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Film / Lady in the Water

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M. Night Shyamalan wrote, directed, and acted in this "grown-up bedtime story" about a Philadelphia apartment building superintendent named Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a magical sea nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) who's been transported to this world and is living in the building's own 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.


Lady in the Water contains examples of:

  • Almighty Janitor: Cleveland, to an extent.
  • And Man Grew Proud: The point of the prologue.
    "Once, Man and those in the water were linked. They inspired us. They spoke of the future. Man listened and it became real. But Man does not listen very well. Man's need to own everything led him deeper into land. The magic world of the ones that lived in the ocean … and the world of men … separated. Through the centuries, their world and all the inhabitants of it … stopped trying. The world of Man became more violent. War upon war played out, as there were no guides to listen to. Now those in the water are trying again … trying to reach us. A handful of their precious young ones have been sent into the world of Man. They are brought in the dead of night … to where Man lives. They need only be glimpsed … and the awakening of Man will happen. But their enemies roam the land. There are laws that are meant to keep the young ones safe … but they are sent at great risk to their lives. Many … do not return. Yet still they try … try to help Man. But Man has forgotten how to listen…"
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  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Much like how Inglourious Basterds is a tribute to the Magnificent Bastard trope, this movie revels in this one. 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 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.
  • Fish out of Water: Story, literally, since she's a narf.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the film, Cleveland tells Story that he was once a doctor. In other words, a Healer.
  • Friend to All Living Things: The identifying mark of the Healer is attracting butterflies.
  • Genre Savvy: A main plot point is the characters discovering that they are in a fairy tale, but they start acting out the wrong roles.
  • Giant Flyer: The Great Eathlon.
  • 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.
  • Insufferable Genius: Farber is a world-weary film critic who soon finds his new neighbors shunning him.
  • It's Been Done: The critic character says:
    "There is no originality left in the world, Mr. Heep. That is a sad fact I've come to live with."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Harry Farber points out tropes because he does that for a living, in his reviews.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Chekhov's Gunman is important and there are many of them.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The Tartutic.
  • Meaningful Name: Story has come to "awaken" a story in someone.
  • Meta Twist: In the context of Shyamalan's previous films.
  • 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.
  • Mysterious Waif: Story is a mysterious otherworldly woman who shows up in the building's pool.
  • Narrator: For the prologue, voiced by an uncredited David Ogden Stiers.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This was marketed as a horror movie, but the first teaser made it look almost like a mystical romance.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Story is very close to Cleveland. The first scene with the Scrunt shows her cuddling up to him beforehand.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Anna assumes Cleveland and Story are up to no good when she and Vick see Story wearing nothing but Cleveland's shirt.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Narfs are sea nymphs that exist to "awaken" people and get carried away by giant eagles.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Hence why Cleveland gives Story his shirt.
  • 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.
  • Savage Wolves: The Scrunts.
  • 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
    • There are only three of them, not a whole species.
  • Shrinking Violet: Story has a timid nature.
  • 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.
  • 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 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / WrongGenreSavvy

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Main / WrongGenreSavvy