I enjoy watching YouTube movie reviews from such content creators as Nostalgia Critic, Brad Jones, Say Goodnight Kevin and Cinemassacre. There was a time, quite a while ago now, when I thought I might try my hand at reviewing movies: I wanted to talk about movies that I love and everyone else hates.
Apparently I now have become a movie reviewer of a sort, but my take on films is much more about what I call their spiritual content and I examine this from an emotional perspective...as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve listened to or watched any previous episodes of Think Spiritual.
So, let’s combine these two approaches today and examine the spiritual elements of a movie that I love and almost everybody hates: Lady in the Water.
Hello, Spiritual Seekers and welcome to my eighth - yes, eighth! - examining the spiritual elements of movies episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. I, as usual, am your host, Mark, and today I am taking on the challenge of lauding what I believe to be a beautiful story even though it comes from what is probably the most reviled film on the internet.
Lady in the Water is said to feel contrived, pretentious and “rather silly”. Terms such as “little effort”, “fractured fairy-tale”, “flamboyant cinematic disaster”, and “ponderous self-regard” litter the vitriolic reviews of this supposed “worst film of 2006”.
Wait a minute...this movie is billed as a Thriller or Dark Fantasy? Huh? Well, there’s half the problem right there. It’s definitely not either of those.
I’m rarely one to agree with critics in general and I definitely don’t agree with their comments about Lady in the Water. I don’t understand what they are looking for and I simply can’t understand the hate for this movie. Is it really that bad? Does the pacing and cinematic elements ruin the deeper meaning of the story? Is it simply fashionable to hate it?
Okay, I admit that it’s a little strange and perhaps some of the dialogue could be viewed as tedious or frivolous and often too soft-spoken, but what about the beautiful moment of healing and transformation that takes place between the primary characters of Cleveland and Story? Doesn’t anyone wonder why Cleveland thanks Story for saving his life when the whole time he thought he was saving hers? Isn’t it the least little bit important that Mr. Leeds implores Cleveland not to end up like him?
Doesn’t anyone want to know exactly why Reggie is only working out one side of his body???!!
Alright, sorry, I know I’m getting a little worked up, but I see so much change and truth and such a heroic adventure within Lady in the Water. I can only hope that I can convey the sense of wonder and emotion that I feel when I watch it.
To start us off, let’s get a few of the characters, quite literally, out of the way. One very important thing to understand with Lady in the Water is that this is a movie that is constantly misdirecting you...well, not just you, its own characters as well!
For starters, let’s get Vick Ran out of the story. He’s nothing but a misdirection. It seems like he’s important because Story thinks he’s important. He’s supposed to write some important, world-changing book. He’s supposed to die before he sees his work recognized by the world. Once he has his “awakening”, Story thinks she has done her duty and the Great Eatlon will come and carry her away.
But Vick Ran is not important. He’s not the main point. Story is attacked by the Scrunt before the Great Eatlon comes to take her. Her work is not done at all. Vick Ran is not the person she was to awaken.
Ah, screw it. There are too many characters in this movie to explain how each one is a misdirection. Let’s just focus on who actually is important: Cleveland Heep, Story, Harry Farber, Mr. Leeds, Mr. Dury, Young-Soon Choi and Reggie. These are the only characters we need for this talk and we are also going to need the steps of the Hero’s Journey for this episode!
[clip] Cleveland Heep, played by the wonderful Paul Giamatti, is the caretaker of an apartment complex called The Cove.
And what is a cove? It’s a small, sheltered bay. A water reference. We’ll get back to that.
[clip] Cleveland is a quiet man and does his job well. But as the story moves on, we find out that Cleveland is hiding at The Cove. Cleveland is avoiding the rest of world here.
[clip] We find this out from Story when she reads Cleveland’s journal - which is specifically hidden away from the rest of his belongings.
Mr. Leeds reiterates this same information: [clip]
Cleveland used to be a doctor. He had a wife and children and they were murdered.
In Hero’s Journey terms, here is Cleveland Heep’s “Call to Adventure” - to come to terms with the death of his wife and children: to not hide from the world at The Cove and to deal with his emotions.
Cleveland’s life at The Cove, however, is classic “Refusal of the Call”. He goes about the same actions day after day. He constantly helps others with their mundane problems. And as Young-Soon points out, “Mr. Heep loves learning” which is again reiterated by [clip] Mr. Leeds in his apartment, surrounded by his books, always watching the news and he says to Cleveland, “You don’t want to become like me.” This from a man whose opinion that Cleveland greatly respects!
All of these things: the work, the helping, the learning, are all distractions for Cleveland because he has shut himself off from his emotions by repressing his grief.
Cleveland is Refusing his Call to Adventure.
But Cleveland isn’t totally shut down yet. He’s not angry at the world. This is why Mr. Leeds is surprised that Cleveland still thinks man deserves saving. [clip]
And this is why Story has been sent to Cleveland: because he is not a lost cause. He can be saved. Story is Cleveland’s Supernatural Aid.
Remember the prologue at the beginning of the movie? [clip] “They need only be glimpsed and the awakening of man will happen.”
Alright, let’s take a look at the pool scene that happens at the ten-minute mark of the film.
[clip] First, Cleveland glimpses Story. Hero’s Journey-wise, this is Supernatural Aid and this is Cleveland’s awakening moment.
