Political Film Society - Newsletter #204 - August 20, 2004

August 20, 2004


The VillageThe Village is obviously allegorical, but different filmviewers will probably see different lessons. To conjecture about the allegory in a review, however, requires a "spoiler" on the manifest content of the film. Edward Walker (played by William Hurt) evidently is a millionaire who bought a large plot of land and designated that area as a game reserve. Covington Woods lies around the perimeter, presumably inhabited by monsters. In the center, there is a communitarian utopian village--without electricity, guns, laborsaving devices, or money. There are strict rules not to leave the village, the perimeter of which is guarded but not fortified. A truce exists between the "monsters" and the villagers, who in turn raise crops and live self-sufficiently. The elders, who dress up in old-fashioned clothing, meet regularly to make decisions for the community, except that Walker later reserves the right to make a unilateral decision on his own. When the film begins, a seven-year-old has just died; his gravestone indicates the year 1897, as Walker has set the clock back to that year. The death of the youngster is particularly sad because residents are not procreating to ensure a new generation for the commune. Nobody is mating, perhaps because they are infertile or just plain scared. Walker's daughter Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is unable to attract the amorous attention of Lucius Hunt (played by Joaquin Phoenix). The community has been set up as an alternative to the world outside, which is regarded as individualistic and violent. One villager, Noah Percy (played by Adrien Brody), is obviously crazy; during the night, he sometimes puts on a red monster costume to terrorize the community. Since the costume is located in a shed only otherwise accessed by Walker, the aim appears to be to enable Noah to cow the people into obedience by Orwellian fearmongering. One evening, Noah stabs Lucius, who will die unless medicine can be found from outside the village. Walker then deputizes Ivy, who is blind, to go to "the towns" in order to bring back medicine so that Lucius will live. Her trek to the outside is the principal surprise in the film, revealing the parameters of the utopian community. When she returns, the film ends. The tagline of the film, "Run. The truce is ending" smudges over the allegorical meaning of the film. Shot in rural Pennsylvania, director and writer M. Night Shyamalan is doubtless aware of the Amish and Shaker communities, which he could either be celebrating or critiquing.

Or perhaps he is commenting on other utopias, such as Jonestown or right-wing communities in Idaho and Montana. But there is an unmistakably political allegory, namely, the response to 9/11 by a president whose middle name is Walker; the film depicts a loss of civil liberties, irrational fears, a phony red-alert monster, and unilateralism. Members of the village withdraw inward rather than analyzing and confronting problems outside, just as Americans believe that they need to cope with terrorist threats by erecting security barriers rather than addressing issues that motivate terrorists to be so angry. The Village, in short, can serve either as a profound critique of current responses to terrorism for the erudite or as a form of cinematic escapism for the naïve. Interpreting the film is up to the filmviewer, who may be bored with the gratuitous and pretentious dialog and superfluous cinematography of trees without leaves accompanied by spooky percussive sounds. A satire of The Village by Mad Magazine will sell out for sure.  MH

Bang Rajan: Legend of the Village Warriors, as titles at the beginning and end of the film inform, is the name of a village in central Thailand that held the invading Burmese army at bay for five months during 1765-66. The context of the conflict is that some of Burma's putative vassal states were refusing to pay tribute; they were instead supporting Ayudhaya, predecessor of the modern state of Thailand. Accordingly, Burma's newly crowned King Mang Ra launched an attack on Ayudhaya, sending two armies of 100,000 each, equipped with horses, armor, and cannons. The Burmese invasion created many refugees, who fled both to the village of Bang Rajan and to Ayudhaya. Although little is known about the specifics of the Battle of Bang Rajan, director Tanit Jitnukul brings eleven heroic characters to the screen, including a retiring commander, his mustached successor, a warrior monk, two female warriors and their husbands, and a drunken soldier who cuts his path in battle by lethally swinging two axes. Due to a tactical error, a rear flank is unguarded midway through the film, resulting in the fall of the village at the hands of General Nemeao Srihabodi. Titles at the end inform us that Ayudhaya fell more quickly under the Burmese onslaught, and the Thai people fled, later regrouping to the south under the leadership of King Taksin. In much of the film, scantily clad villagers heroically hold back the armored Burmese hordes, accompanied by stirring music. Two parallels between the eighteenth century story and contemporary Thailand are clear. One is that Burma remains an obstinate adversary of Thailand, which serves as the safe haven for many refugees escaping Burmese repression. The second parallel, perhaps unintended, is the fact that the current Prime Minister of Thailand is named Taksin, who claims an election mandate to rally the nation from the effects of the 1997 financial crisis with grand schemes, though his promises have yet to become solid accomplishments.  MH