M. Night Shyamalan analysis project overview

Montages is running an analysis project about M. Night Shyamalan‘s five films from 1999 to 2006: The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006).

The project consists of the following articles, all written by Dag Sodtholt, a Norwegian film critic and General Secretary of the Norwegian Film Critics Association:

(There is also a general article on Split (2016), two articles on After Earth (2013): here and here, and two articles on The Last Airbender (2010): here and here.)

The project originated from a desire to write a reappraisal of Lady in the Water, a film that was misunderstood and unfairly maligned in its time. The project then developed into an in-depth exploration of M. Night Shyamalan‘s five films from 1999 to 2006 – often referred to as the Shyamalan pentalogy throughout the articles – which can be said to constitute one long film revolving around the same themes, motifs and visual style. Consequently, the two Lady in the Water articles were written first and are somewhat differently organised than the rest of the pieces. A general overview over common Shyamalan themes and motifs in the very first article that was written can be directly viewed here, and might be a suitable introduction for readers unfamiliar with Shyamalan’s work.

Some of the below outlines will reveal important turns and twists of the plots.

Plot outline for The Sixth Sense

The confused and disheartened child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is experiencing a total breakdown of his marriage to the previously loving Anna (Olivia Williams). A major reason seems to be that Malcolm is devoting all his time to a new case, the nine-year-old Cole Sears (Haley Joel Osment). The boy exhibits high anxiety and anti-social behaviour, possibly due to the divorce of his parents. Malcolm becomes obsessed with helping him, because Cole reminds him about another boy, ten years ago. Only recently Malcolm has learned that the other boy has been suffering terribly since, about which Malcolm feels profound guilt since he misunderstood the case. Cole lives with his mother Lynn (Toni Collette), who is worried sick about Cole and the fact that Cole refuses to tell her what is troubling him.

The Sixth Sense

Plot outline for Unbreakable

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a depressed and downtrodden security guard, is the sole survivor of a terrible train accident, miraculously without breaking a single bone. He is soon contacted by the eccentric Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who has elevated superhero comic books to objects of fine art, exhibited in his own gallery. Elijah claims that David’s survival proves he is a superhero with the power of invulnerability – a being on the opposite side of the spectrum from Elijah, whose chronic illness makes his bones extremely brittle. Elijah tries to convince David to embrace his powers. David is torn between self-hate and hope to finally overcome his depression. David is in the process of leaving his wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn). His pre-teen son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) suffers from psychological problems, probably connected to the marriage problems and David’s inability to love him. Ultimately, David manages to break through several layers of denial, which have caused him to repress memories from two important events in his childhood and youth. He fulfills his destiny by fighting a murderous home invader we will call The Orange Man, saving two children’s lives in the process. A cascade of resolutions follow, of his inner conflict as well as those with Audrey and Joseph. But Elijah has a final surprise for David in the film’s epilogue.

toppbilde

Plot outline for Signs

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. As gradually revealed during the film, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) has lost his wife Colleen (Patricia Kalember) in an excruciating traffic accident, causing him to lose his faith and give up being a Reverend. Six months later, he is running a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He lives together with his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), who has returned home to support him, his 12-year-old son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and 5-year-old daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin). One morning, the family wake up to the fact that giant circles have been made in their cornfield. It turns out that aliens have arrived all over Earth, and mankind have to prepare for their onslaught.

The action in Signs, however, is confined to the vantage point of the Hess family. They have various encounters with alien scouts, which are never seen clearly. Finally, the aliens launch a world-wide attack. At the Hess farm, they manage to break into the boarded-up house. The family have to retreat into the cellar. For mysterious reasons, the aliens leave again, but when the family emerge, they are attacked by a left-behind alien with which Graham has skirmished time and again. (I will call it the Nemesis Alien.) Through a sudden epiphany, Graham realises that various peculiarities of his family members and his wife’s last words together constitute a way to defeat the alien. God has thus worked in mysterious ways and Graham regains his faith and position as a Reverend.

Signstopp

Plot outline for The Village

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. A late-19th-century village lives under constant threat from sentient, monstrous creatures that roam the forest surrounding the small community. The villagers seem partly terrorised, mostly by their own fear of the creatures, partly harmonious and happy. The village is governed by a council of wise elders who have laid done many rules. Most important is that no one must enter the woods, for that would break the fragile truce with the creatures. Everything red is forbidden because that colour attracts “Those We Don’t Speak of”. The film features a large cast of important characters. Edward Walker (William Hurt) is the ceremony master and de facto leader. Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver) is another important elder. She has a son, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), an eccentric loner with an urge to explore the outer world. The daughter of the leader, the blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a strong-willed and capricious girl attracted to Lucius. Noah (Adrien Brody) is a young man acting like a big child due to mental illness.

The creatures react badly to a foray by Lucius into the woods, and as retaliation they raid the village. Lucius gives up his plans, which have been strongly opposed by all the elders, who refuse to have anything to do with the towns outside of the forest, because they retreated to the village to escape horrible violence that killed beloved family members. Lucius finally succumbs to Ivy’s romantic overtures. They are to be married, but Noah tries to kill Lucius because he is in love with Ivy too. Edward reveals to Ivy that the creatures have been a hoax all along, just to prevent the villagers from leaving their lives of purity and innocence in this community. He allows Ivy to go to the towns to get medicines that may save the badly hurt Lucius. On her way through the woods she is attacked by a creature, which turns out to be Noah in disguise. She manages to kill him and continues with the journey. It turns out that the story has one more surprise.

