Inside the construction of an M. Night Shyamalan production

Recently, I’ve watched « The Village » multiple times. A pioneer movie from my childhood, which traumatized me to be honest. From The Village to Wayward Pines or Split, M. Night Shyamalan’s movies and tv series have been a foundation of my cinematographic culture throughout the years. In this article, I will highlight 3 categories that make a M. Night Shyamalan production.

The community above everything

If you know of or have seen a movie by M. Night Shyamalan, you already know that the American director is very fond of portraying a sense of community. In almost all of his productions, we can see collectivities or families, living by their own rules and values. In the movie Signs (2002), we are seeing the Hess family, guided by Graham Hess (played by Mel Gibson), a priest. The rural family and the entire world are fighting the invasion of aliens. The family will survive together an entire night the intrusion of aliens in their home. Still, the best example is the movie The Village. In the Village, we see an excluded community, living in the woods outside a big city. The movie takes place in the early 2000’s, but this community founded by people who were disgusted by the modern world, decided to live like in 1850. No electricity, no cars. This appeal to ancient ways of living is current in the American movie culture. Often, when the American way of life is at risk, it seem understandable to regress socially and politically and rely on the ancestors, the pilgrims or wasps values. We can see it in The Handmaid’s Tales, which is dystopian but might also be utopian for a lot of Americans. M. Night Shyamalan’s productions always center around the family and the community. In an individualistic world, his movies always remind us to take care of each other. But too much solidarity and community spirit can lead to dangerous issues.

The autarky to prevail over the real world

Oftentimes, with the community comes a sense of security. It was real for a lot of centuries and it still is today more than ever. Humans tend to accept to co-live with other people far from their ways of thinking or eating. But today the world is also divided into thousands of invisible communities. From social media to globalization and hybridization of cultures, from Japan to Nigeria, we are living through the age of the super individualist humanity. It’s important today to know who you are, both for your sanity and for others’ comfort. If you don’t, you’re risking everybody’s peace of mind. In M. Night Shyamalan‘s productions, the autarky and geographical protection from the external world is primary. In the book and the series Wayward Pines (2015) that I have rode and seen, the producer presents us a megalomaniac scientist, Dr Jenkins, who wants to save humanity from extinction. The scientist solution is keeping some « selected » people frozen for decades and awake them then keep them in captivity, in the reconstitution of a stereotypical American small town. The incredible wall circling the city allows it to be protected, but it’s also the representation of a controlled environment. The danger is what we can’t control and see and it’s better not to know who our enemy is. The inhabitants don’t really know what is outside, they wake up from a long frozen sleep with 3 goals in mind : obey, reproduce and adapt.

It’s the same in the movie The Village. In addition to the strong sense of community and religion, the outside world is out of reach and forbidden. By excluding themselves, the elders and founders perpetuate some legends surrounding the village. Those creatures which sometimes terrorize the members of the village from the inside, are here to signify to the youngers that the community is the ultimate stable place for a peaceful life. As opposed to Midsommar (2019) or The Wicked Man (2006), which both center around pagan societies who need to sacrifice strangers periodically to survive, The Village doesn’t need the exterior world. At the end, the creatures are the elders. The Village is the perfect example of the survival of cultural and common values to fortify a community. The fear, and the mysticism allow the construction of some historical events, a common memory and a cultural heritage for the future.

A last example is the movie Split (2016). Based on a true story, Split presents us Kevin, a schizophrenic man, living in the basement of a zoo. Kevin is « possessed » by more than 20 personalities and has been abandoned by everyone that he knows. The fact that nobody knows where he lives, confers him a power : he has created his own locked world, physically and mentally. He is out of access from everyone. In Split, the other personalities are trying to protect him from a world which will never appreciate and understand him. Split‘s case leads us to a final category…

Mental illness and disability as sources of strength

The last category may be the most interesting to approach. M. Night Shyamalan always creates main characters with mental or physical wounds. But in his productions, those individuals are not limited, they are often the solution to big social issues. In The Village, Ivy played by Bryce Dallas is blind, but her other senses allow her to feel the world differently. Guided by love and clairvoyance, Ivy will face her fears and everybody’s biases, to save the love of her life. She will come back by herself after days of travel by feet in the dangerous woods. The case of Noah played by Adrien Brody, in love with Ivy, is more tragic. Noah is mentally fragile and needs medical attention. His tragic death is the sign of a failure in the community but the founders will remember him as a survivor and a hero.

In Split (2017), Kevin who already sees himself as an abnormal being, understands that he is not as fragile and weird as he thinks. His multiple personalities amplify his abilities and erase his limits. At the end of the movie, The Beast takes control and reveals itself as the elected one. The Beast is Kevin‘s supreme protection, it fuels him the confidence to free himself. We can’t forget that Kevin is very ill and needs help because he literally kills people.

But by meeting Casey Cooke played by Anya Taylor-Joy, victim of sexual and physical abuse, The Beast understands that wounded and suffering individuals are everywhere. Meeting another wounded person decenters him from his isolation and his personalities. He is allowed to fear the world but denying it is maybe more dangerous. In Glass (2019), accompanied by David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (played by Samuel L.Jackson), Kevin and the two other men embrace their disabilities. Being different is not a curse, it requires an inner and special adaptation from the world but it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong in it.

Finally, M. Night Shyamalan shows us along his productions, a conflicted America, with divided communities and individuals facing multiple realities. Despite the absence of a multiethnic America shown in his early productions, M. Night Shyamalan forces us to apprehend and open our eyes to alternative realities and human stories. Whether it takes place in the past, the present or the future, M. Night Shyamalan plays with our perceptions of the world and his own creativity. A world run by togetherness to face the unknown and where disabled people have all the solutions, are valued and not rejected.


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