The Village Part III: Love, murder and monsters

This article is part of 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). This is the third article about The Village. The first one is here, the second here. The articles about the other films can be found in this overview.

At one point in The Village the Edward Walker character says: “I cannot explain in words.” Like many of the other articles in this series, this entry will take him on his word. The analysis will thus lean heavily on screen shots, preserving the film’s own gestures, often rearranging them in surprising combinations. Virtually every shot of the two examined sections will be shown. This may sound daunting, but in this film every shot is highly deliberate, every shot is counting, and many shots are made in long takes, greatly reducing the number.

The article will walk through two sections of The Village to discuss salient points, while sweeping up all sorts of connections to the rest of the film and other Shyamalan works. There will also be extensive references to items already covered in the first two articles. During the love and murder section, another objective is to track down various characters’ last words – which are all carefully judged and poignant – since the end of the section represents a turning point, after which several characters will virtually disappear from the story.

The film’s motif of wind/breathing was excluded from the general motif discussion in the first article and will be covered here as it is tightly bound to these two sections. The article will end with the quest through Covington Woods section. The material will thus slot itself nicely between the start and the ending of the film, which were covered in the first article.


In order to discuss the film properly, I will have to reveal the whole plot, including the plot twist at the end. The same goes for one important aspect of the ending of The Sixth Sense.

For readers unfamiliar with the story of The Village, here is a brief outline of the plot. There are several slide shows. Each show can be restarted from the beginning by clicking on the current image to enlarge it and then return to the article. There are also links to various points inside the other Shyamalan articles. Dependent on resources, on occasion web browsers will miss the exact target point on the first attempt, since images are loaded after text, which may cause a shift. If you do not reach the expected point in the other article, try again, then the browser will meanwhile have corrected itself.

The love and murder section

This section comprises the following scenes:

  • The second porch scene, where Lucius finally declares his love for Ivy
  • His mother confirms the village rumours about their new relationship
  • Ivy makes sure that Kitty does not bear any grudge against her, since Lucius was Kitty’s former object of infatuation
  • Noah, who is in love with Ivy, attempts to murder Lucius in a harrowing scene
  • Noah is found by his parents all bloodied up on the porch of their house
  • A brief scene where the council of elders are notified about the incident
  • Ivy and Kitty are informed that Noah must have done something awful
  • Ivy storms through the village to Lucius’s house
  • Ivy finds him severely injured
  • Mrs. Clack gives a bleak bulletin to Ivy and the villagers about his prospects

The first porch scene between Lucius and Ivy saw them discussing Lucius’s vague plan to go to the towns, and Ivy openly declaring her romantic availability now that her sister Kitty is about to be married off. It took place just before the creature invasion, when Lucius saved her from an approaching red monster. (It is easy to misplace that event: Ivy does not stand on the porch – although there is no establishing shot, a house can be seen through the doorway, proving that she is on the opposite side of the house, facing the village.)

Their second porch scene, the point of departure for the current analysis, starts the same night as the livestock massacre that interrupted Kitty’s wedding party. Ivy suddenly wakes up to discover that Lucius is guarding her house. (The two shots leading up to the scene can be seen here. There are more stuff about the porch scenes in the second article, in the “Lucius and Ivy” chapter.)

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The porch scene starts, and a chair – already established as a motif in the first article – is looming meaningfully…
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…the lighting makes a fleeting connection between her feet and the “feet” of the chair…
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…the first shot ends here…
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…followed by a virtually static shot held for 183 seconds. The vapor from their breath in the cold night air (discernible in front of his mouth here) plays nicely against the sea of vapors lyrically in the background. Ivy holds this position for almost the entire shot, the light reflected in her eye in exquisite fashion, giving her blind gaze a quizzical look at this strange person. We have never seen her from this angle and in this lighting before, as if we are being prepared for the new stage she will enter…
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…having worked through his momentary exasperation, he finally touches her – for the third time in the film. But this is the first time it happens spontaneously and of his free will, since on the two previous occasions he did it to save her: from the creature, and from the commotion at the wedding dance. In the closing seconds we see a Shyamalan trademark: the camera travelling almost imperceptibly closer, an intensification of the gentlest possible magnitude, to subconsciously make us participate in Lucius’s caress.

Here Lucius concludes a long, impassioned monologue with an answer to Ivy’s impertinent question just before: “And, yes, I will dance with you on our wedding night.” (In poetic irony, this will be his last words to her in the film.) But they have actually danced together before:

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After he has saved her from the creature, the scene is staged and filmed in slow motion to make it look like a dance…
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…later, during the wedding, she is dancing with another young man (with a similar stance and grip)…
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…and when the festivities are interrupted, he again turns up to protect her, “towing her away” like before. Although not shot as dance-like, the event surrounding it serves as a connection.
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Investigating this strand, we must not forget the lyrical scene of the girls sweeping the porch who suddenly turn this prosaic activity into a dance, doing several pirouettes. Again, a realistic situation transformed into poetry through dance.

Becoming aware of the echoes of their previous dance-like moments creates some form of structural poetry. Without thinking about the film in terms of structure, we would have been oblivious to the extra resonance conjured up by their dialogue – intellectual activity leading to emotion.

The ending of the film echoes its beginning, like many stories do. But Shyamalan takes this further, in that many story arcs (for example the guard Kevin’s appearances being book-ended by meaningful sounds), scenes or shots will follow the same strategy. Thus, the current scene will soon fold back on itself, picking up its initial set-up and turning back to the porch from where it came.

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The music that started to caress the last lines of Lucius’s monologue – its piano part arrives timed to his “I will dance” declaration and is repeated as he touches her cheek – we have heard before…
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…over the lullaby scene and the next scene, where Lucius brings firewood for August. (This musical theme returns in the film’s closing seconds, the piano timed to Ivy’s touching Lucius’s hand.)

These two past scenes are connected through the colour and lighting scheme, and being about caring for and comforting others in distress – Ivy sings the lullaby for Kitty, who is heartbroken from unrequited love; Lucius helps August, who is grieving over his dead son. Here Ivy and Lucius were confined to separate scenes that still were connected through the other elements, but in the porch scene everything fully converges: characters, music, even their bodies, for Lucius leans over to kiss Ivy:

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But the camera starts gliding away, so that at the exact moment of kissing, they disappear from the frame. This might be a film-formal reflection of the sense of modesty in this old-fashioned community, but most of all it is highly symbolic. For the camera is instead on its way to gaze at the chair, which was so central to the scene’s start.
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This echoes the brilliant idea in the prologue of The Sixth Sense, where the camera glides away so that the exact point of the suicide happens outside the frame, and like that shot came to rest at an object (the joyful photo) in a symbolic counterpoint with the violence…
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…something similar happens here. The softness of the movement reflects the nature of their kiss, but the chair is very much double-edged. Death counterpointed by joy in The Sixth Sense here becomes kiss counterpointed by something enigmatic and vaguely ominous. The rocking chair looks old-fashioned and cosy, but as we saw in the first article, chairs are also symbolic of loss…
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…meanwhile the camera goes on gliding. The image is undeniably poetic, but the symbolism is much more complex than it looks…
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…because the camera does not stop until here, the chair not only intertwined with another object, but perfectly aligned and balanced with it. The bodies we just left are becoming one, as are the objects representing them. The chair is Lucius who will soon be nearly murdered…
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…and the columns are strongly connected to Ivy through their appearance in the previous porch scene.
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Temporarily we bypass two scenes, jumping ahead to the murder scene at Lucius’s house. That morning, the whole village has learned about Lucius and Ivy becoming a couple. The scene starts with a closed door
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…then someone is knocking (four times, an often meaningful number). Noah thus repeats in milder form the creature’s hammering on the door during the invasion. This nicely connects to Noah later playing a creature during Ivy’s quest, and his hammering on the door when imprisoned at the end of the second quiet room scene. Noah is clearly distraught and has been crying.
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The scene just before ended with this moment of reconciliation between the sisters, where Kitty dries off Ivy’s tears.

