Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Modern Day Fairy Tale

I just saw one of the most refreshingly original movies that I've seen in a long time. It was Lady in the Water, M. Night Shyamalan's new film.

I'm actually writing this post in response to Barbara Nicolosi's recent comments on the movie, because I completely, wholeheartedly, and most passionately disagree with every word she wrote about Lady in the Water, M. Night Shyamalan, and his other films. I have never been disappointed by a Shyamalan movie, and this one was no exception.

Lady in the Water does more than stimulate our imaginations. It challenges them, and takes them back into the realm of fairy tales. We've all heard fairy tales, or bedtime stories, at some point in our lives, and this movie proves that we're never too old to hear them. Every story with a meaning is worth hearing, and everything worth hearing has a meaning. The allegories and hidden messages of this story are woven into almost every scene, just as in any classic fairy tale.

Fairy tales are usually meant for kids, to entertain them, to teach a lesson, or to highlight some aspect of humanity. The best fairy tales were created by the imagination for the imagination, and they always have a deeper meaning than what is first heard or seen. In every good story, whether fantasy, fiction, or real life, there is a message, an inner-meaning, a truth to be seen and shared.

The message of Lady in the Water is simple but profound (and obviously a bit too deep for today's critics). Everyone is connected. Everyone has a purpose. It is up to each person to find their purpose and to do their part for the common good. The people around us are each unique and powerful. Everyone wants to be someone, and to matter. To be loved and remembered.

The fact that so few people appreciate Shyamalan's genius is very sad, because the fact that almost no critic can see the purpose of Lady in the Water tells me that America has lost its imagination and its sense of wonder. I'm sorry to pick on Ms. Nicolosi again, but for someone to say Lady in the Water is "monstrously bad storytelling," and then call The Devil Wears Prada one of the best movies of 2006 shows the sad fact that originality and imagination and hidden meanings and allegories and even fairy tales are no longer appreciated nor wanted.

What would it take for a brilliant movie like Lady in the Water to resonate with our hearts? Well, it's a fairy tale, a bedtime story, and those kinds of stories are usually written for kids. How does a child perceive fairy tales? Don't they look at them with the open imagination and mindset that anything is possible and that some things may not be immediately explained? Don't they sometimes see things that eccentric characters reveal about humanity that a philosopher could not? And don't they learn that being who you are is the best way to bring about change and hope...and a happy ending?

Maybe we need to be like kids again to be able to feel a resonance with movies like Lady in the Water. Maybe we have become so used to being handed the meaning when we watch a movie that we have forgotten how to look for it and find it ourselves. Maybe we've forgotten how to listen, and to wonder.

Everyone loves a good story, and everyone learns from a good story. And Shyamalan certainly knows how to tell a good story. What I learned from this movie is that even the most seemingly insignificant person can change the world, and we can experience incredible things if we just believe. But most importantly, we can find great support in our communities, because each person plays a part in the lives of the people around them. Man cannot make it on his own.

And learning from stories is sometimes the best way to find out who you are.


Barbara said...

Sarah -
There are lots of people who enjoy Bud Lite and think it's a good beer. In fact, it really isn't by comparison to other beers. There are people who stand in front of the Pieta and wonder what the big deal is. There are people who hate classical music. And there are people like you who think that Lady in the Water is a brilliant film.

It really isn't. I could go through with what is wrong with it from every possible consideration of cinematic storytelling.

I actually know something about cinmeatic storytelling having been a screenwriter for a decade, after getting a graduate degree in it, and then afer having worked in a production company. I have read hundreds of scripts and screened hundreds of films as a film juror for several national film festivals and awards.

Now, I am willing to grant that all of that means nothing to you. But in fact, it should.

That you enjoyed Lady in the Water says that very little about the film, but much about your level of appreciation of good movie storytelling. The truth is, (and I am being harsh here to match the harsh comments you made about me as a critic), in terms of cinema, you know only what you like, but not at all what you are talking about.

But I am sure Shymalan is very grateful for your bad taste! You are absolutely allowed to enjoy his movies -- as long as you know that your enjoyment is the same as that which some folks get over eating pork rinds and gummy worms.

(Heh heh.)

seacb said...

Thank you for your comments.

I am honored that you took the time to comment on my lowly blog.

I greatly respect your level of cinematic expertise, and I have no doubt that you know what you are talking about. I had no intention of offending your authority, if you will, as a critic.

But in the case of this movie, I see what you see, but I see more.

