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Lady in the Water, the 2006 major motion picture by writer/director/actor Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan that make it a quintessential allegory. The names of the major characters in the film (such as Story and Healer) obviously represent the ideas, as well as the virtues, that they are named after. Further contributing to this theme in the film is the fact that this movie is based upon a children's story. An immense body of literature exists that demonstrates that several children's stories, and several elements in such tales, are allegorical and representative of ideas that may be too advanced for an author to directly address in literature for young people (Luthra 2009. As such, the two principle rhetorical devices that Shyamalan employs to deliver his own messages in Lady in the Water is symbolism and the unique role he gives to each of his characters, who represent various symbolic concepts. Collectively, the author utilizes the symbolism of his characters to emphasize the idea of storytelling as his vehicle for conveying the fact that everyone has a (divinely inspired) purpose in his or her life, and the goal is for people to find that purpose and pursue it to find life's meaning.
The director himself has alluded to the fact that the thesis of this paper is the primary message he was attempting to get across when he initially conceived of this film project (he also wrote the script which began as a bedtime story) (Lowry 2006). The following quotation confirms this fact. "Well, the movie is about storytelling. And so, you know, the ideas about honoring storytelling again and giving it reverence" (Ebert 2006). The reverence the filmmaker is referring to is the fact that the true purpose for people in life is divinely inspired, or attributed to them from some decidedly higher power. Shyamalan emphasizes this notion through the conventions of the movie's plot, which is based around the fact that there is ancient race of beings (called narfs) who deliver messages to mankind. One narf in particular, who is named, significantly enough, Story, needs to be returned safely to the Blue World after she finds a writer who will eventually compose a book that will greatly better the future of all humanity. The author's intention in naming this character story is definitely deliberate and highly allegorical, as is the fact that her whole purpose for coming to Earth is to find a writer who can adequately help her -- by symbolically telling her "story" -- which will benefit mankind in the long run. By having the idea of storytelling personified by an alien creature named Story, Lady in the Water is invoking the symbolic idea that storytelling has the power to transform human lives. This notion is demonstrated by the immense importance placed upon the character of the writer -- who also symbolizes the concept of storytelling --, which is alluded to (although in a decidedly sarcastic fashion) by the following quotation.
But then, who am I to knock the work of a man who, in his own film, casts himself as a writer whose ideas will inspire a future leader who will save the world -- an artists whose work will not be fully understood in his own time, but only many years later, and who is willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of all Mankind? (Ebert 2006)
Despite the sarcastic tone of voice of this particular reviewer, the importance that Shyamalan attaches to the writer, and the effects of storytelling, is perfectly clear. The crux of this particular story found within the film, however, and which truly emphasizes the filmmaker's notions about the divine purpose of human beings, is that Story can only be safely returned to the Blue World after assembling a village of people (a Symbolist, a Guardian, a Guild, and a Healer) that will aid her. Shyamalan's emphasis on identity and one's true purpose in the world is alluded to by the fact that these people must be sought out and recognize their calling for the story to end happily.
In keeping with the theme that this movie is highly allegorical, there are a number of threats posed to Story and her quest to find a writer, a village of assistants, and to return home. The complications of the real-life difficulty of people being able to find their true purpose in life is demonstrated through the actions and advice of a character named Mr. Farber, who personifies the concept of film criticism, as the following quotation from a critic makes abundantly clear.
I am the villain. OK, not me, precisely, but Film Criticism Itself, embodied by the splendid (movie critic word) Bob Balaban as Mr. Farber, who is this film's own resident newspaper movie critic, offering caustic, self-aware commentary on the shortcomings of "Lady in the Water" as it sloshes along. In Shyamalan's…mythology, Mr. Farber represents…bad reviews…(Ebert 2006).
This quotation demonstrates that Shyamalan is using the notion of criticism, which is fairly antagonistic to the telling and reception of stories, as an adversary to the fulfillment of the prowess of storytelling. Not only does the character that personifies film criticism, Mr. Farber, deliver "caustic" reviews of the Lady in the Water in the actual movie, but he also misguides numerous people and subverts them from finding their true purposes both in the film and with their own lives. It is Mr. Farber who advises Story's helper Cleveland Heep to pick the wrong people as the Symbolist, the Guild, and the Healer. This error on the part of Farber represents the ill effects that film criticism (and criticism in general) can have upon the convention of storytelling and the reverence that it invokes. This error on the part of one of the film's antagonists, Mr. Farber, symbolizes how difficult it is for people to find their true, divinely inspired purpose.
This concept of striving to find one's purpose in a world full of confusion and errors is also demonstrated by Heep's initial relationship with Story. Because he initially rescues her from a nemesis known as a scrunt in the opening moments of the film, Story mistakenly believes Heep to be her Guardian. However, Heep is not the true Guardian, and nearly dies in the process of finding this out. Heep is actually able to realize his true purpose when he realizes that he is the Healer, and is able to manifest his healing prowess by restoring Story to health when she becomes mortally wounded by the scrunt. Heep's symbolizes the transforming power of agony and grief, both emotions which are important to and (unfortunately) fairly central to the existence of human beings. Due to the fact that Heep is one of the few survivors of a murder that that killed most of his family, he is able to "bring forth energy" (Lady in the Water 2006) that symbolizes his long suppressed grief and use that to actually heal one with. Even Heep's name is fairly allegorical, since its pronunciation is that of "heap" which symbolizes all of the emotional duress someone endures during a traumatic experience such as the loss of loved ones. Just the way that people can actually use their grief to heal themselves and to rebound from such a personal loss, Heep is able to do so with his own grief and utilize that to find his true purpose in life, that as a healer. Furthermore, Heep is also able to collectively unite the true Symbolist, the Guardian, and the Guild to eventually return Story home, which further fulfills his true calling and reason for existence.
Furthermore, the filmmaker utilizes other characters to symbolize the concept that the search for purpose and the fulfillment of story in the process is only a human concept (which is an allusion to notions that humans are flawed). The supernatural (or at least alien) characters within this film has no such search for identity to find their true purpose in life. Rather, they already know it and are fulfilling it. Story has no questions about what she is supposed to be doing, neither does the alien scrunt depicted throughout the film. There are also allusions to another benign, celestial in origin entity that is guided by its own universal purpose that is depicted in Lady in the Water by the creatures known as Tartutic. A description of this entity in the children's book Lady in the Water underscores the fact that the fulfillment of purpose is a decidedly human trait.
Tartutic. They have one name, but there are three of them. They look like monkeys. They are like guards sent to punish the scrunts when they break the rules. They climb down from the trees and out of the bushes and snatch the scrunts away. There is more tell of course, like why a scrunt might break the rule and…attack… (Shyamalan 2006).
The Tartutic are not part of the search for self-identity and for the fulfillment of purpose because they already know…[continue]
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