An Open Letter to Nathaniel Kahn and M. Night Shyamalan
Dear M. Night and Nathaniel:
I am writing to let you know I am banning myself from watching any more of your movies. This has nothing to do with the quality of them and everything to do with the fact that you two colluded to emotionally blackmail me (to use the Phillip Kolker term he used to describe Italian Neo-realism), and to ruin my ability to enjoy movies for the rest of my life.
Nathaniel, I watched your documentary “My Architect” years ago with awe and admiration. The film was not only a tribute to the work of your architect father, the great Louis Kahn, but also a reverie of your relationship to him. The film was also a tribute to my emotional make-up: After years of no crying, I bawled my eyes out as your movie allowed me to re-examine my own relationship to my father and his vast academic accomplishments. That mid-point montage of your father’s buildings, underscored with that wonderful b-side version of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run,” especially hit me. I introduced my father to Neil Young’s music when I was in high school, and envied my father’s rise from poverty to affluence in the light of Neil Young’s harvest moon.
M. Night, your only masterpiece to date, “The Sixth Sense,” changed my world. You convinced me that if I try hard, I can probably see dead people. I haven’t seen any of your other movies, but your most recent one, “The Happening,” looks like it is about people running away from wind. If that is really what the movie is, I laud your attempt to portray objectless terror.
But before “The Happening” and after “the Sixth Sense,” you made the much-anticipated movie “The Village.” To promote it, you hired Nathaniel to make a fake documentary called “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan,” in order to highlight your work on “The Village.” However, the movie ended up digging into your “connection” to the other side. Nathaniel, as you might remember, “Secret” begins on the set of “The Village,” but then quickly interviews M. Night kid fanatics who hang out in front of the filmmaker’s mansion and tell you that M. Night is connected, which they prove it by using a Ouija board to contact ghosts that know M. Night. We then learn that the property of the Village has a history of Satanism.
We see other scary evidence: photos taken of M. Night with ghostly, smoky swirls around his head, and — here’s the kicker — that M. Night supposedly was actually dead for 35 minutes when he drowned in a pond as a young boy. Other details really help the buy-in — like the fact that, when Night is on the set of “The Village,” crows seem to be attracted to him.
After remaining slack-jawed for the entire film, I emailed several film-buff friends and wrote “Watch this movie now” in the subject line. I then marched to my girlfriend’s house and threw the DVD at her: “Watch this now.” After watching it, she shared my enthusiasm for about five minutes before slowly walking toward her computer to hit a couple keys before looking at me deadpan: “it’s a hoax.”
The next day I received emails from my film-buff friends with: “it’s a HOAX” written in the subject line, with nothing in the body of the email. One friend did manage to write: “don’t worry, Marc. M. Night would really like you because you really want to believe.” Gradually, my friends stopped inviting me to late-night film discussions at the Ale House in Queen Anne, saying that they didn’t feel comfortable being around someone so emotionally vulnerable.
But my friends couldn’t have been more wrong: I no longer felt emotionally vulnerable. To jar some sort of reaction out of me, I decided to rent a handful of movies that previously made me cry like an infant: Lars Von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves”, David Lynch’s “The Straight Story,” and Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” Prepared with tissue in hand, I started watching the aforementioned movies but then quickly fast-forward through them in order to avoid mind-numbing boredom. The next morning, I woke up and couldn’t move my eyeballs. An optometrist diagnosed me with a mild form of strabismus, more commonly known as being cross-eyed. She told me was triggered from rolling my eyes excessively. I have recovered from my eye problems, but I am now officially — to steal the David Foster Wallace story title — a little emotionless animal.
The only way to convey the emotional damage is via metaphor. When I was little, I went through a phase where I obsessively studied pranks from a practical joke book and then attempted them. One joke in particular involved wedging a pillow on the top of door left ajar, and waiting for someone to enter the room only to find a surprise pillow dropping onto their head. Some of the jokes in the book were followed by a skull-and-cross bones picture warning the prankster not to try various versions of the prank in question, like the fact like you should never use a bucket of water instead of a pillow. Somehow, I didn’t heed the warning and only used a bucket of water, eventuating in an angry, shivering father.
M. Night and Nathaniel, that’s what you did to me. You thought you used a pillow, but you really used a bucket of water in the form of an emotional vacuum, leaving me emotionless. I think I’ll go butter some toast and watch the living room wall.