I wish I could have said that it was a decision that you could take only after downing some excellent curried, fried soft-shelled crab, but that would be incorrect.
I had resolved to watch Lady in the Water a long time back indeed, when I read this article (Bugmenot) in the LA Times. In particular, I was struck by a certain artist- patron relationship that Syamalan seems to suggest exists in Hollywood:
The book’s most revealing scene is the tense dinner of Feb. 15, 2005, and its aftermath — referred to by Shyamalan’s colleagues as “The Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
“You said it was funny; I didn’t laugh,” the book quotes her as saying. “You’re going to let a critic get attacked? They’ll kill you for that … Your part’s too big; you’ll get killed again … What’s with the names? Scrunt? Narf? Tartutic? Not working … Don’t get it … Not buying it. Not getting it. Not working.”
Her words went over like spoiled fish. “She went on and on and on,” the book says. “Night was waiting for her to say she didn’t like the font” his assistant had printed the script in.
After way too many courses, Disney executives walked Shyamalan and his agent to the elevator, and Cook asked to speak to the director alone.
“Just make the movie for us,” Cook said, hoping to keep Disney’s most important director in the fold. “We’ll give you $60 million and say, ‘Do what you want with it.’ We won’t touch it. We’ll see you at the premiere.”
Shyamalan said he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t work with those who doubted him. As Cook and his team left the hotel, Shyamalan broke down and cried.
“He was crying because he liked them as people and he knew he would not see them again, not as his partners,” the author writes. “He was crying because he was scared … He was crying because he knew they could be right.”
And right he was; the time has, indeed, run out for a happy ending. As it stands, the movie was convoluted, contrived, constipated, and uneasy; it strived for the slick po-mo world of the Unbreakable, while aiming for a tongue-in-cheek Stuart Little-isque metaphor. That, to me, was the movie’s greatest failing; it was objectively self-aware, as most po-mo works are, but unlike most other po-mo works, it also tried to be emotionally genuine, and in being so, it slipped and fell into the pool. The intent was there, the ambition very clear, but the sutradhaar (narrator) stammered at the right moment; and that made all the difference, between a successful emotive high, and a pitless what-in-the-heck-was-that pit.
Unlike this Disney executive (who, incidentally, was laid off from her job sometime back, so reserve some sympathies for her as well), I laughed at the right moments, I cringed at the suspense scenes, and I was wooed by the slick photographic imagination (the final climax, in particular). I’m just accusing Syamalan of not spending enough time in his own world, as it were. It wasn’t just the characters, we also sorely needed something to believe in; otherwise, we can see through the façade, we can see that the apartment building is just a shell, and that Paul Giametti didn’t kill that hairy bug in the movie’s first scenes. There is no belief here, Syamalan, by not taking us around on a ride through your world, you, essentially, took us for a ride.
However, I’d say this though, in the final analysis; there is something seductive in being able to anthromorphize your creation. It is an ancient Indian tradition; all literary creations are, to be sure, your daughters. That great 15th-century Telugu poet, bammera po’tana (బమ్మెర పోతన), spent time in penury because he didn’t want to sell his baby, a ba’la rasa’la sa’la navako’mala ka’vyakanyaka (బాల రసాల సాల నవకోమల కావ్యకన్యక), that was the s’ri’mada’ndhra maha’ bha’gavatam. On a much happier note, the great 13th century poet, tikkana, realized his patron’s dream of marrying into his family by dedicating his work to the patron. There was a happy marriage there, between an emotive real-world frame-story, and a fictitious inner-world real-story. That didn’t happen here; Story, you see, went back to wherever she came from.
The most astounding revelation of the night, then, wasn’t that M.Night can also suck, but that Fried-soft-shelled-crab-with-curry-and-rice isn’t quite Thai. It is, I’ve learnt after closely examining the menu, a Thai-Japanese dish; it was, I was informed, the result of the Thai Express‘s cook falling in love with a Japanese girl. You see, Night had won in the end; ideas, even half-baked ones, need to emerge from the depths and be expressed. Our world would be so much poorer if they didn’t.