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Plot outline for Lady in the Water

to be written

Lady in the Water #1

Plot outline for The Last Airbender

The film tells the story of Aang (Noah Ringer), a thirteen-year-old airbender who runs away from his destiny as the Avatar. After a hundred years in suspended animation, Aang travels to the Northern Water Tribe on the other side of the world with his newfound friends, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) to find a master to teach him waterbending. In his absence, the Fire Nation, now ruled by Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) has been waging a seemingly endless war against the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribe, having already destroyed the Air Nomads. As the Avatar, he is hunted by Zuko (Dev Patel), an exiled prince of the Fire Nation seeking to redeem his honor [by finding the Avatar and handing him over to his father, The Fire Lord], and the Fire Nation itself, led by Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi). (Outline so far taken from this source, with actors’ names added.) Zuko is on his travels accompanied by General Iroh (Shaun Toub), the Fire Lord’s brother, to whom Zuko has become a substitute son after the death of Iroh’s own. The Northern Water Tribe is led by Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabriel).

Plot outline for After Earth

to be written

[under construction] Common themes, motifs, trademarks, statistics etc.

The Sixth Sense

Unbreakable

Signs

The Village

Lady in the Water

The Happening

The Last Airbender

  • bleakness: none
  • cellar: none, except perhaps the dungeon where Aang is held captive
  • children or childlike beings: the monastery children in the flashbacks; Aang, Katara and Sokka are teenagers; probably Prince Zuko and Princess Yue as well; Vincent Malausa in Cahiers du cinéma points out, as retold by David Davison here, the “idea of tragedy which is that of children, who are condemned to carry the weight of the world of their shoulders, and have to start acting like adults.”
  • confined space: none
  • denial: Aang evading the responsibility of being Avatar; Aang also has unprocessed grief, as the Dragon Spirit says: “You are not dealing with the loss of your people, and your responsibility for their deaths. You are stopping yourself from grieving. You are angry. You must let this go.”; Zhao about to kill the Moon Spirit says, “The Fire Nation is too powerful to worry about children’s superstitions,” although he is clearly afraid; The Fire Nation generally since it “doesn’t wish to live by the Spirits. That’s why they’re so frightened by the existence of the Avatar.”
  • director cameo: supposedly one of the guards at the Earth prison camp
  • disaster level: whole world engulfed in war, the Fire Nation devastates the other tribes, powerless against “huge machines made of metal”, its killing of the Moon Spirit unbalances world completely, the arrival of their warships is, tellingly for the ecological undercurrent, announced by a pollutant, the “black snow”
  • extreme close-up: Aang when discovered by Fire soldiers at Water village; Aang before his three forays into the Spirit World; Aang before his last monastery flashback; very tight close-ups of Aang during discussion at Earth village; some shots where Aang’s face dominates the foreground LINK; General Iroh as he summons his fire power inside the spirit cave
  • faith: the belief in the Spirit World; Princess Yue saying: “It is time we show the Fire Nation we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.”
  • family (and substitutes): Katara and Sokka have lost their mother and their father is away at the wars; Zuko too has lost his mother; Zuko is cast out by father and further says in a soliloquy: “My sister Azula was always the special one. She was a Firebending prodigy. My father loves her. He can’t even look at me sometimes. He says I’m like my mother.”; General Iroh has lost his son; Iroh is substitute father of Zuko; the monk Gyatso is substitute father of Aang
  • flashbacks: Aang has three about the monastery; Zuko has one about being scarred and cast out by his father
  • hand-held camera: probably none
  • home invasion: possibly the Fire Nation soldiers raiding the Southern Water Tribe village
  • humor: see this chapter
  • innocence: the monastery children in the flashbacks: Aang before learning of the massacre of his people, then he is about loss of innocence; the same with Zuko who is unable to lead a normal life; Sokka who experiences the loss of Princess Yue, his love
  • jittery slow-motion: none
  • mentor: Aang for the whole world: “With his mastery of the four elements, he will begin to change hearts. And it is in the heart that all wars are won.”; Aang and Katara for each other; Master Pakku for Aang and Katara in refining their waterbending; the Dragon Spirit for Aang; the monk Kyatso for Aang; General Iroh for Zuko; the grandmother for Katara and Sokka; Sokka is a (comical) mentor for the village children but due to cuts we see only a tiny remnant
  • overhead shot: two during opening sequence with Katara and Sokka following tracks and running away from globe coming up from the ice; characters looking down at dead Moon Spirit floating in pond; Princess Yue sacrificing her life in pond; Aang running between ranks of fighting soldiers; twice as Aang summoning water masses at the beginning of climax LINK TO SECOND ARTICLE
  • panic attack: none
  • past/ancient history: the chamber of statues of previous avatars
  • past trauma: Zuko being scarred and cast out by his father and denied his love; Zuko also seems very attached to his dead mother; Katara and Sokka probably about the dead mother, killed by the Fire Nation in an attack on the village, although this is hardly touched upon
  • purpose: Aang embracing being the Avatar and realise his full powers; Katara realising her full waterbending powers; Zuko finding the Avatar to restore his position in the Fire Nation; General Iroh says: “There are reasons each of us are born. We have to find those reasons,” and then Princess Yue, who was given life as a baby by the Moon Spirit, says about sacrificing her life to revive it: “This was the reason I was born.”
  • references: this chapter in the first article
  • ritual: the testing procedure to find if anyone is the Avatar; the bowing before the Avatar and then his sign he is accepting the mantle of the Avatar; the ritualistic body movements involved in bending; meditation about which Aang says: “To get your Airbending tattoos, you have to meditate for long periods of time without losing focus. Some of the great monks can meditate for four days.”
  • secret: not prevalent, but there is Fire Lord Osai and Commander Zhao’s plan to kill the Moon Spirit
  • slow motion: during several fight scenes, where time is also speeded up
  • social criticism: an ecological message abot the ravages of the Fire Nation’s machines
  • storytelling/self-reflexivity: not prominent, but Aang must in real life emulate the “myth” of the Avatar; Katara says to the meditating Aang: “I knew you were real”; in scene at inn, the story of Zuko’s banishment is myth to the little boy but real life to Zuko; Princess Yue becomes one with the Moon Spirit (“my soul will no longer exist in this form”)
  • supernatural: the spirits; the bending powers of the four nations; the flying bison called Appa; the flying animal called Momo; the general fairy-tale nature of this world
  • twist: none
  • violence: the final battle; the fight at the Earth Prison; the driving out of Fire forces from Earth villages: the fight after Aang is freed from the dungeon; the killing of the Moon Spirit; Zuko as the Blue Spirit hit by an arrow
  • voice-over: Katara at various places (papering over cuts)
  • water: waterbending in general; the vast water masses marshalled by Aang at the climax; Princess Yue being “born” and sacrificing her life in water; the pond of the two fish spirits
  • withdrawal from society: none