Let us stop for a moment to wrap up how actions, characters, plot elements and dialogue combine to create a complex strand with meaningful echoes. Two moments directly follow each other and are obviously linked: (1) through Ivy’s crying and Noah’s crying, tears of respectively joy and despair; and (2) through puppy love: Kitty for Lucius (in the past, now overcome) and Noah for Ivy (raging still, out of control).

Furthermore, when Ivy threatened to put Noah in the quiet room earlier in the film, he said: “I’ll cry quarts.” When Ivy is soon told about the murder attempt, the messenger says: “Noah Percy was found with quarts of blood upon his clothes and hands.” After the murder attempt, Noah’s parents find him on the porch, crying, with blood all over him. In the murder scene, Noah will keep on blinking back tears, for example during the first knife strike. The recurring crying and other echoes as well as the odd vocabulary (a quart is an old-fashioned measure of unit) help create a web of interconnectivity, as if events are being played out according to a preordained, inevitable scheme.

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Lucius holds a piece of paper, one of his many manuscripts.
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After he turns around, the camera is closing in on him, in a slightly ominous way. The “X” of his suspenders forms a symbolic target for killing. It is reminiscent of his mother’s scarf in an earlier scene, a connection that might seem wholly ridiculous, but not when one recalls that she told Lucius about the murder of his father in that very scene. (The box on the table to Lucius’s left may be used to hold his manuscripts – a more innocent version of the elders’ secret boxes?)
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Lucius turns around, saying “There are different types of love.” The last word will be his final one in the film, with bittersweet poignancy, since the night before he had finally discovered love with Ivy. His consoling tone towards the distraught Noah is cut short, however…
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…he becomes frozen in a strangely enigmatic gaze…
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Adrien Brody is acting magnificently, producing this endlessly sad and conflicted look…
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…then looking at Lucius in helpless apology. The sudden shot/reverse shot structure and powerful close-ups, in strong contrast to the film’s general style, engineer a moment of stunned suspension – we are balancing at the edge of an abyss. Also note how they are visually locked together by the door and window over their shoulders (Noah could easily have been blocking the door, so it seems intended)…
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…the situation is exceedingly strange – what is going on? – then Lucius looks down…
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…Noah seems to just hold his hand near Lucius’s body…
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…but it held a knife deep into Lucius’s flesh. All four hands are in action, giving the shot a surreal look. (There was originally a sound when the knife went in, but it had to be removed to achieve the film’s PG-13 rating. This simply made the scene even stronger, however, heightening the sense of unreality.)
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In a mirror movement, Noah repeats Lucius’s downward glance from just before…
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…then he looks up with a lingering, helpless expression at Lucius, who grows weaker. The balance of the previous shot/reverse shot pair is about to be broken. Look at the curtain behind him…
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…as he falls, the curtain provides a dramatic flourish, as if it helps push him over, like he was a feather. His fading consciousness is fittingly accentuated by the shot itself losing focus.
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The curtain trick is reminiscent of Malcolm’s dying moment in The Sixth Sense, when the curtain suddenly waved in the background.
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Now the scene suddenly changes character. The breathless, yet deliberately paced cutting was just a foreign body temporarily taking over the film, and this shot will end the scene. (The shot lengths are 35-17-6-5-6-6-2-39; note how the scene is book-ended by the long takes.) Also, the mystery of the withheld information is substituted with total transparency – less involving, but turning us into helpless observers of the proceedings…
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…the composition adheres to a The Village-style visible open door. Noah does not know what to do…
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…Lucius is obviously not dead, groaning and clutching the table leg…
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…now the camera starts to close in, but even more importantly, to gradually turn away from the action. Ponder the stove in the right part of the frame…
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…while we backtrack to a scene not yet examined. Directly after the porch scene, a villager is interrogated about the livestock massacre the night before. The porch music bleeds over into the new shot, connecting them, but also note how the white column is aligned with one of the columns in the previous shot. Also, the woman’s apron has the same colour – the only really light colour in the shot – as if, very subtly, drawing attention to the column…
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…then the camera pans to follow her as she leaves, but she stops to ask about the rumours of Lucius and Ivy’s romantic involvement. Now there is a stove on right side of the shot…
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…the camera pans back to Alice, who confirms the rumours. Now there is another stove in almost exactly the same position. In a very odd fashion, these objects (column, stoves) and their placement seem to connect the highly contrasting scenes of Lucius’s love and the attempted murder.
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Back to the drama: the camera keeps on sliding to the right, while Noah still seems at a loss…
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…we identify so much with Lucius that we expect Noah to come to his senses, feel mercy and help Lucius. He raises his arm, but since the knife is hidden, we are still not sure about his intentions…
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…but now comes the devastating moment, when contrary to all humaneness, Noah simply strikes Lucius again with the knife. However many times this scene is watched, it is impossible to hold back a gasp at this act – violence in its pure essence. Meanwhile the diagonal of the staircase has become centred in the shot, as if to divide it in two, and mark a transition to another stage: for Noah, the point of no return; for Lucius, likely death…
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…all the time, the death-connected curtains in the background have been blowing furiously, and the camera keeps on closing in and gliding away, sparing us the agony of seeing Lucius’s state…
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…until this quietly terrifying and revolting scene ends with the camera’s inscrutable gaze on the object of the stove.
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So the most major, and contrasted in the extreme, events with Lucius in the film – the kiss of love and the kiss of death – are governed by the same idea, the camera turning away from the action, the contrast maintained by heading in opposite directions. The situations are not perfectly analogous, because the final knife blow is more visible than the kiss, which is immediately swallowed up by off-screen space. The common strategy is very evident though.
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We also see that the stove has a small platform on the front, as if one could sit on it, like the chair, and the stove’s proximity to the camera makes the “chairs” seem equally big. (The staircase might be said to have a vaguely similar function as the equal-coloured columns.)
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In a breathtaking Ozu-like “pillow shot“, and an achingly beautiful idea, we cut away to an empty, forlorn chair out of place in the environment…
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…then we cut to one of the film’s many one-take scenes (66 seconds), a demonstratively ordinary situation: the Percy family occupied with peaceful matters, before they notice that Noah has come home. Mrs. Percy calls out in a beautifully melodious, Southern twang: “You’ll be late for the meeting hall. Would you like your father to walk you there?”
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Getting no answer, they go to look…
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…the sight that meets their eyes could not have been more calm and pastoral: someone in a rocking chair, enjoying the sunny conditions. Our thoughts reach back to the film’s most idyllic and sunlit scene, the happy days of the footrace and the trio of major characters all sitting at the Resting Rock. The chair motif is continued (it even looks like the same chair we saw in the pillow shot, and just before there was an off-screen sound like a chair being set down on the porch)…
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…the chairs and their expressively contrasting surroundings form an almost mystical bond between these two points of the film. Although not the same physical chair, it is as if Noah has replaced Lucius by his act of violence, but since chairs are connected to loss, his current position foreshadows his own demise in the woods. Now Noah notices his parents…
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…he presents the blood with some pride, similar to his merriment when all the other villagers are afraid of the creatures, because he knows them to be a hoax (suitably enough after what has happened, we can glimpse the small cemetery through the tree)…
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…pointing, saying “The bad color, the bad color”)…
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…then he sort of implodes into himself…
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…he is fluctuating, rudderless, through a wide range of conflicting emotions…
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…implodes again…
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…retreats into his usual tics with hands and fingers…
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…pointing to the hand that held the murder weapon…
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…and to the spot on Lucius’s body where Noah stabbed him. Now he says his last word of the film, poignantly, being just a big child: “Mama”. Our sense that he is irredeemably lost is strengthened by the fact that the camera never turns around to include his parents and their reaction.

It is hard to describe the immensely powerful simplicity and truthfulness of this scene – it is as if one sees the tragedy of being alive unfolding for the first time. It is all accompanied by one of James Newton Howard‘s many instantly memorable themes for this film, with Hilary Hahn tearing into her violin, furious and elegant at the same time.

