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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Night? Good Luck!

This week is Spring Break at the Solipsist's college of employment. Many are the joys of having a week off: Sleeping late, reading, counting cats. The problems arise when we sit down to blog. Maybe it's the sleeping late, but our mind doesn't seem to. . . . uh. . . . y'know. . . . uh. . . WORK! That's it! It doesn't seem to work as well as it does when we're sleep-deprived and stressed out. In desperation, we flip over to Yahoo! to see what's "trending now."

A group of M. Night Shyamalan's fans have taken up a collection to send the one-time wunderkind back to film school. We can certainly think of better ways to spend money, but we understand the impulse. We liked "The Sixth Sense" as much as anyone, and we think that "Unbreakable" is underrated, but since then the man has had whatever is the opposite of the Midas Touch when it comes to filmmaking.

The problem is not so much Shyamalan's directing as with his writing. The immense success of "The Sixth Sense" was due in large part to its wonderful twist ending. And it is a wonderful twist: It makes sense and you do not see it coming. (Well, the Solipsist did see it coming, but that was only because, by the time we saw it, we had heard from so many people that there was a surprise ending.) The movie had other things going for it, but all anyone ever talked about was the ending.

"Unbreakable," the next film, also features a twist ending, although one that is not quite as "organic" as that of "The Sixth Sense." It makes sense, and it does make the audience gasp, but it also feels somewhat tacked on, incidental. To put it another way, with "The Sixth Sense," if you KNOW there's a twist ending coming, you can figure out what it is, and you feel satisfied; with "Unbreakable," if you KNOW there's a twist ending coming, you will NOT see it coming, because the twist itself really has nothing to do with the main storyline.

(We are being intentionally vague on the off-chance that any of our readers have not seen either of these movies.)

At any rate, after his first two films, Shyamalan apparently decided that twist endings were going to be his "thing." And we filmgoers humored him: We all went to see his movies and we all munched our popcorn and tried to figure out just what strange direction Night was going to take us in this time. And Shyamalan tried to oblige, giving us twist endings that, frankly, didn't make any sense. (See "The Village"--or better yet, don't.) Or endings that made sense as far as they went but about which we really didn't care (See "Signs" or "Lady in the Water"--or better yet. . . .)

Once you know that a director is setting you up for a surprise ending, it becomes nearly impossible for you to be surprised. Indeed, the best thing that Shyamalan could probably do is write a straightforward screenplay that just tells a story from beginning to end. (Although for all we know, he tried that in "The Last Airbender," and that certainly didn't work out too well.) And if he can't do that, maybe it's time for him to just try directing the work of another screenwriter.

And if none of that works. . . well, there's always film school.

1 comment:

  1. There has to come a time when we realise tthat a writer/director who mad one and 1/2 really good movies and an ongoing string of really sucky ones, is not a good writer/director who lost his way, but a sucky writer/director who got real lucky! In the days of analog time-pieces we called it the stopped clock syndrome (even though it wasn't moving, it was right twice a day.)