After Earth

  • bleakness: some, but not prevalent
  • cellar: none
  • children or childlike beings: Kitai is fifteen and there are flashbacks to his childhood
  • confined space: the badly injured Father is confined to the cockpit of the spaceship wreck
  • denial: none clearly enunciated, but Father claims that Kitai’s failure to be promoted to Ranger is due to being “not ready” but he ought to understand that it, and the son’s severe anxiety issues, spring from unprocessed grief over sister’s death
  • director cameo: none
  • disaster level: whole Earth uninhabitable for Man
  • extreme close-up: Father before and after his first flashback; Kitai during epiphany
  • faith: not clearly enunciated but possibly faith in being one with the world, which is root of ability to ghost
  • family (and substitutes): the dead sister; the absent father; the giant bird “adopting” Kitai after death of offspring
  • flashbacks: 22 (Kitai recalls past trauma 4 times, consisting of resp. 7, 2, 3 and 5 short fragments; Kitai recalls dream on the raft; Father has 2 about Senshi and 2 fragments about Kitai as very small child)
  • hand-held camera: Kitai approaching Ursa containment box at the tail end
  • home invasion: the Ursa raided the family home in the past
  • humor: Very little, some joking in Father’s flashbacks; Father’s: “Great work, cadet” after Kitai has managed to apply the antidote is possibly dry humour; Kitai: “That sucked” and Father: “That is correct”; Kitai: “I want to work with Mom” at the end; the behaviour of the Kristofer Hivju character
  • innocence: none
  • jittery slow-motion: in the sickbay at the end
  • mentor: Father is Kitai’s mentor; to a certain extent his sister is too
  • overhead shot: Three very important shots creating a visual rhyme; the boy and the dead giant bird
  • panic attack: Kitai has several
  • past/ancient history: cave paintings; visual stylisation makes cutlass looks like spear as if characters were primitive humans; the old dam; spaceship is modeled after the aquatic ray, an Earth lifeform of the past of current humanity
  • past trauma: Kitai is traumatised after witnessing his sister’s death and also because he was afraid and powerless to help her
  • purpose: Kitai must stand on his own feet; find his purpose in life
  • references: this and this chapter in the first article
  • ritual: The Ranger grounding ritual: “Root yourself in this present moment now. Sight, sound, smell. What do you feel?”; the “Take a knee” posture; the military salute; various military procedures; Kitai’s trek through the forest is a rite of passage; Father telling story of his first ghosting, which he probably has done countless times
  • secret: Kitai keeps from his father that he does not have have enough breathing fluid vials to reach the tail end
  • slow motion: during and just after epiphany
  • social criticism: humanity’s past mismanagement of Earth
  • storytelling/self-reflexivity: Father: “We are all telling outselves a story”; Father’s story of his first ghosting
  • supernatural: Father possibly achieves some kind of telepathic communication with his son, its nature unexplained
  • twist: none
  • violence: fight with the Ursa; attacks from apes, feline predators and the giant bird; war scenes from Nova Prime’s past
  • voice-over: Kitai recounting the background story of humanity’s new home on Nova Prime
  • water: Kitai almost drowns in an underground lake
  • withdrawal from society: Earth has “withdrawn” from human society; humanity collectively withdrew from Earth a thousand years ago; Kitai as a child withdrew to the box and has metaphorically stayed there his whole life (Sister says: “You’re still in that box. It’s time to come out.”)

The Visit

Split

[under construction] Long takes (30 seconds or more)

Films are listed in chronological order. “Nearly single-shot scene” means that the scene consists of just one more relatively short shot.