Thanks again.

JB said...
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JB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JB said...


I'll be watching this movie tonight. I'll tell you what I think.

However, I doubt I will have much effect on this dichotomy.

Until then, take care.

Publius said...

I get enjoyment over eating pork rinds and gummy worms, does that mean I have bad taste?

A world in which beauty is objective creates a level of conformity I'd rather not think about...

Julie D. said...

Wow. Here I just thought that you watched a movie and enjoyed the layered depths of the storytelling. Instead I see that you were too stupid and uneducated to see it's idiocy ... unlike the educated who have degrees.

I sure hope that M. Night realizes who he's supposed to be making movies for.

Once again, I feel that Sancta Sanctis is right on target in saying that Ms. Nicolosi "has forgotten how to be a boy." Or, evidently, even in how to just go to a movie.

Steven said...

Dear Seacb,

I wouldn't pay too much attention to critics. They serve a useful purpose in correcting excess, but they're often the very last to recognize brilliance.

There were a hundred critics who spit on Monet's Impression:Sunrise and a hundred more who were outraged at Le Sacre du Printemps. We're still told in college courses that Charles Dickens isn't really literature and will be for years to come.

It's perfectly all right to have a difference of opinion, and I would just thank God that I've not been granted the great critical insight (in this discipline) that blinds me to the sheer beauty and fun of what is happening on the screen.

I don't need to be instructed in how to see a film to enjoy it, regardless of what some critics think. And then the critics wonder why the world treats them so poorly.



Kip said...

Ha ha ha, that's so funny (the comment that is, the review was nice).

"You should accept what I say because I am an expert"

Man alive, that sums up so much of what is wrong with the arts and society in general these days.

Like Steven said, there are hundreds of critics who would insist 'The Rite of Spring' is great music, but the unindoctrinated ear just goes 'blechh, what a noisefest!'

And think of all the excrement -- actual, literal excrement in some cases! -- they try and pass off as Art. If young Michaelangelo really did carve his Pieta today, no doubt the critics would unanamously tell us it was in the same league as Bud Light and gummy worms.

Adoro Te Devote said...

Just to show a parallel to your take on the movie and Nicolosi's:

I have been a musician for years. About 4 years after I began playing the flute, my brother began playing the guitar. When he went to college, he studied music, and his knowledge far surpassed mine.

He got a little full of himself, too--I think that's what happens when people get educated about certain things. He took a course in music theory, and he would play this atrocious stuff and tell me it's "good" and that if I understood all the theory behind it and what it all meant, I would love it, too.

I had to remind him that beauty is recognized by the ear, or the eyes, not so much by the intellect. Music, and cinema, etc., do not need to be understood from a detailed, over-educated point of view in order to be appreciated.

As far as that dischordant stuff my brother pushed on me? He got tired of it, too, but amazingly, he really loves clasical music now. Amazing how the truth of true beauty can reach the heart. I think you understand that and captured it well.

After reading your post, I really want to see this movie now!

Kip said...

Oh, how I recognise myself in your brother! I spent years trying to love that terrible music, but deep down my heart always rebelled.

Strvinski for example, a Macbeth type character, misled by the wicked muses of his time into throwing away his undeniable talent, but also a criminal who was part of a conspiracy to destroy Western Classical music!

It's true, the 'classic' music of our time is Elvis Presly, Duke Ellington etc, Classical Music as it used to be was murdered by the academy.

Tony said...


When I first started blogging, Barbara was a regular read for me, and I linked her in my original blogspot. Then I read this little pearl of wisdom of hers:

Blogging can foster narcissism. There are a lot of people blogging who really have nothing to say. They are reaching out into cyberspace for some kind of connection, but they would do better to read the best bloggers and restrict themselves to the comment boxes there.
The Problems With Blogs

That was it for reading her blog, or linking to her from mine.

So since she is responding to you in a comment box, I would take that to mean that she counts you among the "best bloggers". You should be proud :)

Tom said...

I don't think it's really true "that beauty is recognized by the ear, or the eyes, not so much by the intellect." Lemurs have eyes and ears, but I don't think they've ever demonstrated much appreciation for Keats.

Of course, if a particular sound hurts the ears, that fact will likely affect the intellect's apprehension (or not) of beauty. Maybe music theorists learn to ignore pained ears in favor of some mental vision? Like Twain said of Wagner's music, it's better than it sounds?

Enbrethiliel said...


