Last year, for my own birthday, I posted the 32 films that have impacted my life the most. The list did not necessarily describe what I thought were the best, or even my favourite films (although those lists would probably be pretty close), but the films that I felt I have taken with me ever since I saw them. Some of them dipped way back into my past and some of them I had seen very recently.
This year I am a year older, and figured I ought to add a movie to my list. (I also toyed with re-ordering the list somewhat, but I'm not going to bother this time around. Maybe every few years I will do so, but not this time. For instance, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark again this year and some of its feel and flare wore off for me. But maybe lists like this are supposed to stay fairly solid so that I remember).
Last time around I had some honourable mentions, including Saving Private Ryan, Misery, Meet Joe Black, and even Erin Brokovich. Since the last time I have also seen some movies that have really stuck with me, including older ones such as Dekalog, Diary of A Country Priest, and Apocalypse Now, and newer ones such as The Savages, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and Gone Baby Gone. Of these, the latter two have really run through my head a lot since I saw them. Maybe time will tell that they, or others, become still more important to me.
However, this year I also saw M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. It was a horrendous film. But what is notable about it is that I got home from my date with my wife that night and my friend Terry, who had been babysitting for us, had just slipped in Shyamalan's The Village.
As the three of us sat and recovered from The Happening, I realized that I had forgotten what a wonderful movie The Village was. A few people have rightly criticized some of the potential plot holes, but I never found them that devastating. What impressed me with this picture was the beautiful cinematography, the eerie feel, the magical violin soundtrack, and the mesmerizing plot. Joaquim Phoenix and the supporting cast didn't hurt at all either. But let me tell you why it is one of the top 33 films to stuck with me in my life.
The Village explores the power of fear upon a community. In it [insert spoiler alert here] a group of shell-shocked individuals come together, recoiling from the tragedies of life, and try to start a new village from scratch---one where they are able to hide away and protect their children from the disasters they might encounter in the real world. In one sense it is a noble idea, but in another sense it is built on a premise that can itself only lead to disaster.
This village is founded on fear. To keep their children from wanting to explore the regions beyond, and thus discover evil and harm, they have to invent fantastic stories to frighten people into staying in the village. I love how Shyamalan is able to present this in a way that makes the viewer empathetic, while also showing the holes in that way of thinking.
It just brought up so many thoughts for me of the type of evangelicalism that I'd been raised in that I consider it to be one of the most valuable thought-experiments and cathartic movie-going experiences of my life. I have struggled for many years to make sense of and emerge from the twin motivations for Christian faith that I picked up on as a young evangelical: guilt and fear. I became so dependent upon these things as motives for loving God that it is still difficult for me to mature beyond them to the truer and more everlasting values of, and motivations for, the faith. There is something other than fear upon which a loving and genuine community can be built. It is hope. That community doesn't really exist yet, but we are trying to establish outposts right here in the real world. God be with us.
Incredibly, The Village brought all this stuff to mind for me; and its images, music, and story-line continue to provide me with the fodder for these further thoughts. Hence, it is 33rd in the list of films I take with me.