Contains spoilers for Lady in the Water
My nephew is currently studying photography at an art college where the ‘lecturers’ seem peculiarly clueless. In putting his portfolio together for a series of degree course interviews, my nephew was told by his tutor (the vast majority of whom seem to be motivated by the twin goals of ‘pussy and paycheque’ (Copyright Daniel Clowes)) that the images he selected should not make sense to anyone but himself – the reasoning being that the artist is the only person who can describe the rationale behind what he does. I can’t begin to list the many and varied ways in which this makes my blood boil. However, if you’re M. Night Shyamalan, then this sentiment is right up your street.
Lady in the Water is an incoherent waste of celluloid – but what makes it so painfully godawful is that it seems to be a paean to what Shyamalan sees as his own shining beacon of genius. Why else would he have a character say (and I’m paraphrasing here), “What person could be so arrogant to presume to know the intention of another human being?” Given the fact that this criticism is indirectly aimed at the thoroughly unlikeable book and film critic Harry Farber, this should tell you all you need to know about what Shyamalan thinks of (his) critics.
Perhaps Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian sums it up best:
As the film continued, I personally began to bow my head in humility and self-knowledge. My pen slipped from my nerveless fingers and hot teardrops fell on my notepad, like a pure and cleansing rain, blurring the vindictive remarks I had scribbled. I was ashamed ... ashamed ... that I had ever given this incredible idiot M Night Shyamalan anything approaching a good review.
The mere fact that Shyamalan puts such words into the mouths of his characters says to me that the director honestly thinks that he is the only person permitted to comment on this excruciatingly awful film. He’s wrong. A film such as Lady in the Water does not exist in a vacuum – once it’s out there in the big bad world it’s going to generate comment, criticism, and even analysis that – horrors! – might conflict with the director’s own view. If I had to sit through every film with Shyamalan’s strict instructions not to apply my own interpretation, I don’t think I’d ever buy another DVD again. I think it was Umberto Eco who said that the novel is a machine for generating possibilities – Shyamalan may well be disappointed to realise that these are usually arrived at without the assistance of the author.
The fact that Shyamalan has cast himself in Lady in the Water as the author of a book that is somehow going to “save the world” should send you screaming from this film at a rate of knots. If it doesn’t, then perhaps the first scene should do it. The down at heel janitor Cleveland Heep (played by the ever dependable Paul Giametti) rattles about under a sink with a broom. A screaming family cower behind him in comedic fashion as the brave Heep makes exaggerated efforts to kill something big and hairy. The whole scene is just so gratuitously stupid, I should have turned it off right then. But then again I would have missed the unintentional comedy of Mr Dury attempting a spot of divination with a crossword puzzle, or his son attempting to do the same with a packed cupboard of cereal boxes. And – Jesus H Christ! – it’s Jared Harris, down on his luck slumming it in a movie with no detectable script.
I thought I’d seen some bad films, but this one takes the biscuit.