The Sixth Sense

25 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 160 seconds last shot of dinner scene with Cole and his mother (shot no. 444)
  • 118 restaurant scene with Malcolm and his wife (shot no. 197)*
  • 112 first shot of breakfast with Cole and his mother (shot no. 140)**
  • 109 Cole brings box to deceased girl’s father (shot no. 551)**
  • 109 first shot of “second ending”, camera moves up to Cole and his mother in the car (shot no. 607)
  • 102 last shot of scene with Malcolm and Cole with ghosts of hanged people at school (shot no. 438)
  • 99 antique shop with Malcolm’s wife and two amusing customers (shot no. 451)*
  • 75 Malcolm and Cole walking in street talking (shot no. 198)*
  • 69 antique shop with Malcolm’s wife and her suitor (shot no. 452)**
  • 68 first shot of Malcolm in the cellar studying before he notices his wife’s visitor (shot no. 231)
  • 58 first shot of Malcolm and Cole inside house of burial gathering (shot no. 543)
  • 52 first shot of mother coming home from hospital with sleeping Cole (shot no. 393)
  • 45 Malcolm and his wife celebrate his public citation in living room (shot no. 8)
  • 45 Malcolm’s speech to sleeping wife (shot no. 688)
  • 44 last shot of second ghost scene with boy with gunshot wound in head, Cole and his mother embrace desperately (shot no. 449)
  • 43 Malcolm and Cole arrive at burial gathering (shot no. 542)*
  • 42 Malcom in street outside home, spotting his wife’s suitor leaving (shot no. 515)*
  • 40 close-up of Malcolm in crucial scene of listening to and rewinding tape incessantly (shot no. 481)
  • 36 second shot of opening cellar scene with Malcolm’s wife (shot no. 4)
  • 33 first shot of Cole’s mother tidying before finding pages of automatic writing (shot no. 217)
  • 33 Cole comforts sleeping mother who is having a bad dream (shot no. 518)
  • 31 first shot of birthday party, Cole showing trick to boy (shot no. 305)
  • 31 outside supermarket, mother driving Cole in trolley (shot no. 441)*
  • 31 first shot of school play performance (shot no. 580)
  • 30 segment of video watched by deceased girl’s father (shot no. 560)

Unbreakable

61 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 229 seconds David trying to seduce train passenger (shot no. 7)
  • 174 David and Audrey speaking at restaurant bar (shot no. 196)*
  • 140 flashback of car accident (shot no. 208)*
  • 132 David and Elijah talking on top of stadium (shot no. 95)*
  • 129 Elijah as a kid and his mother, reflected in TV screen (shot no. 50)**
  • 129 Joseph pointing gun at David in the kitchen, with Audrey (shot no. 183)
  • 126 the birth of Elijah and discovery of broken bones (shot no. 3)*
  • 126 David waking up in emergency ward (shot no. 24)*
  • 119 David at exhibition at Elijah’s gallery speaking to his mother (shot no. 298)*
  • 114 Elijah and Audrey talking at rehab centre (shot no. 163)
  • 111 David met by Audrey and Joseph in hospital reception (shot no. 25)*
  • 111 Audrey asks David if he has been unfaithful  (shot no. 84)*
  • 109 last shot of David speaking to elderly school nurse (shot no. 179)
  • 108 David talking to Audrey about never having been sick (shot no. 49)*
  • 101 David fighting Orange Man in bedroom (shot no. 281)**
  • 91 David carrying Audrey upstairs, home after defeating Orange Man (shot no. 283)**
  • 72 David listening to phone message from Elijah (shot no. 203)*
  • 65 David and Aubrey speaking, home from restaurant (shot no. 202)
  • 64 Elijah in conversation with buyer at comics art gallery, reflected in display glass casing (shot no. 59)
  • 62 second shot in Elijah’s office, camera closing in on him (shot no. 68)
  • 62 first shot of revelation scene between David and Elijah (shot no. 299)
  • 61 comic book clerk trying to wheel Elijah out of store (shot no. 192)
  • 58 David and Joseph leaving Elijah’s office, shot from high vantage point (shot no. 73)
  • 57 second shot of David rejecting Elijah at gallery (shot no. 186)
  • 55 first shot in Elijah’s office, camera gliding back and forth between him and David/Joseph (shot no. 67)
  • 55 David and Joseph talking at the park (shot no. 132)
  • 54 David and Joseph speaking in the school yard (shot no. 180)*
  • 53 David talking to secretary at stadium (shot no. 42 )*
  • 47 first shot of David rejecting Elijah at gallery (shot no. 185)
  • 47 David following Orange Man at railway station (shot no. 225)
  • 46 David trying out powers at stadium (shot no. 165)
  • 45 curtain shot through which we glimpse David entering room with dead woman (shot no. 246)*
  • 42 Elijah gives buyer a dressing down for his disrespect of comics (shot no. 64)
  • 41 Elijah at hospital with doctor enumerating broken bones (shot no. 160)*
  • 40 last shot of weightlifting scene with David and Joseph (shot no. 159)
  • 39 David and Audrey speaking to Joseph before going out (shot no. 190)*
  • 38 David starts interrogating drug dealer at stadium (shot no. 173)
  • 37 David talking to boss in dressing room (shot no. 47)*
  • 37 David lifting the heaviest weights in cellar, shot from above (shot no. 155)
  • 37 Elijah gets phone call from David who accepts his powers (shot no. 209)*
  • 37 continuation of frames-within-frames shot of David inside victim house, after spotting dead man on cellar stairs (shot no. 238)
  • 37 David untying children inside victim house (shot no. 245)
  • 36 David and Elijah walking along stadium queue (shot no. 89)
  • 35 memorial service inside church (shot no. 37)*
  • 35 first shot of scene with David in closet to look at clippings (shot no. 76)
  • 35 David and Elijah talk at stadium, seen through bars (shot no. 87 )*
  • 35 David crawling out of pool, children watching (shot no. 279)
  • 35 Joseph coming down to join David and Audrey for breakfast (shot no. 285)
  • 34 third shot in Elijah’s office, camera closing in on David and Joseph (shot no. 69)
  • 34 irritated comic book clerk discovers Elijah is disabled (shot no. 189)
  • 33 David lifting weights in cellar, shot from above (shot no. 141)
  • 33 David entering train hall with wreck (shot no. 205)
  • 32 David leaning towards train window looking very sad (shot no. 9)
  • 32 David frisking drug dealer at stadium and letting him go (shot no. 174)
  • 32 second shot of David at railway station (shot no. 211)
  • 31 David and Joseph enter gallery, speaking to Elijah, seen through window (shot no. 66)
  • 31 fourth shot in Elijah’s office, close-up of him (shot no. 70)
  • 31 fifth shot in Elijah’s office, close-up of David and Joseph (shot no. 71)
  • 31 David looking at train wreck (shot no. 206)
  • 31 frames-within-frames shot of David inside victim house (shot no. 234)
  • 30 David at railway station after first “touch flashback” (shot no. 213)

