a statement. Or at least that is what I understand he is doing as I wouldnít want to be so arrogant that I assume his intentions.

In Lady in the Water Shyamalan casts himself as a writer with some world changing manuscript to publish. This writer is caught up in a story of such unbelievable ridiculousness that an audience would never buy it. In this story is a film critic who is so egotistical and misguided that the audience isnít able to see him as anything but a pathetic phoney who fortunately meets his gruesome, untimely end.

Yes, this film really is that arrogant.

When I say ridiculous I mean that the story itself is silly. Itís convenient for its own sake. Rules change blatantly so that the point can continue to be made. Itís like a child who makes up a game and changes the rules as suit them as the game progresses. Characters narrate the events happening around them and also happen to have every necessary piece of information at their finger tips. They also accept without blinking an eyelash the most implausible mystical scenario presented to them. A more deliberately constructed story I havenít seen in a long time.

But thatís the point. Shyamalan seems to be asking us, why not? Why canít he tell the story that he wants to tell however he wants to tell it? Why canít he revel in clichťs, employ stock characters, play with physics and logic, cheat with switcheroos (the kind Annie Wilks despises), and pretty much tell his story his way? If he enjoys it and there is an audience for it, why not?

So despite his contrived story, I am with him. I agree that the rules can and should be broken. Convention should be challenged and the edges of story telling should be pushed past our accepted limits. Sometimes this will lead to wonderful new concepts and areas of the imagination to explore and sometimes this will lead to tales that are different but unengaging.

Think of how much more I would have been impressed if I had actually bought into the story.

Just as the story teller doesnít have to follow anyone elseís idea about how their story should be told, the listener doesnít have to be enchanted by each one. As much as I was intrigued by the message I was getting from Lady in the Water, I wasnít loving the story being told to me. It didnít resonate in that place where stories touch us and speak to our experiences.

Instead it felt more like an angry tirade against those who have challenged his work in the past.

All of this could be my misinterpretation. Maybe Shyamalan simply like it when characters are clichťs and figure everything out far too easily. Maybe he wanted his story to be awkward and random. Maybe he didnít care about posing a credible threat for his heroes to face. I doubt it. I think he wanted to play with the limits these ideas present.

I would like to thank him for presenting me with something that provoked my feelings and thoughts on these issues. As someone who loves cinema, I am always asking myself why. What is it I love about being told stories in this way? What do I respond to and what do I have difficulty accessing. Lady in the Water asks these kinds of questions and for that I am grateful. For sitting through 2 hours of a story I really didnít care aboutÖ not so much.

Review By: Collin Smith

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