Now I'm reminded of G.K. Chesterton's introduction to his book on Robert Louis Stevenson. He wrote (with tongue only partly in cheek) that critics used to write "Appreciations," but when it came to Stevenson, they started writing "Depreciations."

I really like your "appreciation" of Lady in the Water. :)

Anonymous said...

as long as you know that your enjoyment is the same as that which some folks get over eating pork rinds

Oh, there is something wrong with pork rinds? Have you ever eaten them freshly rendered, delicately seasoned and served with ripe, organic canteloupe?

I may have missed something in culinary aesthetics that told me that pork rinds were nothing but junk. Something I have missed in my years as the food critic in a major market daily newspaper.

But, hey, I stand corrected, and will make a point not to enjoy pork rinds next time my Mexican friend (who makes the best pork rinds in the world) offers them to me with a cold beer.

Anyway, Barbara, I am more on your side than you think, but you could use a silent retreat for a little bit. Might I recommend the High Sierra? Lovely this time of year.

JB said...

How do we know that the original comment was posted by Barbara?

As far as I can tell it could have been posted by me or anyone else who took five minutes to create an account on blogger and then disabled access to their profile.

Just a thought for those jumping in feet first to share their distain for Barbara.

And a special prize to anyone who can guess who I am. Lotsa luCk!

JB said...

Hey look, I can even change my display name to Barbara!

Hmm, very tricky this internet!


JB said...

Re: publius' comment concerning beauty, "A world in which beauty is objective creates a level of conformity I'd rather not think about..."

Beauty, it seems, must be that which is also true. For, what is true must certainly be beautiful, and further, what is beautiful, must be true.

For, if a beautiful thing is false, wherein lies its beauty? For example, La Pieta is beautiful for many reasons, one of which is that the event portrayed actually happened, which deepens our appreciation for the artistic skill with which the scuplture was executed. Now, if the scene of La Pieta had never happened, then that would be one less aspect, one less mode, in which we could appreciate its beauty. For beauty must be based on truth.

That is to say, beauty is fully convertible with truth, which in turn is fully convertible with being. However, being is not something subjective, but rather, objective, for it exists outside our intellects and is only conveyed to them by sense impressions upon our imaginations (cf "De Anima") Therefore, isn't beauty objective, in some way? Granted, the proper accidents of beauty may include proportion and relation, but that is not to say that beauty is "relative" or "subjective".

Indeed, when Aristotle in his "Ethics" states for what cause a man is to be virtuous, the Greek can be aptly translated as "for the sake of the beautiful." But virtue, it seems, is something objective. Therefore, if something is done for the sake of the beautiful, i.e. virtuous actions, and we call virture objective, it seems unlikely that what it is performed "for the sake of" would be subjective.

That being said:

Whether or not the original comment was made by Barbara Nicolosi or not, the commentor had very little, if anything, of substance to say. Therefore, I will not reply to "barbara" as commentor, but only to the post on her actual blog that she made concerning LITW. And I will do that on my blog:

Where I will also address Sarah's post concerning LITW. Although I admit that, while I found some things of merit in the film, Shyamalan has mostly failed.

Another note: "barbara" can't even spell "Shyamalan".

Now, Re: zzbottom. Your comments are (1) not contributing to the intellectual discussion, (2) rude, (3) unnecessary, and (4) intrusive. I would appreciate it if you either contributed something productive or never commented on this page again.

JB said...

I just re-read my comments about zzbottom and must apologize for what was a crass display of intellectual elitism and hypocritical finger-pointing. Please accept my apologies Mr./Mrs./Ms. ZZBottom and thank you for reminding us of what many on the internet forget, that not everything is what it seems at first glance.

JB said...

re the zzbottom comment @ 345pm:

I know both "sarah" and "publius" personally, and trust that my comments will be taken not as "intellectual elitism" but in the vein of good-natured conversation in which they were intended. If not, I'm sorry; I only intended to help the conversation.

As for zzbottom, I'm sorry if I offended you, but you're really not presenting yourself as trustworthy.

Barbara said...


Actually I can spell. What I can't do is type. Eventually I am going to learn.

Sarah -

I am sorry that my post of yesterday came off sounding boastful and arrogant. I was smarting from something else and should never surf St. Blog's in that frame of mind.

My point was not to suppress your opinion with a list of my credentials, but to suggest that there is a level in which cinema is an art form, and that art forms have actual elements which can be attained to or fallen short of by the artist.

