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Film / Lady in the Water

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Lady in the Water is a 2006 fantasy thriller film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Marketed essentially as a "grown-up bedtime story," the film is about a Philadelphia apartment building superintendent named Cleveland (Giamatti) who discovers a magical sea nymph named Story (Howard) who's been transported to this world and is living in the building's swimming pool.

As this bizarre revelation sinks in, Cleveland becomes enraptured by her otherworldly charm. As he shelters her in his apartment, other inhabitants of the building begin falling into place as representations of characters from an Eastern myth in which these mermaids, or "narfs," coexist unhappily with more beastly and violent characters.

In human reality, the forces of darkness that threaten the heroes of a fairy tale prove to be much more terrifying, and the victory of good over evil is by no means guaranteed. Jeffery Wright, Jared Harris, and Mary Beth Hurt co-star, as well as Shyamalan himself, playing the visionary writer Vick.

The film was notably subject to difficulties in production, as studio executives at Walt Disney Studios (who had released Shyamalan's previous four films) did not understand or have faith in the film's story, which upset Shyamalan to the point of claiming that Disney "no longer valued individualism." Although Disney was willing to fully fund the film regardless, he instead took the film to Warner Bros., who agreed to finance it. The events that led to the making of the film were featured in a book, The Man Who Heard Voices, by Michael Bamberger.

Lady in the Water contains examples of:

  • And Man Grew Proud: Man originally lived in harmony with the people of the water, who provided humanity with wisdom and guidance. Over time, however, humanity's need to control and dominate drove them further and further inland, away from the guidance of the water people, and into a destructive history of warfare, ignorance and ruin.
  • Asian Airhead: Young-Soon Choi, the none-too-stellar Korean student who isn't thrilled by having to read for school.
  • Author Avatar: Vick is a visionary writer played by Shyamalan himself, with his primary antagonist being a Straw Critic.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Everyone for Story's team. Cleveland is the Healer, Reggie is the Guardian, the Guild comprises the seven women from the other apartment, and Joey Dury turns out to be the Interpreter, whereas his father was presumed to be the Interpreter.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: All in one character, no less. Story's hair is black the first time we get a glimpse of her, red from then on and most of the film, and blonde from the climax onward.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: The narfs are presented as wiser and more morally upstanding than humans, and humans war among themselves apparently by not listening to them.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Literally every early background character becomes crucial to the plot later on. Reggie foreshadows his role when he talks about how he's doing his "exercise experiments" because he wants to do something special. He's also watching in the background of a lot of crowd scenes...y'know, like a watchman, or a guardian, maybe?
  • The Chosen Many: In order for Story to both recover from the Scrunt's initial attack and return home, a special ritual must be performed which will heal her and summon the Great Eatlon, a massive eagle that will take her back to the Blue World. The ritual requires several specially-chosen individuals: a Healer, a Symbolist, a Guild, and a Guardian. Story assumes that Heep, who initially saved her from the Scrunt, is her Guardian; Heep in turn asks Farber the film critic to fill the other roles, and he names the Kindhearted Cat Lover Mrs. Bell as the Healer, a group of pot smokers as the Guild, and the crossword-loving Dury as the Symbolist. Unfortunately, every choice is wrong. The true Chosen Many are as follows: Dury's young son, who makes up stories based on cereal boxes, is the Symbolist; a group of seven women (mostly sisters) from a neighboring apartment building is the Guild; a Top-Heavy Guy named Reggie is the Guardian; and Heep himself, a disgraced former doctor, is the Healer; Mrs. Bell also takes on a kind of shamanic role by leading the group in the spell. Once the Chosen Many know and complete their duties, the ritual is complete and Story escapes to safety.
  • Color Motif: Like The Village, Story's red hair turning blonde symbolizes safety.
  • Creator Cameo: Shyamalan does this in all his films. This is the first time he plays a major character. But just what his character will do - namely, inspire a great world leader with his writing — ticked a lot of people off for obvious reasons.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: The critic, whose demise is a thinly-veiled Take That! against people who don't like Shyamalan's movies.
  • Fiery Redhead: Inverted with Story, who is quite mild-mannered, if not outright timid, despite having gorgeous red hair.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Because Narfs' ideas about nudity differ from humans', Story doesn't see the problem with someone seeing her wearing (only) a man's shirt, or greeting Cleveland while she's completely naked and taking a shower.
  • Insufferable Genius: Farber is a world-weary film critic who soon finds his new neighbors shunning him.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Mr. Farber points out tropes because he does that for a living, in his reviews.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Young-Soon Choi. She's introduced with a shot that focuses on her midriff rather than her face, and is frequently seen in skimpy outfits.
  • Power Dyes Your Hair: A magic healing turns Story's ginger hair blonde.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Cleveland makes up for the death of his wife and child by helping usher Story to safety.
  • Rule of Seven: The Guild — one of the groups required for Story's healing ritual—is composed of seven women from the neighboring apartment building.
  • Saving the World With Art: The protagonist must save a writer whose work will cause world peace and harmony.
  • Scare Chord: Used here and there to play with the audience, mostly relying on Shyamalan's reputation as a director of horrors and thrillers.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The Tartutic are described as being so evil, they killed their parents as soon as they were born. (One wonders how the species survives, if they're that uncooperative.)invoked
  • The Stoner: Cleveland originally thinks five of them who live together are supposed to be the Guild.
  • Straw Critic: Harry Farber exists to give the "no originality" spiel and get killed because he thinks he's Seen It All. (However, Roger Ebert noted in his review that the critic is proven to be right, and Heep misinterpreted everything.)
  • Take That, Critics!: The critic, whose demise is a thinly-veiled Take That! against people who don't like Shyamalan's movies. This badly backfired on Shyamalan, for obvious reasons. Mark Kermode, for example, pointed out in his review that the critics had championed his films in the first place, a fact which made Shyamalan come across as an Ungrateful Bastard.
  • Uncanny Valley: Story is a very beautiful, almost ethereal being. Though sometimes, either by the slow changing of her hair color, her incredibly deep glassy innocent eyes, or pale skin, something seems to always about her. The film poster features her giant face against water and she somewhat looks like an alien.
  • Water Is Womanly: The title is evocative of this trope and refers to Story, a shy, demure water nymph.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Once the characters catch on to the fact that they're in a fairy tale, they assume they know the roles they should play. They're wrong.


Video Example(s):


Not That Kind Of Movie

A would-be-victim encounters a monster that is poised to strike at him and kill him. He, however, brings up how he wouldn't be harmed due to believing that he's in a family-friendly horror film.

Boy was he wrong.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / WrongGenreSavvy

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