Lady in the Water (2006), M Night Shyamalan
A self-flagellating eco fable, a patronising puddle, a grey soppy mush about how everybody is special and all the rainbow colours of the world can come together and save mankind from its violent and cruel ways.
Lady in the Water could have been awful. All the ingredients are there (the quirkiness, the didacticism, the new age philosophies) but the film's brilliance is in its glorious triumph over cynicism. Throughout I had my hands clasped together and my eyes hungrily fixed on the screen.
A water nymph (called a narf) appears in the swimming pool of an apartment complex one night. The nymphs are said to be sent to help man change his selfish behaviour. Supervisor and handyman Cleveland and the other residents of The Cove discover that they have to keep her safe from the wolf-like Scrunts and help her get back home.
The nymph is called Story. The people of The Cove guard their (life) stories jealously. Cleveland and the hermitic and taciturn Mr. Leeds hide tragic loss from those around them. On multiple occasions characters whisper "Don't tell..." after having let slip some secret. They are insular and insecure about themselves. They are keen to create, adapt and strengthen their stories as suits of armour.
What is uplifting about Lady in the Water is how, by helping Story gain her happy ending, the residents gain contented acceptance of their own stories - their foibles, their troubles, everything that makes them them. Before they were hiding and separate and now they have opened up.
The character of the critic is instrumental. He sees stories, and indeed the world, as crudely logical, predictable and governed by strict rules. He is a cynic. Lady in the Water, on the other hand, feeds on magic and the idea that everyone is unique. The future is not rigid and we can make our own destiny. These may sound like trite truisms but Lady in the Water revitalises ostensibly naive sentiments with its vigour and candour.
Lady in the Water feels as if it is made up as it goes along. That is how it is meant to feel. It comes from a bedtime story. Bedtime stories jump into the long grass and scuttle off in unexpected directions. They are full of little 'buts':
"Oh no Daddy, they're going to eat her!"
"Ah...but you see...there were three strange creatures called the Tartutic..."
The mood of the piece is pleasant and transporting. It flowers.
Yes, I found it funny and moving and exciting. Lady in the Water is a story for children that makes you think and feel like a child - freer and less neurotic about what lessons we are being taught. And if it is a bedtime story, what better way to drift off to sleep than on the back of a giant soaring bird?