Lady in the Water, the latest film by M. Night Shyamalan, has not exactly been what one would call a summer blockbuster. Then again, it isn’t the typical summer blockbuster-style of film, either.
The film chronicles the visitation to a modern day apartment building of a “narf” – a sea-dwelling nymph – named Story and the struggles of the tenants of the building, lead by the manager, Cleveland, to return her to her own land. They must accomplish this before she is killed by the local “scrunt”, which is a wolf-like animal with a grassy hide that allows it to disappear from sight by pretending to be a lump in the lawn. Their main source of information is a tenant who heard the story of the Narfs as a bedtime story in Korea. With the scrunt prowling about the buildings lawn and hallways, they race to unearth the role that each person must play to get Story back to the “Blue World” from whence she came.
All this sounds rather corny, and while I must say that the plot is much better than the above summary makes it sound, it may not be the sort of thing that would appeal to everybody. There are, however, some interesting themes to be found within.
The more prominent of these is that of finding ones purpose and meaning in life. The entire subplot of Cleveland attempting to match the tenants in his building to the supporting characters in the bedtime tale – the Guardian, the Healer, the Guild, and the Interpreter – is an example of this, as is Story’s purpose in coming to the building, the inspiration of the struggling writer whose work – and, eventually, whose death – will be the origin of great social change. Even the tenants who are not ultimately part of the fairy-tale roster are still important to the solution, and one is reminded of another Shyamalan work telling us that there are no coincidences, not even in where one rents an apartment.
Another recurring theme in the film explores the entwined nature of reality and fiction. After all, water-nymphs and wolves with mystical powers are creatures of fantasy, represented by the bedtime tale, but they intrude upon the contemporary world of a Philadelphia apartment building (even if none of the tenants find them particularly unbelievable). Cleveland’s interactions with the unnamed Critic underscore this thought, as they attempt to locate the Interpreter, et. al. in the building by applying his experience in seeing the introductions of movie characters. Since the “real” people they are attempting to find in this manner are in fact characters in a movie themselves, this adds an extra twist of irony into the situation.
While contemporary fantasy and literary philosophy may not be what the typical theatergoer looks for in a film, but if they intrigue you then Lady in the Water is worth looking into.