Signs

32 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 97 seconds last shot, camera circle-pans Graham’s bedroom where he exits bathroom having donned a priest’s habit (shot no. 585)*
  • 87 Merrill’s monologue in nighttime conversation about there being two groups of people (shot no. 260)
  • 86 Graham’s monologue in nighttime conversation about there being two groups of people (shot no. 259)
  • 80 first shot of family having returned upstairs from cellar (shot no. 520)
  • 72 Graham tells Bo the story of how she was born (shot no. 425)
  • 70 family gather around Morgan outside, Graham won’t accept he’s dead (shot no. 584)*
  • 65 Family discusses the menu for their “last meal” (shot no. 397)*
  • 59 Graham tells Morgan the story of how he was born (shot no. 439)
  • 57 Graham comes in, family gather around kitchen table (shot no. 246)*
  • 57 the others remain in cellar while Merrill checks if aliens have left upstairs (shot no. 519)
  • 56 cellar: Graham and Merrill stand over Morgan lying in foreground (shot no. 518)
  • 54 Graham makes phone call and children shows him sick dog in kitchen (shot no. 27)
  • 53 Morgan and Bo with the aggressive dog (shot no. 31)**
  • 52 Graham and Merrill discussing how to deal with nighttime intruder (shot no. 64)
  • 51 Graham and children read book about extraterrestrials (shot no. 291)
  • 46 family and sheriff watch first TV reports on aliens (shot no. 112)
  • 45 Merrill calms down children in front of TV after Graham has abruptly left (shot no. 392)
  • 42 Graham speaks with sheriff (shot no. 29)
  • 41 Graham at night discovering flattened part of field (shot no. 232)
  • 36 Merrill and Morgan speak with sheriff (shot no. 81)
  • 36 close-up of sheriff in second flashback telling Graham how badly injured wife is (shot no. 502)
  • 35 Family watches TV in stylised composition, children in foreground, adults in sofa(shot no. 250)
  • 35 Merrill and children sit in sofa with tin foil hats, discussing with Graham (shot no. 361)
  • 34 Graham and sheriff discuss situation after first TV report (shot no. 115)*
  • 34 Graham rising from sofa (shot no. 278)**
  • 34 family in cellar with aliens banging on door (shot no. 459)
  • 34 cellar: Bo picks up flashlight, revealing that Merrill has barricaded coal chute door (shot no. 481)
  • 34 cellar: close-up of Merrill and Bo looking off-screen at Graham who tries to calm down Morgan’s asthma attack (shot no. 495)
  • 32 cellar: Merrill telling Graham that he can’t take Graham losing faith (shot no. 514)
  • 31 inside closet Merrill informs Graham about events of the night’s TV broadcasts (shot no. 279)
  • 31 pantry door scene: Graham starts to leave, stops in kitchen door, returns (shot no. 348)
  • 30 family inside car discuss signals Morgan picks up on babycall (shot no. 178)

