PG-13 | M. Night Shyamalan | 108 min | (USA) | 2004
This review evolved serendipitously as M. Night Shyamalan has a new film coming out this week. The Visit premiers on September 11, 2015 and, in preparation, my cohorts and I decided to review some M. Night Shyamalan films to pump ourselves up. I decided to review my favorite film from the Philadelphia-based director and, upon doing so, I found new meaning in The Village. In anticipation of his new September 11th release, I fortuitously came across post 9-11 fears emanating throughout The Village.
The Village uses fear to harness its inhabitants. What the elders have in common is that they founded their society after a deep bond of common loss. To do so, they tangentially build upon history books to disseminate stories of a nebulous enemy who lurks beyond their borders. Clear boundaries are drawn throughout the film between one society and another.
There are even wardens whose sole job is to “maintain and protect the border” without engaging in any conversations. Boundary transgressors are hauled in front of the elders for questioning without much probable cause. In short, everyone is to do as they are told, and obedience is instituted through a culture of fear and an absence of contrary discussion.
The absence of discussion propagates fear. No one questions the “bad” color. Nor do they question the stories behind “those we do not speak of.” As long as the villagers are fearful, they will follow the lead of the elders. Anything contrary must be buried or locked away, so the villagers must bury anything red and lock away secrets in boxes or under floor boards. When anyone inquires about the outside world, they are swiftly reminded of the loss and wickedness that exists out “there.” Thus the tales of horror encourage inaction in those who hear them.
Social control is reinforced through constant fear. Elders in the village have chosen the color yellow to represent their society. Interestingly the color yellow is often associated with fear. We have all certainly heard the reference before, perhaps from old Bugs Bunny cartoons asking, “what are ya yella?” to point out someone’s cowardice. Furthermore, the colors in The Village emulate the terror levels after September 11th, 2001. Red is the highest level of terroristic threat, and the thought of even an orange level had the nation hanging with bated breath on the every word of our own elders at the White House.
The constant presence of fear is reinforced in the film’s language and the villagers’ dialogue. There is reference to the forbidden forest, wicked townspeople, and stories of the great loss doled out by those outside the village. Village elder Edward Walker (Hurt) seems envious when speaking to Lucius (Phoenix): “You are fearless in a way that I shall never know.” The village elders justify their boundaries with their children’s innocence, as they “risk everything for a just and right cause.”
If you’re not picking up what I am putting down yet, let me be frank. The Village absolutely emulates the culture of fear perpetuated by the Bush administration after 9/11/01. After our collective loss we were told stories of a strange and mysterious enemy. We policed our borders with fervor and retreated to an older and simpler time similar to that of the Cold War era. Our actions and interactions were briefly altered. We policed ourselves, ever anxious of how our behaviors could be interpreted by others. There was an overwhelming absence of alternative discussions regarding where the terror actually came from and why. Furthermore, the terror color level kept us hidden inside our homes waiting to see if it was okay to fly again, or go to the movies again.
To support my assessment of the film, notice near the end of The Village when M. Night Shyamalan makes his cameo appearance. The radio talks about the deaths of soldiers overseas while Shyamalan reads The Philadelphia Inquirer where tales of death and war seep out of every page. And finally, our own national war story of innocence and just cause parallels that in The Village. I say so because we are left near the film’s end with the discussion of how the death of one family’s son will keep their stories real. Here art imitates life and leaves us at a crossroads. Do we continue to perpetuate the story even though, as the villagers argue, “forgetting allows things to be born again in another form”?