This is one scene of The Village where it also pays to know the geography of the place, or else one risks being denied full resonance. For the house he is looking at in the beginning, and all along scrupulously maintained in the background, is the Walker house, where Ivy lives. (Shyamalan used backgrounds to particularly subtle effect in The Sixth Sense.) It is soaked in the sun, while Noah is now forever confined to the shadows. At the same time, the contrast to other porch scenes, the two Lucius/Ivy night-time situations, could not have been greater, also in Noah’s utter loneliness versus the others’ intimacy.

The house Noah looked at is also the building where the sisters have had their reconciliation scene, in fact they will soon come out of the door (after a brief scene where the council of elders are notified about the incident):

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Following the strategy of contrast, Ivy is beaming with happiness…
…but after having received news about Noah’s mysterious condition, Ivy runs away, immediately realising what might be afoot. Thus Kitty’s last word in the film is her shout after her sister: “Ivy!” – the new protagonist of the film.

Ivy storms off towards Lucius’s house, accompanied by the booming sound on the soundtrack that always signals Ivy’s “super-hearing” and heightened senses being applied at full steam. “There are whispers all over the village,” said the lady that morning about the rumours of romance, but now there are shouts everywhere (“Is there anyone injured in here?”) – contrast reigns again (Cries and Whispers?).

Seen in the following slide show, Ivy’s journey is staged as if she leaves civilisation, for people and houses are falling away behind her. (This could actually be one reason for the relative isolation of Lucius’s house: providing an empty background and a distance for Ivy to walk.) Her world right now is only Lucius, whose house at the end will tower over her, laden with importance. In fact, the scene both ends and starts with looming buildings, the town hall and Lucius’s house. The 56-second continuous take is shot from a very low angle, reminiscent of the final shot of the murder scene (and upcoming scenes inside the house), as if Ivy is metaphorically seen from Lucius’s point of view, as he lies dying on the floor.

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Ivy now repeats Noah’s earlier action by knocking on the door (it seems superfluous and rather like a mise-en-scène decision, unless there are strict village rules about knocking before entering, so ingrained that it is done unconsciously)…
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…the lack of focus miming her blindness, she shouts “Lucius Hunt! You answer me right this moment!” This again invokes Noah, echoing her earlier commanding tone towards him (“Noah Percy! Stop your fussing right this moment.”)…
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…and at the precise point where she reaches the focus plane, she stumbles on Lucius on the floor. The booming “super-hearing” sound is suddenly cut off, as if she is returning to reality…
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…in a statuesque posture, with beautiful play of light on her face, she reaches down…
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…soon, another villager sees them and sends for Edward…
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…upon his arrival, in a heart-wrenchingly shaky voice, she says: “Papa… I cannot see his colour.” As far as we know, Edward is the only other character whose colour Ivy can “see”, which adds resonance to the line. All the more devastating must it have been to find Lucius’s body…
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…we have now entered the film’s most emotional passage, marvellously aided by the film music. When she spoke of the missing colour, her voice blended with the music’s possibly most beautiful theme, and as she is now hauled away…
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…the rawness of her screams is modulated into the soulfully pained exuberance of Hilary Hahn‘s violin, over this sublime image – another pillow shot, where the receding line of four houses forms an exquisitely understated metaphor of Lucius’s life ebbing away. The alarm bell visually extends the line, and in itself a well-placed comment on the dire situation. Clouds loom overwhelmingly. Everything is silent except for the music, which eventually intertwines with Mrs. Clack’s terse, brittle voice of weary regret…
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…who delivers an ominous bulletin: “He has suffered a great deal. He may pass at any time.” She looks away…
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…seeing her past self in her kindred spirit Ivy (elaborated on here) – another emotional high point. Far away, above Mrs. Clack’s head, we can glimpse the small cemetery, where the film started, awaiting Lucius. (We also saw it beyond Noah on the porch.)
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In another subtle echo, it is discernible that Ivy is shaking slightly, for a very contrasting reason compared to her shaking just after Lucius’s declaration of love on the porch – even her proximity and position in relation to the camera is similar.
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The camera is lowered towards her, recalling the similar movement (although less sustained and lingering) during Kitty’s wedding, its merriment in contrast to Ivy’s angry grief. She is likely never to experience a wedding like that herself. The green of the grass is another visual connector; the wedding was just around the corner, in front of the town hall.

Ivy here decides to punish Noah, who is currently imprisoned in the quiet room. In the first article, we spoke of a set of visual rhymes in connection with the two quiet room scenes. But there is one more:

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The second quiet room scene (left) starts with a closed door, like the murder scene did (right).

The situations form some sort of relay. In the murder scene it was Lucius inside and Noah outside. In the quiet room scene it is Noah inside and Ivy outside. She is the next “murderer” and will enter to physically attack him. (For more about the quiet room: here and here.)

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We end this section of the film by pointing out that the chimney in the background looks like a massive tombstone.

Wind, breathing and flapping flags

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The motif of wind runs like a subplot through The Village, and becomes very important in the next section to be analysed: the quest through Covington Woods. There wind will be heavily connected to breathing, something that is echoed in the film’s closing seconds where Lucius’s breathing sounds like the wind. So let us have a look at some earlier wind occurrences, and then catch up on its usage in the love and murder section. It is applied in highly deliberate fashion, both visually and through subtle manipulation of the soundtrack, with specific results in mind, both in mood and motif coherence.

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The conditions in the valley of the village are very windy, as can be seen in many scenes (for example here). Just watch how the wind torments Ivy’s hair above – it is also clearly bending trees in the background of this scene, so it is not simply due to wind cannons – the weather adding immensely to the feeling of fatefulness of the situation, with Lucius close to death and Edward’s heavy voice saying: “The moment I heard my daughter’s vision had finally failed her, and that she would forever be blind, I was sitting in that very chair. I was so ashamed.” Below, just afterwards, having arrived at the old shed, the wind augments her look of sudden vulnerability:

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Wind can be heard over M. Night Shyamalan‘s credit before the first image of the opening scene, quite natural since it is very windy during the funeral. We also hear a faint sound of wind when the medicine cabinet door is opened in the guard shack scene. Considering the wind over Shyamalan’s credit, this is logical since in that very moment his face (because he is playing Jay, the head guard) becomes visible as a reflection in the glass door. It is also fitting since the medicine is for saving Lucius’s life, and wind is connected not only to death but to him during the film. Just for starters, precisely when Kitty mentions his name when talking to her father (here), a gust of wind is heavily emphasised on the soundtrack (and in this case, maybe visually reinforced by cannon?).

Although conditions are not particularly windy in the Resting Rock scene, the sound of it is very delicately used as a subconsciously mood-enhancing device. As soon as Noah has run off, Ivy and Lucius start to speak intimately (“I know why you denied my sister”), and the wind immediately makes itself subtly felt on the soundtrack, causing leaves to rustle, adding further cosiness to the sunny weather. It also beautifully complements Ivy’s suddenly lowered, soft and warm voice.

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Then there is an increase in wind as he says his first line, “You run like a boy,” and when he looks at her, the sound increases considerably, then again, to a mild crescendo, as she presents her memorable aphorism, “Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them.” Then it quietens markedly when Noah returns, spoiling the intimacy of the situation. Since Ivy experiences the world to a large extent through sound, using audio effects is logical to draw us into her world.

Although “inadmissible evidence” but indicative of the screenplay’s importance on wind, the fourth and very interesting deleted scene on the DVD shows that there is an instrument in the woods that is producing the far-away creature sounds, to such unsettling effect on the villagers, and it is driven by wind. There is also a little whirlwind beneath it.

Catching up on the windy business during the love and murder section, it makes its mark at a very appropriate moment in the porch scene:

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As Lucius touches Ivy, the wind starts to rustle her hair around the forehead, and is heard on the soundtrack. This is probably due to a fan, since it would be too much of a coincidence to happen naturally at such a fortunate moment.