The Village

52 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 183 seconds Lucius declares his love for Ivy (shot no. 230)
  • 164 Edward explains secret of monsters to Ivy (shot no. 298)*
  • 154 last shot, everyone by Lucius’s bed and Ivy enters (shot no. 389)*
  • 142 Edward and Ivy walk towards shed (shot no. 268)*
  • 89 creature appears near Ivy (shot no. 326)
  • 83 Fenton leaves Ivy to make her way through the woods alone (shot no. 294)*
  • 81 Lucius and Ivy talking by porch (shot no. 149)
  • 71 Ivy declares to Edward her intention to go to the towns for medicine for Lucius (shot no. 262)*
  • 71 second shot of elders’ outdoors meeting (shot no. 301)
  • 69 Tabitha protests to Edward about Ivy’s plan to go to the towns (shot no. 266)*
  • 68 Edward tells Alice he has sent Ivy to the towns (shot no. 299)*
  • 66 bloodied Noah discovered by parents on porch (shot no. 243)*
  • 63 town meeting due to skinned animal discovered (shot no. 53)**
  • 63 Edward and Judy discuss her intended marriage with Lucius (shot no. 55)**
  • 61 Ivy climbs out of hole and staggers over to dead tree (shot no. 315)
  • 58 Lucius claims to Alice, his mother, that Edward has feelings for her (shot no. 138)
  • 58 Ivy and Judy make sure they are reconciled about Ivy’s love for Lucius (shot no. 233)*
  • 56 Ivy walks to Lucius’s house upon hearing of bloodied Noah (shot no. 248)*
  • 54 Lucius walks towards red bush, discovers monster lurking (shot no. 144)
  • 53 in first shot of guardhouse scene Kevin enters and Jay gives good advice (shot no. 380)
  • 51 Edward teaching children in school (shot no. 29)*
  • 51 Judy crying on bed while Ivy comforts her and rest of family watch (shot no. 63)*
  • 50 Vivian Percy reads Lucius’s written confession during town meeting after monster invasion (shot no. 184)
  • 49 Ivy and Noah standing in door of quiet room (shot no. 92)*
  • 48 Edward and villagers listen to boys’ report about animal atrocities (shot no. 219)
  • 47 secret of shed revealed (shot no. 295)
  • 47 Ivy reaches gravel road in the woods (shot no. 347)*
  • 45 Edward, Tabitha and doctor discuss what to do with injured Lucius (shot no. 264)*
  • 45 Noah in the hole (shot no. 343)*
  • 44 girls sweeping porch discover red flower and bury it (shot no. 23)*
  • 44 in guardhouse Kevin steals medicine and asks Jay about ladder (shot no. 383)
  • 43 third shot of elders’ outdoors meeting (shot no. 302)
  • 39 Ivy walks out and sits down beside Lucius on porch (shot no. 229)
  • 39 last shot of Noah’s murder attempt of Lucius (shot no. 241)
  • 39 Ivy hears something breaking and throws rock to see if that is echoed too (shot no. 320)
  • 38 Elders’ inquiry about animal atrocities, Lucius and Ivy’s love also raised (shot no. 232)*
  • 36 first shot of burial in opening scene (shot no. 8)
  • 36 Ivy bends down over injured Lucius on floor (shot no. 250)
  • 36 Ivy reaches perimeter and climbs it (shot no. 350)**
  • 35 Fenton in watchtower sounds alarm because of monster invasion (shot no. 155)
  • 35 opening shot of marriage celebration, Ivy embracing Judy (shot no. 202)
  • 35 first shot of Noah’s murder attempt of Lucius (shot no. 234)
  • 34 Lucius and Fenton in the watchtower (shot no. 50)**
  • 32 Edward walks towards Lucius during town meeting after monster invasion (shot no. 185)
  • 31 Ivy and Noah start foot race towards resting rock (shot no. 93)
  • 31 empty village outside town meeting after monster invasion (shot no. 181)
  • 31 Ivy alone in the night in the woods (shot no. 307)*
  • 31 the camera slowly closes in on photo in box (shot no. 358)
  • 30 Ivy, Lucius and children cower in cellar during monster invasion (shot no. 178)
  • 30 Edward and Alice discuss animal atrocities outside barn (shot no. 225)*
  • 30 Alice, Edward, Tabitha, doctor by Lucius’s sickbed (shot no. 346)*
  • 30 between Edward and Tabitha we glimpse items they take out of box (shot no. 354)

Lady in the Water

— long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

The Happening

15 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 87 seconds lady speaking on phone with daughter who commits suicide (shot no. 308)
  • 77 discussion on television after disaster is over (shot no. 694)
  • 72 exploring the “fake house” (shot no. 424)
  • 68 crossroads scene, meeting up with soldier and others (shot no. 301)
  • 56 Elliot and Julian talking outside school (shot no. 91)*
  • 52 close shot of Eliot discussing situation with Alma through speaking tube after they have shut the doors to the wind (shot no. 639)
  • 49 Elliot in diner talking to Jess about mood ring (shot no. 178)
  • 49 last shot of Princeton suicide scene, car crash and Julian’s death  (shot no. 286)
  • 47 last shot of gun-sharing mass suicide scene (shot no. 142)
  • 43 Elliot talking to plant inside “fake house” (shot no. 423)
  • 41 Elliot wandering around the “crazy lady” house in the morning (shot no. 584)
  • 34 Elliot, Alma, Jess and the two young men discover empty car (shot no. 411)
  • 33 during Elliot’s lesson in classroom (shot no. 39)
  • 30 Elliot coming home, watching news with Alma (shot no. 95)
  • 30 Alma on train talking on phone with admirer (shot no. 144)

