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:

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.


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.


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.

AAAA top picture

Plot outline for Lady in the Water

to be written

Lady in the Water #1

Read next: