Wednesday, November 02, 2011

M. Night Shyamalan's "Devil"

On Halloween, I decided to watch a scary movie, since I rarely watch this genre of film and think its okay to allow myself to watch something that might make me jump on the one night of the year that is all about spooks. I had requested the movies Devil and Scream 4 from Netflix, but only Devil arrived, so that was my choice.

If you have not seen this movie and you intend to, I would not recommend reading this blog post any further because spoilers will be revealed. So, you've been warned.

Devil was released in theaters last year, but I did not go see it, partly because of the creepy factor, but mostly because I do not trust M. Night Shyamalan's story telling abilities anymore (The Happening was truly awful and I never saw The Lady in the Water because I heard nothing but awful things about that movie). However, the strange thing about Devil is that M. Night is not the director. He's not even the screenplay writer! So why is his name attached? Because the movie is based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan! This is like author James Patterson getting credit for stories that other authors write for him. Its all about the "brand name" and M. Night's brand tends to fall under the supernatural, things aren't as they seem, with a twist (or two). I liked Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village. I even liked Unbreakable when I saw it, but the movie left a bad residue in my mind.

Out of the three films of his that I like, I would say that The Village is my favourite because it is the perfect allegory for the Bush Administration. He had said in an interview that it was a political film, which might confuse some people, since there is not politics in the movie. But, if you're a metaphorical thinker like I am, then you understand the message he was trying to convey and it was absolutely brilliant. I saw that film in the theater and I could tell from the audience reaction that they did not understand nor liked it (but a lot of this was due to the deceptive trailer for the film, which was false advertising). I think that film was the beginning of the end for him, and then his arrogance in making The Lady in the Water, which bombed, alienated a lot of people in Hollywood. He was supposed to direct the film version of the awesome novel (and book club favourite) The Life of Pi, but that fell through. I thought he was the perfect director for the movie, but now I think he would only just mess that story up.

When I heard the premise of Devil, I was intrigued. To sum up the movie, it goes something like this: five strangers are stuck in an elevator of a high rise office building. One of them is actually the Devil. Creepy, right? Being stuck in an elevator has to be on most people's fear list. I can't imagine a greater hell than being stuck in an elevator with Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, but I digress.

The film is interesting, as it begins with a police officer investigating a suicide. As the voice over narration says, the devil appears whenever there is a suicide and then goes to work. By the end of it, all the principle players will end up dead. While the police officer is a no nonsense kind of guy and looks at things logically, one of the security employees in the highrise building is superstitious and starts seeing the devil's hand in the events that transpire when they learn that the elevator is stuck. For the people in the elevator, every time the lights go out, one of them ends up dead. This creates a panic and the police officer who is investigating the suicide ends up being called to investigate the murder(s).

As I watched the movie, I was thinking that the trick was going to be that none of the five were the devil. But when it comes down the last person standing, the twist arrives. The devil's motives are rather lame. But the message was actually a good one. So, despite the faulty delivery, the take home message was impressive. The narrator is a Hispanic building security guy and I was wondering how he knew so much about the devil. A signature M. Night Shyamalan reveal was when the security guy tells the police officer that nothing is what it seems, as they are all participants in the drama for a reason. As it turns out, the last person alive in the elevator takes responsibility for a drunken hit and run he was involved in five years earlier, which killed the wife and child of the police officer. The devil disappears after the guy takes responsibility for his past actions and in the end, the police officer forgives the guy who had killed his family.

So, what was the message this movie was meant to convey? What I got out of it was that it is a message for each one of us. We need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame others or even blaming the devil. And apparently, the devil does not want us to forgive, either. Though I don't believe there is such an entity as the devil, I've always been fascinated with Faustian tales since childhood. The first novel I wrote in the summer before my senior year in high school was a Faustian tale (a woman marries a man that the entire town loves and who appears perfect, but in reality, he's Satan). I kind of want to write a better story about the devil because I keep thinking about how our economic system actually embodies the values we associate with the devil: greed, lust, selfishness, lack of compassion, materialism, love of money, ungratefulness, and blaming the victims for their lot in life. I find it ironic that many of the people who claim to be Christian or outright "Jesus freaks" also are die hard supporters of capitalism because in their minds, if you aren't a capitalist, then you are a communist. There's no middle way for these folks. You're either this or that. Well, what if capitalism was a Satanic economic system? After all, in the famous story about Jesus facing three temptations by Satan in the desert, the final one was about bowing to Satan to gain power over the entire world. Dick Cheney appears to have made such a deal (who has five or six heart attacks but doesn't die? Cheney is the only one I've heard who's had that many and lived to commit more evil).

I was intrigued by the film enough to post a question on the church's Facebook wall. When I mentioned not believing that Satan exists, a well meaning and conservative church member expressed concern and bore a testimony that she knows Satan is real because he appeared in her bedroom. Oh my God, really? Her response sparked a debate. I asked her how she knew he was the actual Satan and she claimed that she just knew like the way you know your own mother has entered the room even if your back is to her. I'm not buying that, though. But it did start an interesting dialogue. At the same time as I was commenting on that thread of dialogue, there was another thread of dialogue on the same Facebook wall of the church, in which a conservative church member claims that he has an actual interpersonal relationship with Jesus and he went so far as to say that Jesus was more real to him than I was to him! What's with all the kooks.

So, that made for some interesting dialogues. A woman trying to convince me that Satan is real because he appeared in her room (she did not share what he was doing there) and a man trying to convince me that Jesus told him that the Book of Mormon is a real, historical document (and not a concoction created and plagiarized by Joseph Smith, Jr.). In my experience, it seems to be the case that conservative minded people are more likely to claim to have actual visitations by Satan or Jesus. Its not possible that their imaginations are running wild or that perhaps some other spiritual being appeared to them (in all my readings regarding the spiritual realm, there are malicious earth bound spirits out there who can and do pretend to be other people through games such as the Ouija board). Since conservatives tend to be authoritarian in nature and don't like debate where everyone is viewed as equal, it doesn't surprise me. In the conservative mind, there always has to be an authoritarian figure that lays down the law, closing any debate. This is why conservatives love to quote the Bible, hoping to settle any argument while getting infuriated because final authority doesn't work on liberal minded people. So, for a conservative who claims to be visited by Jesus, its not possible in their minds that it might just be their personal spirit guide. What is most interesting about people who claim that Jesus is a real live being in their lives, is that their version of Jesus seems to endorse their prejudices or whatever worldview they have. I find this a credibility killer.

As for the movie, though it had some interesting moments and a good message, I won't be seeing it again. I still have no idea why M. Night Shyamalan did not direct this film. He gets over the title credit without having to do the work! But perhaps that's a good thing. After The Happening, I simply do not trust Shyamalan to carry a story logically. There were so many absurdities involved with The Happening that I'm surprised it ever got made. Oh well. I heard the next film in this new "M. Night Stories" series is going to be called Reincarnate. If its about what it sounds like, I may actually see this in the theater. I think Shyamalan has interesting and thought provoking ideas, with a spiritual view of the world ("things aren't as they seem" is his common theme). Unfortunately, though, he really needs to work on his delivery of the stories. I'd love to help him out.

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I've had that same discussion about satan. Thing is, for people who do believe, they believe absolutely, adamantly. There's no arguing with them. Lady in the water was awful.