The Last Airbender

22 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 84 seconds first shot inside chamber of statues (shot no. 370)
  • 80 fight scene inside earthbender prison camp (shot no. 273)
  • 59 Prince Zuko returns to port city while General Iroh gets a foot massage (shot no. 482)*
  • 53 Aang and Katara dancing in unison, interrupted by “black snow” (shot no. 529)**
  • 51 Katara and Sokka discussing what to do after Aang has been taken away by Zuko (shot no. 96)*
  • 50 opening scene with Katara and Sokka fishing (shot no. 4)
  • 50 first shot inside prison camp, the earthbender’s story (shot no. 266)
  • 46 third shot of first dialogue scene between Princess Yue and Sokka (shot no. 526)
  • 43 Commander Zhao interrogating the chained Aang inside dungeon (shot no. 390)**
  • 41 Katara opening up to a meditating Aang in the spirit cave, interrupted by Zuko (shot no. 556)
  • 41 Zhao discusses with Iroh on warship, humiliating him (shot no. 521)
  • 40 discussion between Iroh and stow-away Zuko on warship (shot no. 527)*
  • 40 discussion between Yue and Sokka before she gives her life (shot no. 716)
  • 39 the last meeting with the dragon spirit (shot no. 600)
  • 38 practicing by the brook (shot no. 309)
  • 37 Aang and Zuko’s cat-and-mouse game in storeroom (shot no. 622)
  • 37 second of the three shots of epilogue, Fire Lord explaining his plans for world domination (shot no. 821)
  • 33 first shot of fight scene after Aang’s escape from dungeon (shot no. 417)
  • 32 Fire Lord reveals plan of killing the Moon Spirit to Zhao (shot no. 509)**
  • 32 Aang sparring with Master Pakku (shot no. 515)
  • 30 second shot of first dialogue scene between Yue and Sokka (shot no. 525)
  • 30 a torn Aang with the battle on the square in slow-motion in the background (shot no. 708)**

After Earth

10 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 61 seconds start of Father’s story of first ghosting (shot no. 552)
  • 46 Father tells Kitai that he is coming with him on a space trip, camera pulls out to take in city (shot no. 92)*
  • 42 Father checking vibrations in hull (shot no. 144)*
  • 37 Father logging message that he has lost contact with Kitai (shot no. 746)*
  • 37 Kitai discovers bird outside “nest” at hot spot (shot no. 828)
  • 37 Father waking up to renewed communication from son (shot no. 855)
  • 36 Father and son interacting after take-off (shot no. 119)**
  • 33 Father gives boy instructions including about hot-spots while camera is closing in on him across holographic map (shot no. 382)
  • 30 Father restarting ship’s computer (shot no. 304)
  • 30 Kitai’s tirade against Father before he throws himself off cliff (shot no. 627)

The Visit

— long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

Split

15 long takes (30 seconds or more) in descending order: (*single-shot scene, **nearly single-shot scene)

  • 126 seconds Kevin/Dennis tries to explain that The Beast is real to Dr. Fletcher during her visit, while camera slowly closes in on him (shot no. 744)
  • 61 The Horde discussing among themselves in mirror at the end (shot no. 1117)
  • 60 Kevin/Dennis makes himself known to Dr. Fletcher for the first time (shot no. 568)
  • 48 Casey realises the location of keys, circular camera movement (shot no. 897)**
  • 45 Casey pleads with Kevin/Hedwig to help her escape, ends with him showing her walkie-talkie (shot no. 623)
  • 39 hand-held shot of Marcia trying to escape but is caught by Kevin/Patricia (shot no. 494)
  • 37 Casey tells Kevin/Hedwig the true story of why she gets into trouble at school (shot no. 545)
  • 35 revealed that Kevin/Hedwig is spooning Casey on the bed (shot no. 509)
  • 35 Casey in police car, circular camera movement (shot no. 1108)
  • 34 close-up of Dr. Fletcher during conference call (shot no. 396)
  • 33 first shot in diner (shot no. 1119)
  • 32 parking lot scene with the three girls and the father (shot no. 14)*
  • 32 aftermath of Kevin/Dennis’s abusive attack, showing Claire and Marcia, and then close-up of Casey, before first flashback (shot no. 82)
  • 30 Dr. Fletcher recounts to Kevin/Dennis (pretending to be Kevin/Barry) the incident when girls sexually provoked him at work, while camera slowly closes in on him (shot no. 556)
  • 30 second shot in diner (shot no. 1120)

[under construction] Writings and other resources on M. Night Shyamalan

This chapter will list books, articles and other resources of interest, from a wide variety of sources. (The early film Wide Awake (1998) is not included since it is disowned by the director.)

Books:

Michael Bamberger, who had full access to the preparations and shoot, has written a very interesting and nuanced account of the making of Lady in the Water, “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale” (New York: Gotham 2006). (The paperback edition contains a new foreword by David Bordwell.)

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (ed.): “Critical Approaches to the Films of M. Night Shyamalan: Spoiler Warnings” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2010).

Websites:

www.mnightfans.com (run by Rohan Mohmand and Paul Michael Martin)

Articles on Shyamalan in general:

Lesley Brill: M. Night Shyamalan: A Preliminary Report (2008) at www.sensesofcinema.com discusses his career up to and including Lady in the Water.

Donato Totaro at www.offscreen.com: Visual Style in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Fantastic” Trilogy, in two parts: The Long Take and Mise en Scène, covering The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.

Mike Thorn: M. Night Shyamalan’s Terror Trilogy: Signs (2002), The Village (2004), and The Happening (2008) at www.brightlightsfilm.com.

David Davidson at the blog Toronto Film Review, as a contrast to the Anglo-American reception, reports on writings on Shyamalan up to 2013 at Cahiers du Cinéma, in two articles: film-by-film reviews and overviews and career evaluations. Be forewarned, however, that proofreading seems alien to the author/translator and the translation of the French texts does not read well, making them more impenetrable than intended (one hopes).

