Lady in the Water

Twelve years ago I wrote a short entry about this movie: that it fascinated me. I never understood exactly why. I’ll try to do it in this new blog post.

It’s an American movie starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the music was composed by James Newton Howard. It was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, known for directing The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village, among other award-winning and well-known movies. However, Lady is not one of them. Being a financial disappointment, it received negative reviews from critics for many factors. However, one of them surprised me: some considered it a comedy rather than a drama. I recently found an interview to Shyamalan after the 10th anniversary of the movie. Asked the obvious question, he said not only that he loves it, but also that if his house was burning down and he had to grab a few movies, Lady would be one of them.

In one of the many moving moments in this story, Mr. Leeds, a strange man that spends most of his days in front of a TV watching news about a world that seems to be falling apart, meets probably the main character of the movie: Cleveland Heep. And he asks him a question that many could consider nonsense, or even too philosophical or theological, if it wasn’t that Heep had lost his wife and daughters at the hands of a murderer in his own house, and being a doctor, he ends up working as a janitor in an apartment complex in Philadelphia, leading a life without even the slightest trace of sense. “Does man deserve to be saved?” Leeds is surprised by the answer: “Yes,” replies back the custodian of the building, to whom the word salvation is full of meaning.

The unexpected story Cleveland is living seems to be an old story, a story being told since long before, with characters that have very important roles but that they don’t know about. The janitor knows they are there, but since he has no way of identifying them, he turns to an “expert”: Mr. Farber, a film critic who thinks all stories are boring, because “there is no originality left in the world.” His advice appears to help Cleveland to understand who is who in this story, to the extent to be even an obvious matter. One of these roles is the “symbolist,” the one that knows what to do at difficult times, and according to Farber it is so evident that is someone skilled in riddles and hard questions. However, they realize later that the symbolist is someone who simply (as if this were not a big deal) finds meaning in the most simplest and everyday events in life.

The first time I came across this movie I read the description, a harebrained story that almost disuades me from watching it: the janitor of a building in Philadelphia finds a narf or nymph in the swimming pool; this mysterious being has the mission of meeting someone in the world of men, an encounter that makes this man be somehow awaken and clearly see an important calling he has to accomplish: write a book that will later be the seed of great social changes. In fact, nobody even imagines that their own lives have a clear and amazing purpose, not even Story herself, who finds out her vocation involves more than just delivering a message. In the past there was a close relationship between men and those who live in the water. However, man, the story says, does not listen very well, is distracted by unimportant things and corrupted; but from the beginning the movie makes it clear that these mysterious people try to reach us once and again. Man is not alone, despite his faults, errors, and obscurity.

The movie ends with this dedication:

To my daughters,
I’ll tell you this story one more time.

But then go to bed.

I truly think his daughters must have asked him to hear this unpredictable story over and over again. Cleveland had an encounter that changed his life. He was lost, but he will never forget when he met Story; and for sure many won’t believe it, but others will. It is impossible for me not to relate this story with others: what would film critics like Mr. Farber say about a story of a common man who, being condemned to the same type of death received by the most insignificant people in society, had not only said he was the salvation for men but also God himself, the Mystery made man? This, however, has changed the history of the world, has changed my history:

John and Andrew, and those twelve, Simon and the others, told their wives; and some of those wives went with them… They said it even to other friends. The friends told other friends, and these in turn told others again. Thus the first century passed, and these friends invaded the second century with their faith; at the same time they were invading the world geographically. They hit Spain at the end of the first century, and India during the second century. Then those of the second century told others who lived after them, and these told others after them, like a great flow that grew wider and wider, like a river fuller and fuller, and they ended up telling my mother. Yes, my own mother! And my mother told me when I was little, and I say:
“Master, I don’t understand what you say either, but if we go away from you, where shall we go? You alone have words that correspond to our hearts.”