Making stuff as a founder of Avocado. Former music-maker. Tuna melt advocate. Started Google Reader. (But smarter people made it great.)

Enjoyed watching Lady in the Water.

A few days ago, our shitty, grind-core world had again been borrowing recipes from Hell's cookbook, so some escapism seemed menu-appropriate.

Dodging thoughts on the ongoing global fuck-nuttery, Mai and I went to see Lady in the Water and enjoyed a couple of hours of light-hearted distraction. We talked about it again after a couple of days and, on reflection, we both still liked it.

The eyes of a Narf.A quick glance on the internet shows, however, that we're very, very, very alone. If film criticism is a fried egg, then the yolk of this film's reviews is a yellowing, runny derision.

Yet we had fun despite having heard bits of the industry-insider context surrounding its release and there seemed to be a lot of other people in our theater who laughed at the funny bits, shrieked in places, and exited reasonably satisfied. It's possible that everyone's well-enough met expectations were low. (Something has to account for the lack of Siegel-esque walkouts.)

Since most of you will avoid the film given either the reviews, disinterest, or a dislike of ol' M. Night, I feel okay with writing a brief counterpoint for the undecided: a spoiler-free list up front and spoiler-aware reactions following after some stills.

Some spoiler-free things I liked about Lady in the Water

  • Reggie standing near the pool holding a paper plate.
  • Heep's role-playing on the couch with the milk. His slow regression. His leg. (And I did a non-liquid spit-take when I saw his leg.)
  • The camerawork. Maybe C. Doyle should be required to work on every film ever released? Ok, he and R. Deakins.
  • The design and movement of the Scrunts.

  • The score - beautiful. Jealous here.

  • The pen and cup trick.

  • Young-Soon on the phone. "Put my mom on."

  • Heep attacking the sink creature.

  • "That's why they're the Guild."

  • The sprinklers. (Got me every time.)

  • The relationship between Vick and his sister, Anna, and her gossiping: "Mr. Heep is a play-a."

  • Characters getting things wrong the first time they try to do something new.

  • The uncaring, arbitrary, and often dangerous rules of fairy tales.