In Lucius’s house a whistling sound of wind becomes a recurring signature. (In the late “It is all that I can give you” scene between Edward and Alice it comes, like an announcement, right at the start.) Its initial appearance is in the murder scene, just after Noah has knocked on the closed door, as if an ill-boding signal of the coming violence. Then it subsides in a “quiet before the storm,” only to triumphantly return in a new development, a “whooosh” of wind, as Lucius looks down at the knife in his body.

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As already mentioned, when Lucius starts falling, there is an expansive curtain movement
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…and when Ivy stumbles upon the body and “comes back to reality”, even though we don’t see the curtain (like the blind Ivy), it is immediately heard flapping in the wind, as a fateful reminder of the violence. The sound seems much heavier than such a light curtain would make, so this is probably deliberate manipulation. The whistling wind can also be heard.

We can see behind her, to the left, that the other door is open (for a clear look at it, see the “It is all that I can give you” scene), so there is a believable draught to cause all the wind (because it was heard even before Lucius opened the main door to let Noah in).

As we shall see, the flapping of curtains and flags creates a symbolic progression, hidden in otherwise prosaic, naturally-occurring events. The curtains are carried forward into the soon-to-come scene where Ivy stands outside the infirmary, see the following slide show:

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She stands like a statue while the camera is closing in with intensifying power. The big flag in the wind magnifies the curtain effect at the murder scene, both in size (when Lucius fell) and in sound (when Ivy found him). The insistent flapping, the flag’s wild movements, the fact that it often obscures her completely, express the upheaval inside her mind. The way the camera itself is moving through the flag immerses us in her inner process. (The pole and flag have a very similar colour as her skirt – a blending of objects and person?) The flapping is also a reminder of the moment of finding Lucius’s body, the memory burning inside Ivy more and more. In this scene we see once more how sound is ideally suited to represent the workings of Ivy’s mind, since aural information is so central in her perception of the world.

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The device of the partly obscuring flag is in fact reminiscent, in milder form, of this virtuoso scene in Unbreakable, where blowing curtains obscured much of the action.

The scene is all about transformation, both in the meaning of the symbol and in Ivy’s psyche. While in the murder scene the curtain symbolised Lucius’s life force blowing away, the powerful sounds of the flag represent her willpower and hardening decision to act, and act forcefully. In the next scene, she will enter the quiet room and repeatedly slap Noah with brutal and deliberate force. Then the girl who earlier dreaded the forest (“It is putting knots in my stomach”) will with steely resolve virtually demand of her father to let her travel through Covington Woods to get medicine for Lucius.

At the outset of the quest, yet again a flag is awarded fetishistic attention and again there is a transformation, now Ivy overcoming her fear:

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While they stand at the border, Ivy brandishes the “magic rocks” in ritualistic fashion…
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…cut to a flag flapping in the wind, this one even more aligned with her inner life, since it too bears the cloak’s safe colour (we recall that the colour of the previous flag matched Ivy’s skirt)…
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…back to Ivy and the escorts again…
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…as the camera closes in, the flag beating noisily, the blind girl starts to look directly into the lens…
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…before the shot ends in this close-up, Ivy looking calmly and with great resolve straight into our eyes, even against a backdrop of the woods’ threatening spidery web of branches.

We are ready to enter the woods.

The quest through Covington Woods

The start of the quest marks a monumental turning point in the film. Most of the action will now unfold trapped inside a desolate landscape, drained of colour, allowing feverishly bright-coloured figures to stand out as archetypal properties or elemental forces. The tone becomes obsessive, reinforced by the presence of characters who are unable to go into the woods unless they wear special clothes, as if they are governed by overwhelming neurosis – or as if they enter new personas to act out a medieval-looking ritual. It is a ceremony marked by serenity and calm, however, where the drama is kept smouldering below the surface. The hypnotic, ritualistic nature of the quest sequence is solemnly announced by a peculiar, stylised staging of the players’ first appearances. The last moments before they enter the woods are accompanied by doom-laden, blaring orchestral music, which is pushed over the edge into a modernist, frenzied piece as the border is breached.

Lucius’s earlier short foray into the woods is a trial run for Ivy’s quest. He sets out, in a yellow cloak, finds berries, encounters a creature, then returns to the village. As Ivy later will echo when she suspects a creature nearby, Lucius takes off the hood before entering, signalling to the creatures that he is pure of intention, not afraid, and also not hiding anything – unlike the rest of the village, he has no secrets. Considering this parallel, it is not surprising that there is a network of echoes between Lucius and Ivy (in addition to all the links between them described in the second article):

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When they are about to enter the woods (which also marks the first time they appear in yellow cloaks) a similar frontal/profile pattern occurs (more about that pattern here).
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A raging clash of red and yellow is played out in both situations.

When Ivy appears in the first shot of the quest, it is a virtual re-introduction of the character. She looks like a new person in the peculiar cloak, about to embark on something that hitherto was totally alien to her, as afraid of the woods as anyone. But the parallel with Lucius abides:

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Ivy sits at the exactly same spot as Lucius in the Resting Rock scene, even mimicking his posture. (In the Lucius shot one can see the fence through the foliage. In the Ivy shot the thin tree has been removed, to get an unobstructed view of the woods awaiting her.)

The current scene and the Resting Rock scene (with Ivy, Lucius and Noah) are among the few where three characters are present, not pairs, fours or eights as usual. As we learned in the first article, this character count indicates dysfunction, and soon enough, the quest party will disintegrate. There are more similarities: in both situations the person sitting on that spot is the first one at the scene, then two others are added, one by one (in the Resting Rock scene Lucius was the first, then the footrace brought Noah and then Ivy). Playful casualness is now replaced by procession, however:

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Another flag, blowing noisily in the wind, seen from inside the woods, through an overwhelming web of vegetation.
Then the utterly stylised, ritualistic pattern of phased arrivals of the first quest shot is repeated.
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With their faces now revealed, it turns out that the choice of Ivy’s escorts has been most unfortunate. Finton Coin suffers from deep-rooted anxiety problems but hides it from the village, and Christop Crane, even though now Ivy’s brother-in-law, is the cowardly and utterly prosaic counter-mirror image of Lucius. (More about fear and the two escorts’ personality in the second article.)

After (as seen before) the equally ritualistic presentation of the “magic rocks” to the forest, the shot of the flag, and the slow track-in on Ivy looking into the camera…

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…Ivy makes the first move, the camera left behind to linger on the others, with Christop nervously licking his lips.

When they enter the forest, the strange atmosphere is maintained by an overhead shot, which also underlines the entrapping effect of a latticework of branches, forming a spidery web over them. One characteristic of The Village is that even very simple-looking shots turn out to have hidden complexities. Thus, as Ivy enters the shot, the focus is initially on the overhead branches, gleaming sharply, but focus is later racked to concentrate on her. At the same time the camera is moving laterally to the left (to slow down the pace by keeping her in the shot for a longer time?) but coinciding with the focus change, it is descending a little towards her:

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Below, we see that Ivy leaves the shot entirely before the next character enters. This fragmentation indicates their tenuous solidarity and foreshadows the coming disbandment. The distance between characters and their one-by-one appearance recall the dazed confusion emanating from the stylised shots in the aftermath of the livestock massacre:

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Soon a tense shot/reverse shot construction arrives, the quest balancing on the edge of disintegration. But first (the below slide show) there is another “fragmented” shot, with Ivy alone, before Finton overtakes her to point out a problem:

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There almost seems to be pattern of turnings here, a strand that will come to thrive at a later stage of the quest.
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A nervous Ivy tries to persuade Christop not to abandon them, by brandishing the “magic rocks” that are supposed to give them free passage. Notice the large distance to Christop, and the diagonal between Ivy and Finton, the latter naturally falling into a submissive role of “second fiddle”.
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Ivy: “There is nothing to fear.” Christop: “Then why do you wear the cloak of the safe color?” After another shot of Ivy…
...Christop makes the final decision to leave, but this situation too is somewhat stylised, his turning divided into stages, with a marked pause when in profile.
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A heart-broken Ivy lifts her head, trying to recover from the blow – one just has to marvel at this expressive face, and how the light is falling on those blind eyes.

