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M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan

By Patrick Samuel • December 20th, 2010

There’s a common theme which runs through M. Night Shyamalan’s films and if you look closely enough you will see it. The Sixth Sense (1990, Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010) all had it.

It’s the idea of people with remarkable hidden powers and the responsibilities which come with that power.

PATRICK: Is this theme continued in Devil?

NIGHT: Devil for me is that we choose to get on that elevator. By our lack of taking responsibility for things that happen to us in our lives. “Oh I lost that job”, “Screw that boss, he always had it in for me!” and not taking responsibility for whatever you can be responsible for in that matter. Ultimately, the people who end up in that elevator have not taken responsibility for themselves or the things that have happened to them in their lives. The good decisions, the bad decisions, they haven’t taken responsibility in total. When I realise that as a human being, I feel very free. Let’s say something bad happens to me and I go “I’m responsible for that. That person did something really bad to me, but I’m responsible for that”. Then thinking how was I responsible, if my demeanour was different this way, if I hadn’t done this, if I had reacted in a different way”. You feel very free. Thematically, that’s where Devil is coming from. Of course, on the surface everyone’s gonna see a really scary rollercoaster ride!

If you’ve seen the trailer and the clips of Devil, there certainly seems to be a menacing tone, a malevolent force at work against these people trapped in the elevator. Night seems to be addressing not only ideas about power, responsibility and the nature of evil, but also the existence of God.

PATRICK: Is this something you also personally struggled with?

NIGHT: The word “God” as its used, I’m not sure if that’s something I’d go with or that I think that that’s the correct definition of it. I definitely think there’s some kind of energy that’s present in nature and in us, something in the universe that when you get in rhythm with it, things, really good things happen and when you’re not in rhythm with it, really bad things happen.

PATRICK: It definitely, for me, feels like it’s something inside. And it seems to me that so many people are stuck looking for it on the outside.

NIGHT: You know, what you just said is my whole issue with religion! That right there, what you just said, is that religion teaches us that all this good stuff is outside of us and its something else and it’s not in us and I don’t subscribe to that.

Night, who was born in India, moved to the United States with his parents when he was just a few weeks old. He was raised in the Hindu religion at home, but educated at a Catholic school. The mixture of both these religions would have a profound effect on him, not just with his most recent offering (Devil), but also his first, Praying with Anger (1992) in which an American teenager tries to reconnect with his Indian heritage. Being of Indian descent myself and also having attending Catholic schools, the dualism of both these cultures and religions was something which made my outlook on life a little different my peers and as result, singled me out. I wondered if it was the same for Night.

PATRICK: Did you find it hard to fit in? Was your religion questioned or accepted?

NIGHT: At that age when I went from kindergarten through to 8th grade in Catholic school we didn’t have a lot of serious, religious teenagers in the school to begin with. It’s not like they were in a cult and I wasn’t in it! Everybody had a similar child-like approach to religion in general. The doctrine that was being taught, I approached it more as a subject than anything else, as Science, or History or anything like that, what are the rules, what are the characters – and I’ll get it right on the test! So it was more like that than anything else for me (laughs)!

But I think it affected me later on in that I was getting such different cultural values laid in different ways from two different cultures at the same time. I could internalise what was common between them and disregard what was not common because it would be invalid to the other culture. It gave me a kind of a perspective on both religions, Hinduism and Catholicism and that made me think a lot about spirituality in general. So I think if I had gone to a public school or if my parents hadn’t been religious then maybe those questions wouldn’t constantly emerge in what I sit down to write.

Despite my own mixed upbringing, I found I would later on abandon the doctrines and opt for a belief system based on my own blend of spirituality and existentialism. Although Night’s films have strong spiritual elements, I was interested to find out which one he ended leaning more towards as he got older.

NIGHT: If I had to pick one thing, I would probably be called a Daoist because of how I think, but I’ve certainly been exposed to a lot of religions and its provocative for me how something that was taught about this is the way your soul works and this is what happens when you die affects how you are as a culture and how you behave and what you think is correct behaviour and wrong behaviour and how it directly affects happiness. That really obsesses me. I think about it a lot and my wife is probably sick of me talking about anything related to this world at this point! But it is interesting for me and it finds its way into the storytelling, even in the lightest of ways. This umbilical cord between the stories we’ve been told as religion and how we perceive ourselves and the world around us and how easy it is to be happy or unhappy based on that story we were told. My uncles and aunts were all raised on the Hindu religion and all my friends were raised in the Catholic religion and that affected me a lot in how I think of the world. Each moment is an amazing moment and in there is all the lessons you can learn, good and bad, about yourself. The life journey is all about learning what makes you tick as a being, as a soul and trying to get in rhythm with that which is a very difficult thing.

Devil, unlike his previous films, is not directed by Night, it’s by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle, the duo behind Quarantine (2008).

PATIRCK: It must have been interesting to see someone else bring one of your stories to life.

NIGHT: You’ll see someone else’s take. When you walk away from the movie you’ll definitely know it was one of my stories that I came up with and the tonalities are there for sure. But it’s very interesting to watch it executed by somebody else’s sensibilities. I had a great time watching somebody else interpret it.

As the first film in the Night Chronicles, Night intends for the series to continue and subsequent films to be produced by his company Blinding Edge Pictures

NIGHT: Yeah, it’s the first. I hope to make a bunch of them. Ideas I didn’t get to direct for whatever reason and I can get amazingly talented filmmakers to come in and interpret them, that would be my dream if we could continue to do this. We’re definitely making three of them and this is the first idea of the three.

PATRICK: It draws on basic and primal fears such as being trapped in a closed space and nature of evil, doesn’t it?

NIGHT: Yeah, I’m always in an elevator going “I wonder who these people are!” The funny thing is, I have plenty of fears, but being in an elevator is not one of them! But I think if I got into a tight, tight space I’d get a little claustrophobic.

I have a slight uneasiness toward glass elevators, but not so much that I would call it one of my greatest fears. That title is reserved for reptiles of a snaky nature. I do however get the idea of taking responsibility for one’s own actions and reflecting at the end of the day on whether or not I’ve been the best that I can be.

Devil, as a film which deal with this idea of people going through life without that responsibility and ending up in a situation where they are finally forced to face that will be interesting to experience, not just because it’s a film by Night but because there’s so much in the world we need to share the burden of responsibility for before its too late, either in our daily lives or globally.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

You can find his music on Soundcloud .

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