The Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, Lady in the Water, continues the writer/director's exploration of the human condition, tackling such major issues as inspiration, faith, and finding your place in the world. With his uncommon originality, Shyamalan was marked as a creative genius with the surprise hit The Sixth Sense, and he continues to pursue his idiosyncratic vision in this latest release.

Lady in the Water began as a bedtime story Shyamalan told to his children (it has been released in book form) about a Narf, a sea nymph who lives under the pool, hoping to be glimpsed by a chosen vessel who will be inspired by just a momentary glance. The Narf is pursued by a Scrunt who seeks to destroy the Narf before she is returned to her home, the Blue World. At this point, most traditional movie critics are completely baffled. Their inability to accept myth-making and fairy tales as valuable in our post modern society has made most of them vitriolic in their abhorrence. No wonder the movie critic character in the movie suffers such an ignomonious fate.

Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, the apatment building superintendent who discovers Story the Narf (Bryce Dallas Howard) and decides to help her. He wrestles with his own demons, which have led him to abandon his former life, taking up the plunger and ladder of his new trade. Giamatti is brilliant in the role of the tortured soul who can't but help the helpless. The apartment building is populated by the oddest group of people ever gathereda guy who exercises only one side of his body, a woman who takes in abandoned animals, a writer and his sister, a grandmaster crossword puzzler, and group of potheads, and many more. My personal favorite is Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) whose mother relates the ancient fairy tale over the course of the movie. Each will have a role to play in helping Story to complete her task, and along the way they will come to know themselves a little bit better.

Shyamalan's movies are never really about the surface story. Signs was not about aliens; The Village was not about eighteenth century village life haunted by monsters. Each in their way is about redemption and destiny. No one in Hollywood is as consistently thoughtful and original as Shyamalan. (Quentin Tarrantino and Kevin Smith before Clerks II are his only real competition.)

Lady in the Water is not a perfect movie. At times it is over wrought, and yess the characters approach the stereotypical, but all that is unimportant. What is important is the attempt to probe the great philosophical questions about life through a storytelling medium perfectly suited for such exploration. Fans of Shyamalan will be happy with the effort, others may be more nonplussed.