The Village, and the quest in particular, becomes such a singular experience due to Shyamalan’s ability to blend a remarkable sensitivity – as with Ivy above – with a relentlessly imaginative staging.

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Yet another distinctive overhead shot. (Does the rain shelter resemble a flag?).
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One of the film’s most mesmerising “track-ins”, with also the frontal/profile motif in full action. Michael Pitt‘s face is wonderfully “medieval”, his gaze possessing an odd vacuous beauty…
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…beauty looking at beauty, perhaps the film’s most ravishing moment: icy rain, otherworldly coating vegetation at its most spidery.
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Alas, Finton being Finton, he cannot help succumbing to his fears, the pressure of the woods making him physically ill.

The Village kicks off the next shot with an inventive aural idea, a kind of “cutting on sound effect”: Finton speaks Ivy’s name as if placed inside a ghostly echo chamber. Here the film again seems to play on Ivy’s blindness, the sound effect reminiscent of the booming that accompanies Ivy’s “super-hearing”, as if Ivy is lost in thought with Finton’s voice waking her up to reality. Now it is time for another acting tour de force from Bryce Dallas Howard, with Pitt’s cherubic face in fine support. As not long ago, they form the leader/submissive diagonal. Finton takes Ivy’s hand, holding on to it for a long time, and puts the bag of “magic rocks” into it, while explaining that he cannot go on: “You will be safe. They will not harm you, because you cannot see. They will take pity on you, the way they took pity on Noah when… when he ventured in the woods. They will kill me, lvy. I cannot stay.”

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After another occurrence of the film’s precision crying, where a single teardrop is shed, Ivy lets the stones follow the tear, to the ground – as if to signal the next startling development.

What is going on? Ivy unceremoniously discards the very stones providing her safe passage? Confusion reigns for the first-time viewer.

Tear is falling, stones are falling, masks are falling, for the film is about to enter “the old shed that is not to be used”. During an extended flashback we learn that everything we knew about woods and creatures is an illusion. We pick up from where we left earlier, outside the mysterious shed: beginning with the reveal of the hidden red cloaks and creature paraphernalia, followed by the long explanation scene, the “It is all that I can give you” scene between Edward and Alice, and the impromptu council meeting by the infirmary. Here Edward eventually persuades the others to accept sending Ivy to the towns.

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Setting up a nice balance: the number of creature cloaks inside the shed equals the number of participants in the quest, with both Ivy and the most “prominent” of the red cloaks flanked by two “subordinates”.
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Before we return to the quest, this stunning image of primal fear from Lady in the Water, where Bryce Dallas Howard again plays a character forced to navigate a strange land, feels appropriate…
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…because it recalls Ivy trying to shut out the unsettling forest sounds picked up by her “super-hearing”. She sings the same lullaby as when she comforted her sister, while the camera tracks slowly out, imitating the movement of that earlier scene. But instead of revealing her warm family looking at the situation, here it is overwhelming her with the tentacles of the woods, while ominously unbalancing the composition.
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Might we also think that she metaphorically tries to suppress the noise of the heated discussion in the scene just before? (She is amusingly successful, because there will be hardly any dialogue for the next 14 and a half minutes.)
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The next morning is announced with a shot of the woods that is a brighter and slightly further-off version of the last title sequence shot, just before the card with Shyamalan’s credit…
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…then a stream, the second of three shots of it in the film. The current one is empty, the quest still hanging in the balance, undecided. The others come early and late in the story, with respectively red- and yellow-cloaked figures reflected in it, but in the end yellow has triumphed over red…
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…this fallen tree might point towards the next scene.

These three shots establish a new day, a “quiet before the storm” mood (there is even no wind in the woods, for once), have a narrative function (Ivy’s father told her to follow that stream), and also represent sounds that a blind person will rely on. They might also conjure up a false sense of security (peacefulness, no creature attacks) and absence of conflict (no cloaked combatants reflected in the stream). But out of nowhere crisis arrives:

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Ivy is walking along but then her cane finds a hole in the ground…
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She turns around, but the shifting of her weight makes the edge collapse, accompanied by a sound effect almost as brutal as Elijah’s bones breaking against the subway stairs in Unbreakable.

Is there a plot contrivance here? When encountering a hole the most natural thing would be to take a step backwards away from it. But in order to be in a position to arrest her fall with her hands, she had to be turned in the other direction when falling. Maybe she simply did not understand that it was really a large pit? Contrived or not, it sets up a brilliant scene:

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With the uprooted tree, which probably helped create the pit, in the background like some dark, sinister hand, the camera stays in place while Ivy inexorably slides out of sight.

We ache to see how Ivy is doing, but the camera seems to have a will of its own, torturing us by holding back information. Eventually it begins to slide towards the pit and when the majestic, sinuous movement starts to look down into it, the hole seems dark and bottomless. But suddenly something yellow can be glimpsed, and it is gradually revealed that Ivy has managed to cling to the steep wall. Shyamalan is never satisfied with the simple, however, because now there is a flourish: the camera is rising up into the air a bit. This has an almost subliminal effect: she seems even more lost, as if the camera refuses to help her, merely toying with her.

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Ivy manages to crawl out. Shyamalan studiously avoids showing her eyes or face, to better immerse us in her blindness.
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With enigmatic emphasis, the next shot starts with a fixation on part of the root, but this turns out to be foreshadowing: Ivy will soon touch it. (More detail here.) All muddied up, her arm almost looks like an extension of the root. Her oneness with the tree is worth remembering for later.

quest 35When she touches the root her head is cut off by the framing. When she feels her way around the pit (above) the hood covers her eyes (in decidedly unflattering fashion, she looks almost demented!). All of this conforms to a strategy of making the viewer implicit in her blindness. When her escorts were still around, Shyamalan eagerly shows her face, even in many bold close-ups, for example during the leaving of Christop (here) and Finton (here), not to speak of her stare into the camera (here). But on her own, without the eyes of others, she is truly blind. As soon as the film returns to the quest from the flashback, when in the lullaby scene the camera leaves her to be swallowed up in the darkness and spidery wood, it is not only a goodbye to dialogue, but also a farewell to her face. Thus, two five-second glimpses of her half-obscured visage, when she grapples with the pit, are the only views of the face of the protagonist of The Village for slightly more than two and a half minute. (But we have not seen the end of it yet.)

When Ivy realises that her cloak has become so muddied that the yellow “safe colour” is likely to be obscured, her fear of the creatures, drilled into her for decades, returns. Even though her father assured her it is a hoax, he also said that originally “there did exist rumors of creatures in these woods.” So she frantically attempts to clean the cloak with her hands.

The next few minutes are a study of claustrophobia in open terrain, a tour de force of sustained use of limited viewpoint, staged with a virtuoso feel for nightmare.

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Soon Ivy is walking through a forest populated by trees with inhumanly sharp fangs…
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…then she realises that her cane is broken, so she breaks it off completely, causing a loud snap.

During the game the village boys play to see how long they dare stand with their backs to the dangerous forest, Jamison says: “They made a sound when I made a sound,” after his fearful gasp has been answered with a groan from the woods. This seems to be a clever aspect of the elders’ made-up creature lore: before a creature attacks it will imitate its victim. This will function as a warning so the villagers can get away before any attack – thus there will never be a need to actually harm anyone.

Without stating it clearly at all, what happens to Ivy now subtly plays on this seemingly throw-away information. She is not just scared by a sound, there is a specific reason: a creature is signalling that it is ready to attack. Like a lot in this quest sequence, the specificity of the actions is clear to viewers who are very attentive or have familiarised themselves with the film. To others, the general eeriness of the atmosphere will still make the essence of the threat come across.

