Lady in the Water. 2006. M. Night Shyamalan, director. United States.
Heep superintends an apartment complex and encounters a narf named Story. Story is in search of her vessel and, once having caused an awakening in him or her, intends to return to the Blue World via the Great Eatlon. Her mission is complicated by the presence of a rogue scrunt who, no longer fearing the Tartutic, is intent on killing her. Capishe?
I admit that this hardly sounds inspiring. Lady in the Water is not exceptional. However, something exists to appreciate. Lady in the Water is not really about scrunts and narfs. It is about sacrifice and purpose and interconnectedness and forgiveness. This is a picture that, I feel, deserves to be experienced twice.
Related to sacrifice, the vessel being sought is producing a book which will influence an orator who, in turn, will begin a great movement. Although that book will be the seed of profound change in the world, its author will be murdered. Knowing this, the author works toward publication. Physical life, for this author, is not of absolute value. Life is to be placed, rather, in service of others.
Related to purpose and interconnectedness, Heep is a shell of the man he once was. He believes he has no purpose. You have a purpose, Story tells him. All beings have a purpose. She tells another: Man thinks they are each alone in this world. It is not true. You are all connected. One act can one day affect all. However unimportant Heep finds the tasks he performs, he unknowingly impacts both those in proximity and those beyond.
Related to forgiveness, several years ago I read the Dalai Lama relate an encounter with a Tibetan monk who had served eighteen years within a Chinese prison. Wondering of the biggest threat or danger the man experienced while in prison, the Dalai Lama identifies being “amazed by his answer. It was extraordinary and inspiring. I was expecting him to say something else; instead he said that what he feared most was losing his compassion for the Chinese”.
Hate diminishes something of the freedom in the person holding hate within his or her heart. Hate changes its beholder. While Heep does not hate those around him – and, in fact, has rather decidedly not given up on humanity – he has not forgiven himself. A question pondered throughout Lady in the Water is not simply whether “man” should be saved. The question pondered is whether this man – Heep – will be.
Ultimately, I think, an interpretive key to Lady in the Water lies in its curious Prologue. The image is one of a severed link between humans and those in the water (and the violent result of that severing). Despite human violence, the viewer is told, those in the water persist in their attempts to reach humans. At times, I feel, persons too easily snicker about Shyamalan and about his cinematic contributions. However, what makes this weak film redemptive is that, against the Prologue which holds that human beings may have forgotten how to listen, the viewer experiences some who have not.
Lady in the Water has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for “some frightening sequences”.