This movie will have a place in my heart and an impact on my soul forever and ever.
I tend to forget about “Lady in the Water,” shoved in the back of my bookshelf collecting dust. I tell myself that I need to watch something light and fluffy, and choose something else. But about once a year something prompts me to pull out this DVD and share with a friend. This happened again last night.
It becomes more powerful and beautiful with each viewing.
Although it has a relatively simple style and presentation, the very starkness of the telling sets up the story exquisitely.
Artistically, the film is amazing. The music is perfect; I barely noticed the first few times because it fits so well into the story, but it is gorgeous in its own right as well. The acting is – for the most part – well done: Bryce Dallas Howard is ethereal, and Paul Giamatti stole my heart. Every shot is composed with purpose as part of the whole tale. Camera angles bring out a dull but gritty sense of reality.
This realism is particularly poignant because the cast of characters are at such extremes of reality that would be caricatures in any other treatment. But here they have a steady pulse and presence; not necessarily jumping out at the viewer, but remaining part of the overarching experience of humanity. Within one apartment complex there is the man who exercise only one side of his body, the silent bookish observer, the woman who takes in animals and attracts butterflies, the group of long-haired smokers who occasionally discuss serious things, and the spectacled film critic who understands stories.
The last one has a delightful place and commentary within and on this movie as a Story.
And finally, the Water Nymph (or “Narf”) named Story. And the weary, plodding apartment caretaker.
It is a story about Stories. The nature, purpose, and hope of stories. So it is a story about Hope. And it manages to convincingly, beautifully, soul-shakingly affirm that every human being has a Purpose.
Even the man who worked out one side of his body until there is a four-inch difference between the size of his biceps. He has a reason and place in Life.
The man who was hurt so horribly that he tried to give up hope, finds that he is still “so full of Hope that he awakens life in those around him”.
One of my favorite moments is when the sad bookish man asks our protagonist “Do you believe that man is worthy of being saved?” And our protagonist answers quietly and firmly, “Yes”.
This is not a “do we deserve to have Our Lord die on the Cross for our souls” question. It is a question of how men treat one another. In this society, the context that we have created for ourselves, does humanity have the right continue existing, continue hoping?
The director M. Night Shyamalan said that this movie is his “Bedtime Story for grown-ups.” It is a bedtime story, the fairy-tale of humanity that most grown-ups go to bed longing to believe. And it is wonderful. Half an hour in, I started to cry and I couldn’t stop. It was not a violent kind of weeping, but my eyes simply overflowed.
This movie – and most of Shyamalan’s work – has been viciously attacked by film critics. They do not seem to know how to handle the beautiful artistry but heavy-handed moralistic tones of his work. And there are flaws in his work, but right now I am buoyed up on “Lady in the Water” and could not tell you what they are.
Honestly, the viewer must be able to actively submit to the paradigms of the tale and allow the quiet moments to be overwhelming. This can be an impediment to accessing the movie, but I think that it is also a virtue and part what makes his work so poignant and powerful.
I was left wondering why I had not watched this movie since last year. Despite crying, I did not find it a sad movie. It left me with a quiet, gentle peace that settled into my bones like a cup of hot tea. It made me look around for a Narf of my own. And it gave me a momentary vision of how to view the world.
It gives me Wonder and Hope.