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Now there is a unnatural, and therefore somewhat menacing, cut from a frontal position to the camera looking at her back – a subtle preparation for the sudden, unsettling nature of the following development? For now a startled Ivy hears a sound of something snapping, not far away. The camera is swooning around her as she turns, its dizzying movement both reflecting her fear and making sure her face is still hidden…
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…then she decides to double-check the situation by throwing a rock. The camera still clings to her, so close that we can hardly see what she is doing. Denying us any overview of the action locks us into her situation of very limited information, and her blindness is turned into a tangible, physical situation for us…
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like Lucius did, she bares her head to show that she is pure of intention. But when her stone throw is answered by another thudding sound (probably from a stone), she becomes convinced there is actually a creature somewhere, and that it intends to attack anyway. At the same time, her face is suddenly fully revealed for the first time in three and a half minutes, which signals a change of tone and pace…
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…because she is struck by panic. But Shyamalan has not stopped teasing us, because this is an overview shot that denies us any overview. It serves, however, to prove how exposed she is to attack. (The slow pace of the film is often remarkable – the previous shot took 39 seconds, but the only thing happening was that she threw a stone into some bushes!)
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She loses all self-control, running away in a panic attack – a Shyamalan trademark situation – the action recorded by a lateral tracking shot. (Look at the leftmost, thin tree – it appears to have a red spot, made by the elders to mark a path?)
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Her arms are flailing wildly as she protects herself from brushes and branches. The lower, technically virtuoso shot maintains a position below her for 22 seconds while she runs…
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…until it ends here, when she finally stops, hyperventilating with excruciating, wheezing sounds. Breathing is thus heavily emphasised here, and we will soon see how it can be closely connected to wind in this film. Wind was especially prominent in the scene where Lucius was assaulted. (Being deprived of breath leads our thoughts to death, thus creating another link to that scene). Just before the murder attempt, the wind acted as a forewarning
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…which is very fitting, for in a breath-taking coup de theatre, camera movement reveals that she is totally engulfed in a field of the bad colour, which attracts the creatures…
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…this recalls, although in much less dramatic fashion, the gradual introduction of red into the scene of Lucius’s foray (and the clash of red and yellow)…
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…it also recalls, with remarkable reverse accuracy, the camera movement and composition when Ivy resolved to go to the towns – the cause of her current predicament. She is even shifting her weight from foot to foot in both situations. Her blouse had been stained by the bad colour and her only chance of washing it off is to undertake the quest, but now it is overwhelming her.
Now a dizzying movement, a turning point, in all senses of the word: to begin with the camera looks at her back, then both the camera and Ivy are turning around, to get a look in the other direction. Her starting position, her movement and the method of shooting recall her turning when she heard the twig snapping, but that was a half-turn and this is a full one.
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Suddenly, shockingly matter-of-fact, there it finally is – your worst nightmare. As if having emerged from the ground like the berries, or resembling a large stub draped in red, oddly shapeless. It is shifting its weight from foot to foot, like Ivy did in the previous shot. Is it real or a hallucination dreamed up by the film and Ivy’s blind eyes? Can she “see its colour”? Probably not, although she can hear its low growling…
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…as she retreats. She is telling herself, the first “dialogue” for five and a half minutes, “It is not real. It is not real.” Note the snake-like appendage to the tree, which can be seen in many other places, for example here, probably a touch of production design…
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…the monster continues it unreal combination of immobility and mobility, totally rooted to its spot but still doing those strange movements, as if a volcano threatening to erupt…
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…now we cannot see it any more, so we share Ivy’s attempt to deny its existence…
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…but still she cannot resist “looking”…
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…with otherworldly stealth it has moved, to stand motionless in a nauseatingly inhuman posture, an image of ice-cold dread. Yet another Shyamalan horror moment where he seems to have the ability to tap into mankind’s collective unconscious, dredging up what terrifies us in its most fundamental form. Here it is made all the more unsettling because of the atmosphere of nightmarish unreality, and the fact that Ivy is doomed to blindly guess at the threat…
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…as before, it remains perfectly unperturbed, its intentions unfathomable. Its odd behaviour provides a constant undercurrent of ambiguity, the possibility that it is merely a manifestation of Ivy’s fears…
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…again, the camera is doing a slow dance, allowing her to pass…
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…so that it can resume this familiar position behind her. It draws slightly away…
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…then, in a shocking break with the otherworldly slow pace of the proceedings, a swish pan, recalling the pans during the prologue of Signs that so unsettlingly broke the idyll and stillness…
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…one rule of this nightmare: as soon as it is let out of sight, it makes a move. Its shape is now more recognisable, the cloak open at the front, a dark abyss dead centre…
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…while she hears its snarling, the camera pulls back, revealing that Ivy also has turned. Once more the camera takes up a position behind her, in this case solidifying our identification with her. Everything else is in stasis, the world hanging in the balance…
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…suddenly, its first visible movement…
...and then insanity is unleashed, coming at her...
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…with its terrible mouth and hunger for carnage, the creature is very different from the incarnation of Noah we saw in the early stages of the film…
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…this nightmarish scene is a re-enactment of the happy footrace to the Resting Rock. The desolation of the current environment is stunning against the sunny valley. The roar of the monster recalls the imprisoned Noah’s raw howling when hammering on the door of the quiet room, his response to Ivy’s hate-filled rejection and punishment of him.
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Astoundingly, this highly complex scene, with all its visual twists and turns, has been filmed in one long, 89-second take (it started here). But as the creature reaches for Ivy, technically the shot finally ends, spliced almost invisibly with a different take, a bit wider.
An overwhelming wave of red, it overtakes her, like Noah did in the footrace. In that scene Ivy tried to tear him down as he passed, and now there is a variation on that, as the creature pushes her over...
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…its sheer velocity makes it end up some distance off, with the back to Ivy.

Let us backtrack a bit. Since we had never seen a creature clearly before (our best look so far was here), it was not easy to realise that its first appearance to Ivy was with its back to the camera. (And, by all means, not necessary – in fact, its indeterminate shape simply added to the strangeness!) Now that it has stopped in an identical position, it is obvious. But before (see below), one could well assume that the central bunch of bones was appended to arms clutched together on its front, and that the branches on its top was fastened to a reclining head. But with its positions clearly understood, we can now also realise that it is methodically turning towards Ivy with a 90 degree movement for each of its three appearances, as if part of some cruel ritual, or “nightmare logic”:

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Its geometrical way of moving joins an entire system of frontal/profile shots in the film. It has been described in the first article, but let us sum it up through the following slide show:

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There is also a second underlying pattern here. When Ivy broke the stick and threw the rock, we explained how the creatures follow a pattern of miming the humans’ actions before they attack. This was subtle enough in the first place, but nothing compared to how it is reflected in the creature’s further actions. In fact, everything the creature does in its visual appearances is aping Ivy’s behaviour:

  • 1st appearance: Ivy stands with her back to the camera, then turns to find the creature with its back to her. So, before she turned, the creature was aping her position. It is even shifting its weight from foot to foot, like we saw Ivy do here.
  • 2nd appearance: Ivy stands behind a tree, then we discover that the creature is doing the same.
  • 3rd appearance: Ivy stands with her back to the camera, then turns to find the creature facing her. So now their positions mirror each other, but the creature was one step ahead – which is perfectly (dream-)logical since it is about to attack.
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Top: the initial positions of the players during the creature’s three appearances. Bottom: The final situation of the third appearance, after Ivy has turned.

All this (sadistic) playfulness on the part of the creature dovetails beautifully with the fact that it is impersonated by Noah. Even in the new gruesome incarnation, his personality aspect of being just a big child still shines through. The fact that he seems to have taken the rules of creature behaviour to extremes fits with him being an über-creature, a murderous usurper of the hoax, who has even augmented the outfit with more bones and branches. Finally, Noah will even be aping, extremely unintentionally, Ivy’s behaviour by falling into the pit!

This strand is so smart, playful and ironic – and all hidden. The entire aping subtext that explains the specific reason for the creature’s odd behaviour is solely activated by Jamison’s seemingly throw-away remark during the “daring game”. (Two other important plot points are repeated during the quest through Edward Walker voice-overs, but in this case we are entirely on our own.)

