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August 08, 2004

The Village: An analysis

Note: the following critique contains big spoilers!

OK, so The Village (2004) is about a group of people who lived in the “towns”, who all suffered a violent and criminal loss of a loved one, and who voluntarily start new lives and families together as an isolated community.

Surrounding the entire village is an off-limits forest, lest the beasts exact revenge on the village for crossing its borders. Although self-sufficient, the village lacks the medicines of the towns beyond, which may have saved a child (buried in the opening scene) or treat a mentally challenged man. Governed by the founding elders, who warn of the depravity of the towns, no one is to brave the beasts and leave the village.

As with many American films of the horror genre, The Village’s narrative establishes that old binary opposite, the Us vs. Them; the villagers vs. the beasts. Post-war films like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Thing (1951), It Came From Outer Space (1953) did just that: the alien (Communism) from outer space invades the home (America), is subsequently destroyed, and the viewer’s Cold War anxiety is alleviated.

This need to protect ourselves from, and eradicate, the outsiders—metaphorically or otherwise—matches The Village’s theme. Except, as with later Cold War genre flicks like Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1972), The Shining (1980), which dealt with the enemy within (matching up with HUAC, McCarthyism), so too are the beasts, the Them of The Village, in fact the elders themselves.

So we’ve got an ideological contradiction here. In most films of the genre, when the Other is among us it is because it is deformed, altered, a minority threat (pick your peril: unionists, feminists, youth, etc.). Clearly a bad thing, but the price we as a society must pay and continue to destroy, defuse and/or subsume (see Hegemony). But the elders of The Village aren’t bad. Their daily judgments are just and fair; the village is respectful of them and vice-versa. The film emphasizes the pain the elders endured in the towns: an elder describes the rape and killing of her sister; another of a grandfather corrupted by greed. It is the elders we are to relate to. Despite their deceit, the elders have their flock’s best interests at heart.

There is an Other in The Village and it is among Us, but it is not a minority: it is society as a whole. Scene: the head ranger reads a newspaper and listens to the radio and both report the daily news: 7-year-old murdered; deaths in car crash (and by casting the film’s writer/director for the scene, this scene is lent further weight). In addition to the crimes inflicted upon the elders, society is constructed as the incurable threat, justifying the elders’ motives for controlling the knowledge and fear of the village as a means of diffusing this threat. The elders paid the price exacted by society and the cost was justifiably too high. It was the Other within, an Other constructed as inevitable and un-eradicable, that drove the elders to start the village. The Us is the village—now a minority—and the price we must pay—ignorance and fear—is reasonable, so the film would say, to strive for utopia.

But The Village is more complex than that, as is our current cultural, political and ideological climate. If films reflect, justify and/or diffuse the issues of our day, then can we draw parallels between The Village and our own era of homegrown and foreign anxiety (ex. Oklahoma bombing, 9/11), between Our political aggression and Their lack of support (War in Iraq, UN policy/International support)? If the horror genre has progressed from fear and containment of the Other from outside, to fear/containment of the Other within, to fear-as-necessary/but-no-containment of the Other, then how do we deal with the literal and metaphorical device of the medicine used in The Village?

Because it is society, the Other, that becomes the necessary concession in resolving the film’s narrative. The medicine the heroine retrieves from the outside at the climax of the film saves the life of the protagonist. Earlier, the protagonist tells us society’s medicine, initially denied by the elders, would help the mentally challenged character “to help stay still and study” but who (the mentally challenged character), ironically and tragically, is the one who attempts to destroy both the heroin and protagonist and thus challenges the elders’ and the village’s ideology itself.

So denying the medicine is the elder’s folly, the folly of Us, but it is excusable, justifiable, a diffusion of our current and future ideological/political/cultural bunglings. The death of the mentally challenged character is a device to signal the sacrifices that must be made to protect utopia, if only the appearance of one. At the film’s conclusion the elders literally stand in solidarity, and thus in justification, of the continuation of their cloak of ignorance over the villagers. It is controlling not the Other, which is unfeasible, but controlling Us—creating our own isolated village—that The Village is about.

Posted on August 8, 2004 04:26 AM | TrackBack

Comments

I've noticed these microphones in other movies. I have to say, it is really confusing. I know what they are -- they are the sound booms used in filming. Normally, they should be edited out in post-production, but certain reels seem to have them in still. My showing of the Village did not have them. I saw American Pie and they were in every scene, practically. Then I saw it on DVD and they were gone. I wonder if it has to do with the alignment of the film on the screen (too low) not cropping the top foot or so of the picture.

Posted by: Ryan Thomas on August 30, 2004 05:42 PM

I cannot believe the reviewer did not even mention perhaps the most perplexing feature of this film - the microphone type objects that appeared throughout, appearing at different times from the top of the picture. Any comments?

Posted by: John Hagerty on September 7, 2004 08:55 PM

Hmm, the reviewer (me) totally missed seeing "microphone type objects." Sounds interesting. If you think these objects are a significant and intentional element of the film, what, if anything, do you think they signify? And how do they relate (if they relate at all) to the theme I discuss?

Posted by: Jeff on September 7, 2004 09:22 PM

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