The Village (2004), M. Night Shyamalan
Brief Summary (without spoilers!):
The Village (2004) is about Covington—a small, self-sufficient village in the woods that lives in isolation from the outside world. Consistent with the late 1800s, the village people wear traditional garbs, perform agricultural and domestic tasks, and live free of technology and modern medicine. Covington is run by a handful of men and women Elders, each of whom have a painful, secretive past in connection to the outside “towns”.
When an incident leaves one of the villagers fighting for his life, his lover asks the Elders for consent to enter the impermissible woods to reach the outside towns for much needed medicines. The lover and heroine is a blind girl named Ivy, daughter to the head Elder, Mr. Walker. He ultimately reveals truths about the village, the creatures in the woods, and the secrets of the Elders to her. With this information, Ivy journeys, alone, beyond the safety of her village into the woods and (hopefully) reaches the outside world in time to save her lover’s life.
Watch the entire film on YouTube, here.
At first glance, communal intimacy and youthful innocence portrays the village in a utopian light. There are frequent long-table dinners, barn wedding celebrations, and hide-and-seek games within the flowery fields. However, this society lives in vigilant fear of the haunting creatures lurking beyond their borders—which are attracted to the color red and are only referred to as “those we do not speak of”.
A discussion over a slain animal, in what appears to be an elementary classroom setting, shows the village children believing “those we don’t speak of killed it”… “they’re meat eaters”… “they have large claws,” (6:45). The Elder speaking to them stresses “We do not go into their woods, and they do not come into our valley. It is a truce.” This tells the younger generation that they must never leave the mental and physical safety net of the village; they must abide by the rules.
As with most children, some of the village boys have a daring appetite for rebellion or adventure. In one scene, a village boy has been dared to stand on a tree stump at the edge of the borders, with his back to the woods (14:40). His friends watch from a safer distance, seeing how long he can last before getting scared. Eventually, his fear gets the best of him and he runs away from the edge. They are all encouraged, by fear, to obey. Always.
Because of fear, the people lack courage. Only Ivy experiences such bravery, which is fueled by her deep love for her fiancé, Lucius. She has the courage to venture into unknown territories even though she is blind. She has the will to continue her journey even after her two assisters have abandoned ship. She also has the determination to face and defeat a creature that attacks her in the woods. In all of these instances, love conquers fear.
Unknowing to the village people, fear is the Elders’ method of controlling/governing them— they use fear to protect their village. It is all mainly to prevent the villagers from physically venturing out beyond their borders, and to squash any curiosity or interests of the outside world. No one ever leaves, and no one (an outsider) ever enters Covington.
A great clip on the villagers’ fear of “those we don’t speak of”:
There are other rules and regulations the village people also follow. People must be granted authorization to venture out; people need the blessing for a marriage; all accidents/incidents must be reported to the Elders. The men and women Elders make decisions altogether, always as one. The Elders even take turns being the chairman for meetings (although, Mr. Walker is the definite head Elder). They are seen as trustworthy, all-knowing, and right/true to their people, mainly because of wisdom gained from interaction with the “outside towns” before settling here.
What the Elders eventually realize, however, is that “heartache is a part of life” (1:14:00). Even though they had each tried to leave their painful pasts behind (dealing with a violent or unexpected death of a loved one) in the outside world, they still continued to experience the pain of losing loved ones inside the village (to disease and accidents). This reminds me of the people who scarcely age, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The High Lama, or Perrault, himself has been living for over 300 years. Other people within Shangri-La, like Lo-Tsen, have been able to retain beauty and youth over many years—they are all about preservation, and relish in their carefree bliss. However, in Covington, the Elders work to erase knowledge about the outside world—and its population is not really expanding.
In Lost Horizon, Shangri-La is able to sustain its population by bringing outsiders into its valley; yet, it is so well hidden from the outside world, that Conway struggles to ever find his way back to paradise. Covington, on the other hand, prides itself on staying completely isolated from the outside world. Ivy later learns that the village exists somewhere deep inside a wildlife preservation, well-funded by her family’s estate to keep people out and planes out from sight. The Elders never look to invite outsiders to join the village, and its population grows only through existing lineages.
In terms of economy, money does not play a role in this society. Ivy’s father enlightens her that “money can be a wicked thing. It can turn men’s hearts black. Good men’s hearts.” (1:00:03). The village does not have a need for money since they are communal and they do not need to interact with other towns to exchange goods and services. The Valley of the Blue Moon, in Lost Horizon, seems to agree with this notion that money is not the most important center in one’s life. Henry Barnard, or Charlmers Bryant, is a financier who stole millions in USD and disappeared from America. He finds comfort in the valley and wants to stay—offering his services to prospect gold to improve life in the lamasery. It appears that the valley is inspiring Barnard to turn his greed for money around, and instead, to give him a newfound purpose of being a contributing member of society.
Even though fear is the Elders’ main weapon to govern Covington, they use deception and secrecy as supporting tools. When Mr. Walker brings Ivy to an old, locked shed, he allows her to touch what hangs inside—there are three creatures with “boar-like masks inside their robes, and clawed hands. They are costumes.” (1:07:40). He then proceeds to explain to a very surprised and stunned Ivy that “everything is farce”:
Ivy: The screams? From the woods?
Walker: We created those sounds.
Ivy: The Ceremony of Meat?
Walker: We remove it ourselves. An Elder is always assigned.
Ivy: The drills… they are farce, too?
Walker: We did not want anyone to go to the towns, Ivy.
We soon learn that each of the Elders have a painful secret—while living in the outside world, they had to deal with a horribly cruel death of a loved one. In fact, they all met each other at a counseling center! Walker shared an idea with the Elders one day (in the 20th century), leading to a mutual agreement to start a new life (one that mimicked the times of the late 19th century). With this new society, each Elder kept these secrets from their children and their children’s children, allowing for an innocently naïve society to flourish. Surprisingly, in the end, the Elders collectively decide to keep the society going, using the tragic death of one of their own to instill more fear in the village people.
1 thought on ““The Village” (2004): Fear…and Love! But Mostly Fear.”
The Village with its rule based on fear reminds me of The Hunger Games. President Snow rules his populace with a unique blend of fear mixed with a tiny amount of hope. I believe he says in the film something to the effect that hope is what makes the fear effective.
There doesn’t seem to be hope in The Village though its particular brand of fear and Panem’s fear are wholly different so I suppose it isn’t needed the same way. Fear of monsters that will kill you if you leave your relatively comfortable community is not the same as fear that you may be called to fight to your death in order to provide enough food to your family so that you don’t starve.
In the end, I’d rather live in the world of The Village than the world of The Hunger Games.
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