M Night Shyamalan--Gateway Drug to Formalistic Film

Recently I've been itching to write something in hopes that it would somehow come to Shyamalan's own ears. And although that is 100% unlikely, I would like to say it anyway! Where are you M NIGHT?!!!
In one of my intro classes here at BYU, we were talking about auteur theory and Shyamalan's name was put into the list (begrudgingly by my professor--but nevertheless) Surprisingly a large group of students, including myself, joined the Shyamalan group to discuss his creative approach to film, and its uniqueness in comparison to his contemporaries. I was surprised that so many students, who were eager to study film, were also eager to talk about Shyamalan. I believe it is because Shyamalan is a gateway to formalistic style in film.
Even the layman knows there is a vast gap between a commercial blockbuster that blows the boxofficer into pieces and what the Academy picks as "Best" whatever... (Avatar vs. Hurt Locker for example) the truth is, something happens when a person decides to devote more than a few hours a week to film. When a person wants to figure out how and why film works, and how they can be so moving and powerful, and how a film can be an art form as well as a product. What happens is that certain films start dropping off the radar. Certain, run-of-the-mill genre films don't seem to hold their own water, much less give deep enough soil for study.

M Night bridges this gap. Not that his films are super-blockbuster hits but they are commercial at the same time as fatalistically styled.
Modernism is defined as art that seeks to reveal the apparatus. A movie that encourages the viewer to be aware that its a movie, rather than be sucked in as though it were real life. Your average Hollywood director (not big shot) steers clear of this. They want viewers to be sucked in and manipulated. (this is known as escapism. It isn't always bad but the average American audience only responds to this type of film.)
There is a modernism in his editing style and cinematography that is immediately appealing to the novice-film critic. There is immediately more substance because Shyamalan will hold the shot when another director would cut. The novice-film critic will start to ask why he does this and this question is the gateway. Why does a filmmaker ever cut? Why does dollying in create a foreboding or cathartic experience... thus we are introduced to film theory.

I wish to raise my voice, with many others, and say thank you M Night, for making religious films, for being bold in a cookie cutter industry, and for introducing me to how deep film can truly be. I love your films and will always look at them as a huge boost into becoming a film student and hopefully someday a practitioner.

ps. Many accues Shyamalan of only having one trick: a twist at the end of the film. And although, 6th sense, Unbreakable, and The Village do fall into this category. That is only 3 of his films with a twist. Shyamalan has directed 7 commercial features.
Some would claim that Signs and Lady in the Water have "twists" but its not true. In several screenwriting books they say an ending (or climax of a story) should be both surprising and yet inevitable. This is a difficult thing and almost a contradiction. Just because a movie has a surprise ending, it does not make it a twist. A twist is when the ending reveals information which changes EVERYTHING we've seen up to this point. It is usually built on a secret that isn't revealed until the end.
Signs and Lady in the Water do NOT have a twist. Just a surprise ending.

pss. The Last Airbender. There are 2 things I feel necessary to say. 1st- Everyone was urging Shyamalan to try something new. This is the type of film you get when a director goes outside his element. So all you "urgers" that's what you get.
2- Why is everyone treating this kids movie, as though it was supposed to be as good as Lord of the Rings or something? It's a kids movie. Its on the same plain as Monsters Versus Aliens or Madagascar 2, but no ones mad at Dreamworks for such lame movies... nuff said.


  1. Not to be a hater {and I generally like everything I've seen from Mr. Shyamalan} but The Last Airbender was a real disappointment. Not because I expected Lord of the Rings, but because I expected there to be some resemblance to the amazing, hilarious, emotional cartoon it was based off of. But he changed ALL of the personalities of the characters {which, of course to fans is a HUGE no no!} and everything down to the pronunciation of the names. Sorry... just had to defend my favorite TV show. I appreciate that he tried, and costuming and a few other things were right on but generally, as a whole... boo!

  2. I totally understand where you're coming from. I'll be the first to agree that Airbender was not a great film. I think his biggest mistake was casting. A stronger performance by different actors would have rectified much of your difficulties with the film.

    My concern, which I've heard so many people say that "all his movies are the same". It seems people believe a director is all good or all bad. That a filmmaker cannot take a wrong step. And if a director does take a risk and it doesn't pan out they are vilified and suddenyl all their works show the same flaws. This is clearly untrue.

    Airbender was an example of a director out of his element. I believe Shyamalan was so focused on standing up to visual effects movies like transformers, that he lost sight of the other elements of film. And the Spec Effects in Airbender weren't all that bad.

    But watch 6th Sense, Signs, unbreakable, and The Village, and there is no doubt in my mind that Shyamalan is an auteur. 50 years down the road his films will be included in film history.

  3. I agree 100%! Although I don't know what a "Spec" is, and the first thing that comes to mind is Horton Hears a Who... but I'm sure you're right! :-)

  4. i liked madagascar 2....

    but amen. m. night is pretty amazing. i still have yet to see the last airbender, but i love most of his other stuff.