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"Lady in the Water" Reviews

July 31st, 2006 | 4 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I've come across a couple of interesting film reviews on M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water which is in theatres now. The first is by Torrey Honors Institute director John Mark Reynolds in which he argues that the film is not self-aggrandizing as many have written, but made too hastily and therefore done sloppily. You can read it here.

Another excellent review that takes what has come to be the "standard" take on Lady is posted below. It's written by a very bright and godly student named Chad Glazener.

"Today I was able to see the new movie Lady in the Water. I found the movie to be poorly made for several reasons, but after thinking through the themes of the movie, I think I understand why I disliked it with such ardor. Here are some of my thoughts…

"M. Night Shyamalan’s new flick Lady in The Water piqued my curiosity when I first learned of it. I was quite enthusiastic to see what new, inventive stories the director could create in a way that often re-defines the genres he employs. Today I had the opportunity to indulge in my curiosities, and I now have new understanding of the old truism “curiosity killed the cat.” I will attempt to not give any of the plot(s) away, but in my analysis of the worldview of the movie, I may indirectly show some interpretations I have about the film.

"While I was watching the movie, I attempted to keep an open mind about the film—trying to understand the movie’s worldview, its technicality, and look for fresh and creative film techniques that we need in order to re-define and expand the industry. I must admit that the movie had the potential to be wildly creative, but the worldview of the movie destroyed the actualization of much of its creativity—not only by compressing too many devices into such a short film, but also by presenting a dangerous and perhaps hopeless idea of myth.

"At most points during my screening, the movie felt like a propaganda film. Perhaps it was the blatant characterization that Shyamalan gave himself in this film or it was the confused worldview itself. In his movie Shyamalan focuses on the myth, or perhaps more broadly, “story,” in a way that induces a sense of wanting to accept story only because it is reminiscent of feelings we had as children of being lulled to sleep by fantastic and adventurous stories. In The Lady in The Water, Shyamalan wants to be so clear that we know that the movie is an examination of the power of story, that he names the lady herself “Story.” In the beginning exposition, we learn that Story comes from a distant and unknown land to do good to the people who do not know her, and that apparently need her so that man will stop destroying one another in wars and violence. Once she accomplishes her task of enlightenment, she is whisked away to the land from whence she came, and we don’t know if we will ever see or hear from her again.

"The problem, I think, with this basic premise, is the fact that Shyamalan proposes we cannot know the story without accepting it blindly with innocence,and once we accept it, we should seek to protect it at all costs. His protagonist, Cleveland Heep, is unable to learn more information about Story unless he displays a childlike innocence that is willing to accept the story about Story as fact. Shyamalan even goes so far to make this theme explicitly clear by having Heep physically demonstrates innocence to the person who knows the full story–so that he might learn more of the story. Heep then goes forth and tells the tenants of the apartment complex to believe the fantastic truths about “Story”—all who readily accept and are willing to protect this mysterious person without a second thought of whether she is actually sent to destroy them.

"The reason I felt like this was an insulting worldview is because it made me believe that hesitancy and reasoning about a story will reap negative consequences. I am told in Lady in the Water that if I do not accept the truth about story with haste, I will be unable to protect her and she will be destroyed. But how do I know that story (the character and the reality) is altogether worth protecting? How do I know that the creatures that seek to destroy her aren’t actually doing me a favor and protecting me? The only basis of evidence I have to believe and protect story is her own testimony, which isn’t even fully given or properly understood. I thought it folly of the characters to believe that it was wise and good for them to protect story without knowing that story might destroy them, or at least turn them against one another.

"Perhaps Shyamalan is attempting to communicate that the protection of myth, or the story, is what unites humans together against the forces that try to destroy it. However, if I don’t know how the story communicates truth to me and isn’t a lie itself, I think it is odd for us to try and protect it. It seems to me that this is the folly of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden: they exchanged the truth of one story for the falsehood of another—then chaos and death came, and sin overtook humanity. Shyamalan wants us to believe that it is our best good to protect story no matter the cost, because he does not propose any possibility of peril should the characters protect Story and the charactes who blindly protect story are portrayed as the heroes or heroines.

"I believe we ought to be more wise and judicious about the truth of story without having to innocently and naively accept it, lest we be destroyed. The movie creates a conversation about story which I think is beneficial to have, but is presented in such a way that it leaves me hopeless and in a state of peril—a state in which I cannot even reason the truth of a story but must accept it as gospel truth simply because its essence is fantastical and mysterious in a way that I will never understand. How frightening."

Thanks, Chad!

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.