Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Village -- sin and separatism

Director: M. Night Shyamalan, 2004. (PG-13)

Billed as a horror film, The Village is more suspense than calssic horror. But it has its share of scary moments and plot twists that keep the viewer guessing. Even with all the blogs and reviews out there, I was surprised at the end.

The film opens in the late 19th century. The village is in olde Pennsylvania and looks a little like an Amish community. This quiet and isolated village surrounded by woods appears serence. But a funeral is taking place. Death has hit and the community has come together to grieve. Sadness mingles with the peace of the place.

But the peace hides a dark secret. The people of the village have struck a deal with the devil. The woods houses creatures, unseen for most of the film, who bring fear into the heart. They will leave the village alone if the villagers do not enter the woods. This enforces an isolation from the surrounding towns, even when medicines are needed to bring healing to the sick, to stop the young from dying.

Shyamalan, known for his twist endings, has brought a galaxy of stars into this film. Joacquin Phoenix is strong and silent, conveying emotion through expression more than words, as the lead character Lucius Hunt. Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard, makes her screen debut as Lucius' love interest, Ivy Walker. She is as vocal as Lucius is quiet, probably because she is blind. William Hurt plays her father Edward Walker, one of the elders of the community, and Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) is Lucius' mother, another of the village leaders. Adrian Brody (The Pianist) is a mentally-retarded young man Noah Percy. The cast comes through with strong acting and believable dialog.

When Noah breaches the barrier of the wood, the harmony of the villager-creature agreement is shattered. The creatures begin to be seen once again and to enter the village. Both Lucius and Ivy, for different reasons, also want to enter the woods.

The Village contains two strong metaphors. The "bad color" of red and the "bad place" of the woods both drive the people to isolation. The villagers are living in a bubble, a commune that is cut off from the world. The woods and the creatures represents evil and all that is wrong with the world. Red represents sin and crime, such as murder that would spill crimson life-blood.

How often do we as followers of Jesus retreat into our own spiritual bubble, safe from the world? By retreating into a protected community, we prevent undue influence of our worldview by non-believers. But the price we pay is high. Avoiding their influence, we sacrifice our opportunity to influence the world to the greater gospel of grace. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus called his followers to be salt and light to the world (Matt. 5:13). We cannot be salt unless we mingle with those outside our bubble. As light we are not useful apart from darkness. Jesus gave us a gospel to share, not hoard. Life is not meant to be lived in a bubble of like-minded people. We must cast off this tendency, and choose to live with those who are unlike us, those who need to hear the gospel of Christ.

One more thought on this topic. After three years of ministry, thirty years or so walking this earth, and after dying on the cross and then being resurrected to life again, Jesus gave a very clear message to his disciples at the end of the gospel of Matthew: "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). We cannot go and make disciples if we are cloistered in our own Christian village.

There is something more at the heart of The Village. As Lucius tells his mother, "There are secrets in every corner of this village." These secrets hide things, items the person does not want known or things the person does not want to recall. Sometimes we do that. We keep secrets, we hide sins thinking if we bury them somewhere no one else can see them they will go away. But sin has a nasty habit of reappearing, just when we think we have it licked. Sin can be forgiven. We know that. Jesus told us that (Matt. 26:28). There is no sin that we cannot confess and receive grace and forgiveness for (1 Jn. 1:9). But sins, like bad habits, require more than simple will power to conquer. They need the power of the Spirit. We have access to this power when we call out to Jesus. God has provided a way out for us to escape temptation and sin, if we look for it (1 Cor. 10:13-14).
So, whether we seek to hide our sins within or push them outside our commune, we must understand they are still there. We cannot escape their presence. We can only acknowledge them and trust in God's grace. Tackling them head on, then, brings forgiveness to us, for our own sins, and freedom to those outside who are still trapped in the kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:13).

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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