I have a friend who is a docent at the National Gallery of Art. She has a doctorate in art and, I know that she sees much more in every painting than I do. I have had to learn to separate my personal taste from the equation, knowing that I might be yawning in front of great works of art because I don't know enough about composition to see what is in front of me.

That is all that I was saying. But I said it badly. So sorry.

You were very gracious in your response to my post. That says a lot about you. Do let me know if you are ever in L.A. I'd like to take you to lunch.

P.S> This is from the real "Church of the Masses" Barb. I don't want anyone taking credit for my apology!

Tony said...

P.S> This is from the real "Church of the Masses" Barb. I don't want anyone taking credit for my apology!

Nice followup post, Barbara. You might want to make your profile available for viewing if you don't want confusion as to who you are.

Publius said...

Regarding the above post:

what is your problem? You have no business posting that kind of trash here, and it shows a lot about you personally that you do so as "anonymous".

Regarding JB's response to my comment:

I agree with with most of what you said here. I didn't mean by saying the beauty isn't completely objective to suggest that it is completely relative.

If something is beautiful (or, rather, we perceive it to be beautiful) then, yes, it must contain some aspect of truth with we can relate as human beings. (as a part of being, as you said)

If beauty is based upon truth, and if truth is objective (which I don't think we have to establish between us), therefore beauty must be objective as it is appealing to some truth.

I guess that means that what I really meant was the taste should not be considered something objective, since what we call taste is really just a perception of beauty.

How does individual taste fit into the definition of beauty? Is it just that there are different ways of perceiving the same truth (through beauty) in the same way that there are different words with the same definition? An example would be someone who finds sculpture distateful, but prefers another medium of beauty that expresses the same truth as la pieta.

I don't know :-)


JB said...

Re: publius

I see what you're saying, and I agree. Although further discussion would be nice.

Re: Anonymous

Please read what Publius said about your comment. I agree with him.

Adoro Te Devote said...

Tom ~~

You did NOT just compare a human being's appreciation (or lack therof) with a lemur's, or did you?

Sorry, but that's a completely illogical point of view. I do think though, that appreciation can be intellectual, but my point (although maybe made too briefly) was that one does not have to "go Hollywood" or be overeducated in order to understand good movies or good music.

Personally, I'm not a fan of "music theory". There's a reason it's only a theory and not a fact, and "modern art" is only so much trash in my humble opinion. I respect the fact that other people disagree, but then it's just a matter of taste. The world would be a bland place if we all agreed, although overall, those who run the Arts in this world could really use a course in good taste.

I think they've forgotten what it is.

Tom said...

You did NOT just compare a human being's appreciation (or lack therof) with a lemur's, or did you?

Sure I did, and I tell you, we come out looking pretty good in comparison!

My purpose was to point out that eyes and ears, considered as biological apparatuses, do not recognize beauty. If by "the ear, or the eyes" is meant hearing or seeing, then I agree that's how we apprehend beauty -- but the human intellect is necessarily involved in our hearing and seeing.

JB said...

Re: adoro

Actually, I think when one properly uses the term "music theory" the meaning of the word "theory" is much stronger that the common understanding of the term (i.e. that of "a conjecture or initial explanation of phenomena"). Theory can also mean "the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art (the theory and practice of medicine)" [Webster's dictionary]. That is to say, the "theory" indicates a set of principles which prove the conclusions of a certain science.

Now, since music is a mathematical science, one can properly use the term "theory" to describe its conclusions and principles, under this meaning.

JB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nhabs said...

arg! I just left a whole long comment and then it got erased! Ok, it went like this:

wow. It's 4 in the morning and I just read all those highly stimulating comments. I think it was nice of Ms. Barbara to apologize for she did come off extremely harsh in her first comment. Personally, I loved your review! I think you articulated well the view of those who search for meaning in their lives and can find (even in something so simple as a movie) something that corresponds with the desires of their hearts. (In CLese)

Xyza said...

those who do not appreciate shyamalan's films are extremely shallow people, with or without a degree.

the fact that this blogger is slapping her credentials all over the place says enough as to how shallow she really is.

shyamalan is classic. you need your intellect along with your senses to appreciate his films - which brings me to the conclusion that miss-i-know-it-all is all senses ... she prolly left her intellect in graduate school or in one of her jury benches.

kudos to the author!

Derek said...

Lady in the Water is a really great production... I enjoyed so much the film.. much as I enjoy the generic viagra

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