lady in the water is not your typical shyamalan movie in that you don't get those trademark "twists" that started with his debut movie "the sixth sense". its also not a die-a-minute wonder like "the hapenning", or the eeriely quiet and lacking "unbreakable" that had me screaming "wtf!" at the end of the movie for sheer frustration. its a piece of wonderful storytelling that just shines with warmth; from the brilliant acting led by dallas howard and giamatti down to the wonderful support cast that played a crucial role in delivering the unfolding story (its a group effort, really); the deft direction by shyamalan himself, who knows what he wants from the beginning and from this vision, crafts a neat little gem of a movie that's deceiving in its simplicity; worth mentioning too is the wonderful technical crew that carried out the photography, sound, and computer animation requirements of the film, making it one seamless piece of storytelling.
the movie is about Story, a water nymph, a mere child who gets lost from her group, when one time they visited the land dwellers. Story is part of the narf (they call themselves that) populace whose mere presence inspire us people to dream of big things for our race--you might call them muses / angels that make our writers write beautiful songs, poems, pieces of literature that become reading stuff of the the future US president. its quite a mouthful really, but shyamalan managed to play the high drama in simple terms, beginning with a cartoon-like telling how it was between the narfs and the land dwellers (us) in the olden times. as the movie deals with the idea of the story itself--with the power of storytelling--its quite heavy in that its packed with myths; things taken from old chinese stuff (the authenticity of the narf legend i leave for you to research or just take mr. shyamalan's word for it). whats astonishing is that shyamalan managed to treat it like a bedtime story, with all the heavy details fading into background as live action takes place--computer generated creatures replacing the ideas we initially come to contact with--as we the audience get transported in his created world of the narf. its not so much lord-of-the-rings-y, being an entire world unto itself; the narf world intermingles with our tangible world, which makes the story all the more palpable and potent.
Story (the lady this time, not the idea; i hope your not confused, hehehe), having just lost her way gets stranded with the cleveland heep (giamatti's character), an apartment administrator, but before that, was a doctor who stopped practicing his profession because he wasnt able to save his family from being killed. in the course of Story's stay with cleaveland, he gets more and more intrigued by story's character and the deeper he studies (consulting a chinese tenant familiar to the narf myth), the more "opened" he becomes to the alternate reality existing side by side ours. wanting to help Story--whose actually the next narf queen, it turns out--reunite with her kin, cleaveland manages to form a support team from among the tenants who'll stage a most ambitious attempt to stage the rituals needed for Story's successful return to her world.
the baddies are a mingling of maquettes and some computer magic which do not really rival the feats of lord of the rings but for all intents and purposes serve to propel the story in the right direction. the wolf-like characters are menacing enough to make you grasp the edge of your seats whenever their presence is intimated on the screen. the monkey-like creatures who judge the baddies in the narf world make a brief but grand appearance, all the more advancing the dreamlike quality of the movie; add to that the wonderfully eerie rain drenched night shots captured onscreen by cinematographer chris doyle.
the movie, besides dallas howard and giamatti, are peopled not with hollywood stars but with actors (bob balaban was very entertaining in his turn as the movie critic and sole tenant to be killed by the wolf-like baddies) that lend this studio-financed enterprise an independent feel to it. and oh, heroes' noah gray cabey makes a sterling performance here, too, as the reluctant symbolist in Heep's ensemble of Story's supporters. the symbolist is supposed to decode what should be done by the other tenants--the "protector" protects, the "healer" heals, etc.--in specific points in the unfolding drama in Story's return to the narf world. he takes the commonplace occurences and reads the "divine" from them.
the movie too, is like that. its filled with symbolisms that start out as commonplace and will not hit you right away when you first watch it. subsequent re-watching would make you appreciate lady in the water all the more for its many layers. what originally started as a simple bedtime story could be accessed on many levels and this is where shyamalan really succeeded as a director, nope, i must say, auteur. i love what he has done with this.
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