Ivy herself also contributes to the weirdly repetitive nature of events. She is turning around thrice, each time strongly emphasised by dizzying camerawork, and she too conforms to the “90 degrees rule”: when hearing the twig snapping (90 degrees, here), on the creature’s first appearance (180, here), and its third appearance (180, here). It is also tempting to draw a connection to all the turnings at the early stage of the quest: physically (here), as a motif when Christop moves in a way recalling the 90-degree pattern (here), and in plot, because both Finton and Christop will turn around and go back to the village. (One also recalls the amusing “turning points” in Unbreakable.)

Why is all this important? Because nightmares are often crammed with strange repetitions, grinding on and on, with no apparent reason other than “dream logic”. In combination with the film’s sluggish pace, the activation of the above patterns simply reinforces our experience of the quest as nightmare, a horrific version of the heavily rule-based village life. (We should also remember that the blind Ivy cannot grasp the full impact of Noah’s aping, so that strand is mainly included for the benefit of us, the viewers.)

It is very convenient, then, that there is also a third hidden pattern. The creature appears in three different positions within a long take, creating an odd link to the staging of three long-take scenes with Edward Walker, where he stops thrice:

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When Kitty declares her love for Lucius, the conversation takes place in three marked stops during their walk.

The two other scenes are Edward and Ivy’s approach to “the old shed that is not to be used” and his “It is all that I can give you” scene with Alice (both described in the second article). Edward is also the protagonist of another curious creature-related item:

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When the children have discovered the skinned animal early in the film, Edward walks into the shot from the right. In the previous shot, the red apparition reflected in the stream walked out of the frame on the left. It is as if the creature just pops into the next shot, transformed into Edward.

The creature is an illusion, a reflection, a hoax created by Edward and the elders. Editing, framing and character movement seem here to be designed as an early subconscious clue that the elders are playing the creatures. Edward and the creature sharing the “three-stop strategy” is another undeniable connection, but could it mean something more? One is almost tempted to speculate that these things might be infinitesimally subtle misdirection, planted in the subconscious of the viewers to make them suspect that during the showdown with Ivy, the creature is played by Ivy’s father there as well.

Back to the action, and back to square one, so to speak, since the creature now apes its first appearance, with the back to the camera:

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The burning question: will it repeat its behaviour and be standing still for a while? (Now in bright sunlight, it forms as surreal a contrast as ever to the colourless landscape.)

Now one of the film’s most inspired ideas is introduced, as simple as it is brilliant: cut-aways to the forest will regularly appear as a lyrical running commentary to the action, a Greek choir observing events too horrendous for words.

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Especially in unison with the chaotic, tribalistic, agonising music, the trees are now suddenly bent by a strong wind. It feels like the whole world is thrashing and writhing, an extension of Ivy’s tortured psyche. Helpless observers, they can do nothing else than throw up their arms.
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The creature will now repeat its 90-degree-stage turning from before, but that movement – expressed through the lingering, laborious, long take – is now compressed into a much faster, fluid movement. But first, in another instance of nightmarish repetition and anticipation, Ivy will be reintroduced to the shot, like she was the last time before the creature ran towards her:
The clearing has turned into an arena of torment, where the monster is now preparing to come at her from the exact opposite direction...
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…only one thing to do…
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…run as fast as possible.
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…another mystical cut-away, as if these woods represent something primal and primordial, having observed such death-and-life spectacles countless times before…
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…a virtuoso shot of running feet…
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…in this inventive film no angle goes untried…
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…chaos reigns…
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…hands groping…
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…finally she happens to touch something recognisable, the tree root by the pit – this is equivalent to her outstretched hand being met by the firm grip of Lucius’s hand during the creature invasion…
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…the fragmented close shots and odd cut-aways to the trees suddenly fall away, conquered by an all-encompassing shot. Chaos is replaced by clarity of vision and relief – this harks back to the “dance” after they were safe from the creature, also that presented in a wide shot as a culmination, after a long succession of fragmented closer shots.

The chaotic “tribal” music of the chase is suddenly supplanted by a serene, harmonious piece. Also this has an equivalent in the “dance” of the creature invasion scene, where the uplifting, melodious main theme of the film music occurred for the first time, celebrating not only their safety but also that they touched each other for the first time in the film. In the woods, Ivy is back at the pit, which turns out to be exactly what she needs to battle the creature. In the Walker house (above), we see the open trapdoor to the cellar, another “pit” that means safety from a creature, into which they retreat as a shelter.

Ivy is suddenly seeing the whole picture, but why? What is happening here? Let us begin with a look at the film’s moody title sequence:

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The title shots paint the trees as disembodied, abstract entities. Their extremities look like a network, like the interconnected synapses of our brain. The woods of The Village are an embodiment of our primeval fears, an irrational place where creatures are lurking, waiting to tear into us. The fear of them governs our lives. Like the village is encircled by the forest, we are completely surrounded by these threats, and it is unthinkable to venture out into the woods. The camera of the title sequence is gliding around in ghostly fashion, its gaze up into sky, the branches looming over us, making us feeling trapped, suffocating us.

In the early stages of the film, inside the village itself there are many lone trees that are bare (for example, in the background here), rather inexplicably since the woods are still richly foliaged. Do they foreshadow what will come during the quest? Because the spidery webs of the title sequence are clearly transplanted into the woods at the time of the quest: foliage-free trees, the forest as a barren wasteland, shots constantly conjuring up tangled webs (for example here and here) and even snake-like protuberances (here). If the woods are a metaphor of our own brain, it is a deluded mind, since the threats that make the villagers cower turn out to be imagined. Evil is not an external threat but springs from something inside us. In order to heal the brain of the village, it needs to be purged of its irrational fears. Therefore it is “logical” that Ivy should be able to connect to the forest, to become one with it, so that she can destroy its own invention: the creature, the brainchild of the village.

In this interpretation, drawing a connection between wind and breathing, which we have already touched upon, is especially useful. Ivy’s breathing is accentuated heavily during the quest, for example when she is hyperventilating before she is revealed as entrapped in the red field. During the final chase she is breathing heavily, especially in this shot. She is also constantly waving her hands as she runs, and this can be linked to the cut-aways of the trees: they are blowing in the wind (breathing), waving their own extremities, the branches. So there is already an alignment between Ivy and the forest: they breathe and wave together, as one.

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This alignment reaches its climax when she is reconnected with the tree root. It is like a handshake with the forest itself. At a prosaic level, she simply recognises where she is and gets the idea to trick the creature into the pit. But on a metaphoric level, all the aspects that suddenly kick in – the calm, the serene music, the wide shot, the parallel to Lucius and Ivy’s first, all-important emotional breakthrough when touching each other – point to a new level of understanding. (In Shyamalan’s next film Lady in the Water, alignment was again important: it is said that “the world will line up and reveal we are on the right path, that the universe will give us signs.”)

The tree root had been in the ground for a long time, so it represents the woods, its subconscious, its wholeness. In this metaphoric reading, the tree has uprooted itself, to help Ivy, so the creature can be killed. Without the pit Ivy would not have survived. Her falling into it was also necessary, so that Ivy could learn how to put it to use later. She managed to get out, and now she is about to get a reward from the woods.

Like Edward said in the discussion among the elders: “The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe.” The forest is kneeling before Ivy now, because it understands that she is pure of heart. (Noah’s own innocence, on the other hand, has been corrupted and his creature outfit is stuffed with branches, skins and bones, but unearned, “stolen” from the natural world.) The woods will help Ivy kill the creature, so she can free the villagers from their self-imposed prison, the imagined threat of monsters.

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About to double-cross the creature, thus not being “pure of intention” towards it any more, she puts on her hood to “hide” her plan. The tree root is carefully preserved within the shot, the “handshake” part hovering just above the bottom of the frame.
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Standing in front of the pit, she stretches out her arms (her hand juxtaposed with the root.)