This roundtable discussion at www.thevulgarcinema.com discusses his entire career from a post-After Earth perspective.

Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice: The Biggest Twist: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love M. Night Shyamalan in connection with the Split premiere.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at MUBI: What is the 21st Century?: The Modern Director, Pt. 1, discussing Shyamalan’s “old-fashionedness” and absolute faith in his own cinema.

Adam Nayman of The Ringer: The Unbreakable M. Night Shyamalan, a well-written but rather facetious piece, which may serve as an example of the wide-held belief that this director is wildly erratic and hardly knows what he’s doing.

An excellent interview by Mike Ryan for The Huffington Post: M. Night Shyamalan, ‘After Earth’ Director, On A Sequel To ‘Unbreakable’ And His Relationship With Critics – “I am really leaning towards doing a hyper-small movie.” Also interesting stuff on his writing process, “agenda vs intention”. (This interview at the time of Split by the same journalist is also fairly interesting.)

Interview by Emma Robertson of The Talks: M. Night Shyamalan: “I’m who you want in there” – on horror films and the supernatural.

Articles on Praying with Anger:

A Small Gesture” from the anonymous Lights in the Dusk blog.

Articles on The Sixth Sense:

Erlend Lavik: Narrative Structure in The Sixth Sense: A New Twist in “Twist Movies”? – part of the author’s PhD dissertation from the University of Bergen, October 2007, “Changing Narratives: Five Essays on Hollywood History“.

Articles on Unbreakable:

The film’s cinematographer Eduardo Serra is interviewed here (but be warned that some scenes are inaccurately described in it).

Kyle Jonathan’s eloquent review from www.podcastingthemsoftly.com

Articles on Signs:

Stephen M. Klugewicz: Aliens . . . or Demons? Reinterpreting “Signs” and along the same lines:

Christopher Webster: Theory will make you rethink M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS

Articles on The Village:

Scout Tafoya‘s audiovisual essay on the film can be found here.

Michael Koresky: Twilight of the Idyll about its allegorical aspects at www.reverseshot.org.

Jeff Reichert: The Village People at www.reverseshot.org.

Emmett Booth: The Village Is a Misunderstood Parable for the Age of Trump at www.vulture.com.

Articles on Lady in the Water:

David Bordwell has written a defence of Bamberger’s book (see above) and the film. He felt the book was misrepresented by reviewers and, although he finds faults with it, he thought the film’s extremely hostile reception inappropriate and neglectful of its qualities.

IMDb user comment by ThreeSadTigers (the person behind the Lights in the Dusk blog).

Jonathan Hastings’s review on Letterboxd. (Hastings is also one of the participants in the vulgarcinema.com roundtable discussion above).

Articles on The Happening:

C.J. Lines: Looking back at M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the A.V. Club: Was The Happening supposed to be taken seriously?

Donato Totaro: The Happening at www.offscreen.com

Articles on The Last Airbender:

Not much critical writing on this film, but feel free to disentangle this mess: someone claiming that everything perceived to be wrong with it was not Shyamalan’s fault; someone rather convincingly arguing against the veracity of some of those claims; a rather scathing criticism of the film’s quality (typically, some of it valid, some of it thoughtless); a comparison of the contents of the film and the TV series; an estimate of what was in the alleged good half-hour removed from the original cut (search for text “deleted scenes”); a roundtable discussion where the director himself discusses the film; and an interview about the pressures of making a blockbuster and the hostile critical reception.

Articles on After Earth:

Dead But Not Yet Buried” from the anonymous Lights in the Dusk blog. This entry contains some reflections on Shyamalan’s post-After Earth stature, as a foreword to the blogger’s English translation of the French article “After Earth: N’enterrons pas trop vite M. Night Shyamalan” by Hendy Bicaise from www.vodkaster.com, which addresses Anglo-American critics’ disproportionally hostile reception of the director’s recent films. Bicaise also identifies links to previous works (but while undeniably present, I find his idea that they take place in common universe, where a thousand years into the future Shyamalan’s work has acquired mythical status, rather far-fetched).

Articles on The Visit:

IMDb user comment by ThreeSadTigers (the person behind the Lights in the Dusk blog).

Interview by Brooks Barnes of The New York Times: With ‘The Visit,’ M. Night Shyamalan Returns to His Filmmaking Roots.

Articles on Split:

Joe McGovern of Entertainment Weekly: Split spoiler: M. Night Shyamalan breaks down film’s shock ending.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the A.V. Club: Interview about “turning domestic worries into supernatural fears” and on his daughters’ influence on his writing.

Mike Thorn: Review: Genre Trauma in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” on MUBI Notebook.

Josh Hamm and Josh Cabrita: A Conversation about “Split” at www.moviemezzanine.com – simply some of the most thoughtful and passionate writing about the director I have seen, in a piece that also looks back at his entire career.

Austin Kemprowski’s review on Letterboxd, a thoughtful and well-written short piece, a good example of a case where a non-professional but knowledgeable and passionate critic is capable of a valuable contribution.

DeviantArt conducted this half-hour interview with the director. (Facebook log-in required.)

Podcasts:

On Split and Unbreakable, with Tim Fuglei and Frank Mengarelli from www.podcastingthemsoftly.com

Reviews:

Links to the review aggregator site www.metacritic.com for the films: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Visit, Split

Box office figures:

Links to www.boxofficemojo.com for the films: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Visit, Split

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