About a year ago, I went and saw M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Village at the movie theater in Monroeville (Digression: Why the heck was that place closed? Now there’s no theater in that whole area. Anyway…) I was in town, Liam was up at Pennsic, and I decided I’d go see the movie. Even if it wasn’t great, I figured, I’d get a kick out of it.
Well. No, not really. Plot summary follows, don’t read it if you care.
Ivy and her family live in a little town in a valley surrounded by woods. No one ever goes into the woods, because there are creatures, called Those We Don’t Speak Of, out there. The year is 1898, and Ivy is untreatably blind. Her friend Noah is essentially the village idiot; he also can’t really get any help, because to leave the village you have to go into the woods, which see above.
In the last few weeks, Those We Don’t Speak Of have been more active than is their wont. They’re coming into town and killing things (Lambs. Puppies. No humans…yet.); they’re making more noise. The village elders are concerned, but no one knows what to do. Things hum along well enough, though, until Ivy and Lucius, the village blacksmith, fall in love and decide to get married.
No one realized Noah was in love with Ivy, you see. He stabs Lucius; Lucius is not killed outright, but develops an infection that threatens to kill him. The infection just can’t be cured with anything they’ve got in the village, nor presumedly out in “The Towns” they left to settle here. But Ivy’s father decides to tell her a secret: Those We Don’t Speak of are really him and the other elders in costume. They’ve been terrorizing their own kids to keep them out of the woods and away from the dangerous outside world, a world in which it is actually 1998. Noah found one of the costumes and has been running around causing the mischief that was worrying the elders, but now that they’ve got him under wraps it’s perfectly safe to go into the woods. There were rumors of creatures in the woods before they settled; that’s why they picked this spot in the first place; but of course it was all just nonsense.
Armed with this knowledge and some “magic rocks” she’s supplied to explain to the rest of the town how she can travel the woods safely, Ivy sets out with two escorts to go to The Towns and get medicine for Lucius. Her escorts wimp out and turn back, so Ivy is alone when she’s attacked by one of Those We Don’t Speak Of. She manages to trick the creature into a pit; as she is blind, she can’t see that it was Noah, who escaped the room he was locked in, got his costume, and came after her. In the denouement, Ivy reaches the outside, retrieves the necessary medicine, and returns to her home.
The problems with this are many and myriad. For one thing, there’s a question as to what level of civilization you could support with the resources the villagers are shown to have–a couple of hundred people, several hundred acres of decent agricultural land, some sheep, not much else–but I’m damn sure the answer isn’t “late nineteenth century”. For another, the villagers have been there at least 15 years; we’re shown a photograph taken right before they settled, which shows the adult Lucius as a babe in arms. Yet they still have cotton (or linen, it’s unclear) clothing that’s in good shape, paper enough to make party decorations of, metal for the blacksmith to work, glass windows, kerosene for oil lamps, and so forth. Do the elders claim to have stockpiles of these things? If so, what are they going to do with their little world when the stockpiles run out? Or do manufactured goods just appear, gifts perhaps of Those We Don’t Speak Of?
Then there’s the reprehemsible behavior of the elders. They are all essentially phobics, who turned away from the modern world because the violence go to be too much for them. One lost a sister who was raped and murdered, another’s husband was mugged and killed, and so on and so on. They decided to set up a society based on a simpler, safer time. Anyone who’s read Dickens should now be laughing his/her ass off. The difference between urban violence on 1898 and that in 1998 is that back then you had to wait for the morning paper to read about it, instead of seeing it on the 11 o’clock news. But they don’t seem to have grasped this; they just want to protect their kids from that fear…by inflicting another, similar fear on them. I personally think it matters little whether you’re afraid to go outside at night because you might be mugged or because you might be eaten by monsters.
As a consequence of this decision, the children are being, essentially, abused. One man’s son dies of pneumonia; Ivy’s vision isn’t examined; Noah doesn’t get treatment for his psychosis. If the power to help these things didn’t exist, of course, it wouldn’t be abuse, but it does, and the children’s access to it is being deliberatly restricted. The reason the elders could set up the village in the first place is because one of them is extremely rich; why didn’t they use that money to establish some sort of gated community, in which the kids’ access to modern culture could be filtered but they’d still have electricity and penicillin, and be free of red-cloaked giant hedgehogs?
Then there’s the fact that the director essentially validates the elders’ choice. The last scene in the movie is the elders, gathered around Lucius’s bedside when news comes that Ivy has returned and has killed a monster. The elders know it must be Noah, of course, and Ivy’s father tells Noah’s parents (also elders) that Noah has “given us the chance to continue this place”. And they agree to it.
It’s also never considered that the village can’t keep going the way it’s been anymore. The creatures were invincible when the only thing you could do was hope to placate them, but now one’s been killed, and by a blind girl alone no less. Sooner or later, some farm boy with an axe is going to take a notion, and one of the elders, on a periodic ‘invasion’ of the village, is going to get a severe but very brief headache. And then the jig’ll be up.