Alignments stretch further than just the woods, however. For now Ivy gets her wish: “I do long to do boy things, like that game the boys play at the stump. They put their backs to the woods, and see how long they can wait before getting scared. That’s so exciting.” Like the boys, she now must control her fear, or else she will jump away too quickly. The current situation is also a variation on her outstretched hand during the creature invasion – which in itself was a variation on the game: how long would she dare stand there in the doorway?

The connections to the game and the invasion are quite subtle, however, because of the very different circumstances, differing shot compositions and the nightmarish whirlwind of developments we have been subject to during the quest. (The situation also fits in with the ubiquitous hand motif, of course.)

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Two images of remarkable similarity: (top) the next shot; (bottom) the last shot before she left the pit, which we have saved for this occasion. The camera is in roughly the same position (the earlier shot is further to the right, just use the lumpy tree on the left for comparison). Both shots are from the potential point-of-view of a creature. In both, hands are central: in the earlier one she is frantically trying to clean mud from her cloak. In both, she is visually almost swallowed up by the woods. But while the earlier shot shows Ivy at her most pathetic and vulnerable, in the new one she is not overwhelmed, but blending in, being one, with the surroundings, her arms proudly outstretched…
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…like the trees are extending their branches, not helpless and shocked bystanders like before, but conspiring with her. They are still moving in the wind but it is much calmer, as if they are holding their breath together with Ivy.
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During the invasion, we saw how the creature (on that occasion played by an elder) grew larger and larger against her hand. Now we get a variation on this…
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…set up and choreographed with tremendous precision, we can see it coming from far away, down by the tree. After having come closer, it is visible over her shoulder all the time, an ever-expanding threat. (The creature is still aping Ivy, by the way: it is running, like she was running away from it earlier, before she ended up here at the pit.)
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The camera too is closing in on her – like it did on her hand during the invasion (see above) – with the usual, subconscious intensifying effect. But it is also putting Ivy under cross-pressure, from front and behind, as if the situation is about to both explode and implode.
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The moment of truth, and visual eclipse…
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…stepping away at the last second, yellow overtaken by red. Like she cheated Noah to get a head start in the footrace, she has outwitted him again, but this time with deadly consequences. (It is unlikely, though, that she has realised that Noah is the creature.)
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The creature claws at her, but to no avail. Into the pit it goes, almost comically, with a cartoon-like “whoomp” on the soundtrack.
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Another cut-away, but now a culture landscape is rustling in the wind – logical, since we are returning to the village for a short intermezzo, but as it will turn out surprisingly rich in meaning.
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The Percys are bringing food to the imprisoned Noah in the quiet room, but find it empty…
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…the camera is sweeping up the scene in one long take, now taking in the floor, which is broken up. Robert says: “He found one of the suits we kept under the floorboards”…
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…the camera travels up to the window, which is broken too…
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…we hear the now familiar, ghostly sound of whistling wind, with foreboding effect since it is subconsciously connected to death through the murder attempt on Lucius. The window is unnaturally bright and featureless – we have always seen landscapes through the village windows before – and the way it fills the whole image has symbolic weight. The window tells of Noah’s escape, but moving towards bright light is commonly connected to another escape, death…
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…like when the protagonist of The Sixth Sense ceased to exist, in all meanings of the word…
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…the next shot eventually reveals that it was Noah who played the creature. He is now in his death agonies. Noah’s last words in the film was “Mama” and his crying then on the porch connects to the despaired wailing of (“Mama”) Mrs. Percy in the previous shot, which again connects to her son’s whimpering here in the pit. Like the window meant escape, death can also be seen as an escape, from his own madness. In a stroke of originality, his face is initially slightly out of focus, until it gets sharp in his dying moment (right). This is an inversion of the focus behaviour when Noah’s victim Lucius was falling after the knife blow.
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Noah is finished (possibly pierced by his own addition of branches to the creature suit).
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Killing large animals by tricking them over the edge of a precipice harks back to ancient hunting techniques. Having been forced to embrace the law of the jungle, holding not a cane any more but a branch-spear, Ivy is prepared to kill anyone trying to get out of the pit. The replacing of cane with branch, something of the woods, is further evidence of her oneness with the forest – given even more weight through its crooked shape, which plays nicely in concert with the surrounding trees (set up for the occasion, one suspects). (She will use this weapon as a cane for the rest of her journey, a sign of compromised innocence.)
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Suddenly we are back to Lucius, from a great height, as with Noah. Murderer and victim are thus linked, and even further: one on a “deathbed” at the bottom of the pit, the other on an all-too-likely deathbed. And even further: we see Lucius’s face only this once during the film’s last 45 minutes (roughly) – it has been “erased” since the murder attempt, and that it now reappears at the precise time of his attacker’s death seems meaningful.
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Like Ivy clutched the weapon, the elders are clutching hands (the motif again), both actions dead centre in the shots. Curiously, it looks like a violent continuation of the humane hand-holding – nature and culture. (The set-up is reminiscent of how Ivy disappears into the flames in the first article.)

In the last three shots, we have seen in succession the film’s three major characters – as if taking stock of the narrative – in a rhythmic way of the camera looking down (at Noah), up (at Ivy) and down (at Lucius). There are also a lot of whispered echoes in this small slice of film:

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The quiet room scene is elegantly staged so that it both starts and ends with brilliantly lit openings. We also recall how both door and window played visual parts in the murder scene. More specifically, the window was connected to Lucius, most of all when he falls from the knife blow, and now Noah has left through the window, to his own death.
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There are one dark and one bright rectangle. The dark shape is a dead end, however…
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…we look down into a pit under the floorboards and another in the woods, both connected to Noah, both containing bones, feathers and hides (which are all items related to death, coming from dead animals). The dark secret of the elders under the boards has led to a death in a dark place in the woods.
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The brightness represents escape from prison, but in the end it was Ivy, here shot against a bright background, who escaped the pit and the mortal danger of the creature. The camera tilted up as it looked at the window, and now looks up at Ivy. The pit opening is fairly round (get a better look here), geometric like the window opening.
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In fact, there is a whole pattern of bright shapes, most often in the form of rectangles, including Lucius’s sickbed.

Is the whiteness that engulfs Lucius, like it does the survivor Ivy (who will get the medicine to save him), a foreshadowing that Lucius too will pull through? This might be another reason for the sudden reappearance of Lucius’s face, and the camera sinking down towards him. Edward Walker just said: “His will to live is very strong,” and the way everyone else falls away and the increasing emphasis on his face indicate that it is Lucius’s reserves of individual strength that will keep him alive until Ivy returns:

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The next shot, Ivy reaching the hidden road, kicks off the first article’s discussion of the film’s ending, and the Walkers, who we see are leaving here, are on their way to opening their secret box.

There is another heavy-with-meaning rectangle in The Village, also this observed from above, in the second shot of the film:

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Like the pit, it is connected with darkness, death and the demise of someone’s child (and Noah is just that, a big child).

M. Night Shyamalan has a final flourish up his sleeve:

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There are numerous overhead shots in the film, but these are the only ones that are combined with this ultra-stylised camera movement of descending straight down from the heavens. Here there is an especially striking contrast since August’s face is turned away. In fact, we are never allowed a proper look at anyone’s face during the funeral ceremony (this is the closest we come).

It is indeed a strange juxtaposition: a face that has been hidden for ages against a scene where faces are hidden..! (The “hopeful” white rectangle of the bed also becomes meaningful compared with the dark grave.) The worried elders around Lucius’s bed fill the roles of the onlookers during the funeral, and the camera position hides their faces, just like with the funeral gathering:

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There is also a similar sense of anguish, in both cases a parent grieving over a son’s situation. Finally, there is a personal link, since Lucius is kind of a substitute son to August, as the latter once said to Lucius: “I often wondered if you and my son bonded because neither of you is fond of speaking.”

Having thus cast the net back not only to the opening scene but the initial shot, we end this particular examination of The Village.

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