Not gonna see it? Ok, below the group of frame fragments is a more detailed, spoiler-tastic set of thoughts.
Ok, this is the spoiler-included portion of today's post. Here's a small list of things that didn't bother me about Lady in the Water but which may bother you, intensely and to distraction. Illogical mythology One of the chief frustrations I've read from so many others stems from the inconsistency of the Rules of the Narf's fairy tale. ("It's like they're making it up as they go along.") I shared a similar impression regarding the Rules but actually enjoyed that dissonance, since the inconsistency seemed appropriate given the characters' analytic mistakes and the arbitrary whimsy of childhood fables. The tension of not knowing why or how or of feeling secure in repeatable, falsifiable premises seemed entirely the point to me. I really like this about the movie, it's a cosmic game of Telephone, a symbol of our fumbling for understanding in a deeply weird universe, particularly given the absurd Rules that make up our own.
  • Light's a wave and a particle? {*}
  • Invisible, odorless substances keep us alive or can kill us? {*}
  • Tiny strings vibrate to make our reality? {*}
  • Objects change color when they move toward or away from us? {*}
  • Time works only one way? {*}
Fuckin' trippy. In fact, since we're experiencing the weirdness, why let the universe hold a monopoly on arbitrary, intentionally game-able rules, when we can make our own to match? At least one of the following Human Rules makes the Narf's mythic goals look actually mundane.
  • There's only four downs? {*}
  • I can't touch the ball with my hands? Except when I can? {*}
  • Y'all have to stop hiding when I say some magic words? {*}
  • I gotta move that cylinder into that net by swinging this stick? While standing on shoes with metal rails for soles. While standing on ice?? {*}
  • A Rook can't move through other pieces, unless it's a King and the Rook and King are on the same rank, and the player has never moved the King or the Rook, and there are no pieces between the King and the Rook, and as long as the King won't pass through squares under attack by enemy pieces, and as long as the King won't be in check after the move? {*}
Weird, weird, weird. Something about a set of Confusing Rules feels weirdly authentic to me. I imagine I might feel this uniquely. Too much stuff. This are lot of new terms for the audience to digest. (Examples: Narf, Scrunt, Tartutic, Blue World, Eatlon, Symbolist, Guild, etc.) People who expected a rock song got a symphony instead. It was the right amount of new information for me but I had a childhood filled with fantasies, fables, and fairy tales which invariably would coin an outlandish or unpronouncable label or two. (Mithril, Saltheart Foamfollower, Psychohistory, T'Pau, Tatooine, etc.) Unreliable sources. I wonder if the biggest problem audiences have with liking the movie's mythology is that Story, the Narf becomes an unreliable narrator of the greater story. Story misreads the character assignments and seems to crucially misunderstand the Rules of the Narf mythology/bedtime story. In fact, after Story's first assumption about the completion of her mission results in a near-lethal Scrunt attack, I assumed she didn't know the details of her own myth and if she didn't know it, well then it seemed unlikely that Mrs. Choi's childhood rememberings were going to be more authoritative and so I was willing to continue to suspend disbelief about the events that followed. Basically, I assumed that given malformed information I wouldn't be able to understand the Rules without a source that wasn't Story or Mrs. Choi. The martyrdom of M. Night Looks like Manoj cast himself into a role of a writer whose writings and martyrdom will save his country, a future foretold by Story. For many the grandiosity and hubris of Shyamalan's implication about his work is crucial to their disliking the film. I think that's a pretty reasonable reaction. I wasn't bothered by this partly because I'm no longer surprised by directors playing crucial parts in movies (see also "Mookie" in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing or "Christine" in You and Me and Everyone We Know) and partly because, in my reading, the future told to the writer is suspect given that it comes from Story, otherwise known as The-Narf-Who-Didn't-Guess-A-Single-Clue-Correctly. Ultimately, I don't really know or care what Shyamalan thinks of himself, but for those whom that matters, this movie seems designed to grate. If this is going to be bothersome for you, I'd highly recommend skipping the film. I didn't let it get to me, though, because if I'd been bothered by Hollywood divas I wouldn't have had the pleasure of seeing Out of Sight, or Silkwood, or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, or here in this film watching Reggie hold back the Scrunt with just his stare, holding a paper plate, his body rigid in both defiance and surprise. That sight alone was worth a ticket to me. Specific nits There are particular points of confusion that seem really painful to some viewers. My reactions varied from many - I wasn't dissuaded from continuing to invest emotionally in the film, but I can see why others were. Here are some of the tricky bits, and my responses to 'em. Why didn't Story just swim away back down the hole to the Blue World? It seemed to me that the animated illustration suggested that the Eatlon flew Story to the pool. I also assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the hole in the bottom of the pool was just her version of an apartment and that it didn't lead to any other realm. I also assumed she stayed there until she could work up her courage to complete her mission. I never assumed she was heroic, so I was okay with her being reticent to begin her quest. Why didn't the Tartutic attack earlier? Dunno. Gods are capricious? The Tartutic seem to judge according to their whim. This didn't really suprise me since deities in myths (or their enforcers) often don't confront evil until after great harm's been done to humankind, so maybe, like other mythic beings, the force behind the Tartutic just works in strange and mysterious ways. Why did the Eatlon pick up Story while everyone was present? Story's an unreliable narrator ... I couldn't believe her now, on this point, either. :) I assumed that the myth could account for a group of saviors, or a group of Guardians. But I wasn't concerned as I felt the group had earned the right to see the end of the bedtime story. Why does everyone believe everything so quickly? I never expected the world of Lady in the Water to be a replica of ours as it's immediately mythic and strange and the burden of disbelief was removed for me the minute I saw Story. This will be too troubling for most viewers, the filmmakers made a risky choice. I imagine many will be uncomfortable with Mr. Leeds' exhortation, "I want to believe!" but I felt that the inhabitants of The Cove were right to be gripped by the barest hint of fantasy in their lives, particularly as it's suggested that they'd been "called" to their tenancy there and they may have sensed a greater force at work already. Lady in the Water seems to hinge on faith in the unreal and extra-sensory and though I think it would make for a poor, serious document of the human condition, for me it made for a good bedtime story.
posted at August 01, 2006, 9:00 PM


  • At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Adam McClard said…

    I don't normally read blogs, but found myself looking for more after just viewing this film.

    Im actually glad to see something unique and out of the usual from Hollywood at all these days, with so many re-hashes and other such nonsense. I was pleased to see a story that gripped pure whimsical fantasy, and borederlined it on the harshness of the reality we live in. Making a middle point (the cove) where a balance is made of people who are and arent affected by both. This Oasis of odditiy people, and random nobody's where all there for the reason. Although I realize once the film critic was spotted in the movie, he would only meet his demise to discomfort the ones who were watching. I think besides the fact a person put's themself into a movie, reguardless of reason, is purley simple, the work is from you, its a part of you, and you are it and it is you. When you are to make a story work, only one person can know the characters well enough to actually sit in the spot and act it just the right way.

    I hold a lot of respect for this movie. Fairytales are there and the history is complex as they are fabled. I think people should look for the reality in them, and find where the truth of the time they were written lies. Inside most tales there is history to be found that also may be forgotten.

    Look at the USA's knowlege of the mythologies of Lemuria. The average joe only knows Atlantis. How about Egyptian history? Anyone ever read the Jade Tablets of Thoth and ever thought twice?

    There is a lot to this world, there are pyramids and cultures at the bottom of the oceans, covered by time like a pearl. For people to find the fantasy that is fantasy, you need to look around you and wonder why things just work the way they do.

    In Asia where I live, I have seen things that I have been taught all my life not to believe in. The use of energy for moving objects without touching them, etc. Skeptical mind's are skeptical because they themselves fear realities outside their shells.

    This movie breaks shells, or knocks hard enough to make a stir. I think it did it't job.


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