[clip] Next, Cleveland takes his first steps into the water: this is Crossing the First Threshold.
[clip] Cleveland climbs out of the pool and basically tries to run away, but in Hero’s Journey terms, the Adventure has him now. The First Threshold is crossed, there is no going back. Cleveland slips and hits his head and tips back into the water. This is his Belly of the Whale moment.
[clip] And now Cleveland awakes, back in his little cozy cottage, but this time there is a young woman with him. Cleveland is now Meeting with the Goddess.
Wow, four steps of the Hero’s Journey in two minutes, fifteen seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many steps in that short of a timespan before.
So, what happened in these scenes and why do I deem them to be of essential importance to understanding this movie?
Because in almost all mythology, the Unconscious or our internal Consciousness or our emotional centre-of-being is most often symbolized as water. Deep water. Deeper than a small sheltered bay, such as a Cove, offers.
Is it too much of a stretch to point out how the swimming pool in this film is shaped somewhat like a human brain?
Okay, a bit of a stretch. Back on point: Cleveland catches a glimpse of the Goddess that dwells within his unconscious and he is awakened. He takes a step into the depths and then another and then another. He begins to swim. He dives, but it’s too much too soon. He panics, slips, falls, and tips into the murky, unfamiliar depths, where he is pulled out and rescued by the Goddess.
And now, the Masculine and Feminine, the intellect and the emotion are together in Cleveland’s little cottage. The cottage and The Cove could be viewed as places of non-commitment. Sort of like sitting on the fence between the land and the sea and refusing to truly live in either one. The cottage is on the edge of the forest and The Cove. It stands between the sea and the land: much like cliffs do...which as Story points out is what Cleveland’s name means, “from the cliffs”.
Cleveland’s name could also be viewed this way: Cleave Land - as in he is cleaving to the land.
The sea represents emotion and the Feminine. The land represents intellect and the Masculine. The sea, the water, is dangerous to Cleveland, so he cleaves to the land and only dabbles in the shallows, in The Cove.
The land is dangerous to Story. The land - or the outer world - is dangerous to the innocent. And Story is the innocent Feminine at this point. Cleveland even says, “you’re just a kid.”
The outer world is harsh and it’s difficult for our inner Self to understand it at times. Pay attention to all the scenes with televisions in this movie. They all portray war and ideology: this is what the outside world looks like to the inner Self and this is why we need a strong Ego to protect that inner Self.
Cleveland is that strong Ego, but he doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions, so he learns by taking care of the young and innocent Story.
And sometimes he’s distracted or misled as he cares for her, so he seeks help from others at The Cove. Cleveland especially thinks that he’s going to get correct answers from the critic, Harry Farber, but Harry Farber doesn’t know the first thing about emotion. He believes that there is no originality left anywhere in the world and he wants everything to be literal.
Unfortunately, Harry Farber follows his non-emotional thinking to its bitter end and he is eaten by Nihilism...er...a Scrunt. I’m not saying that nihilistic thinking is wrong. In fact, it’s completely necessary in order to break down all our preconceived notions of the world, but you cannot allow Nihilism to command and control your actions. At some point it absolutely must be sacrificed.
So, we have to look at the fact that Harry Farber is correct in some ways. Even the Hero’s Journey is not particularly original, but your Hero’s Journey is original to you, thus, Cleveland Heep’s Hero’s Journey is original to him.
And Cleveland’s Hero’s Journey continues as he begins to find the people who can help Story get back to what is called the Blue World in this film. This is Cleveland’s Road of Trials: all the work he must do to figure out who the players in the story are and the dangers he must face on the land - facing the scrunt on the edge of the forest - and in the sea - diving deep in the pool to find Story’s medicine and nearly drowning.
The symbolism in these scenes is that there are dangers in both the intellectual world and the emotional world, but you have to brave both. You have to take risks in order to discover who you really are.
Ah-ha! And that’s another theme in this movie! Finding out who you really are! Young-Soon points this out when she says that no one in stories is ever told who they are [clip] and Mr. Dury has a slightly longer speech on the subject and he also firmly points out that no one can tell you who you are. It is something profound that must be discovered over time: [clip].
And now we come to the climax of what I believe to be every Hero’s true, shall we say, rite of passage moment. First comes the Temptation stage which is really just a precursor to Atonement with the Father. Making it past the Atonement with the Father stage is absolutely imperative in order for good Heroes to be made because it is during this stage that they face and atone with the thing that holds the most power over their life.
This moment comes for Cleveland when it is revealed that he is the Healer. He denies this at first - there’s the Temptation to abandon the Hero’s Journey. Cleveland says it can’t be him, but Mr. Leeds demands that he try and we then understand why Mr. Leeds doesn’t want Cleveland to end up like him: [clip]
So, Cleveland reluctantly accepts his role as the Healer and I believe he knows that he will endure pain during this moment. Cleveland must be completely open and vulnerable to all that surround him.
What follows is, to me, probably the most beautiful and moving Atonement with the Father scene I have witnessed in a movie thus far: [clip]
Cleveland, the Masculine, holds the injured Story, the Feminine, and as he finally breaks his internal shorings and grieves the loss of his family, he heals himself and he heals Story and he also matures his Feminine nature and his emotions at this point: [clip]. Story is no longer a child. She is a woman.
The final scene of the movie involves people talking in the rain, just as Harry Farber didn’t like: [clip]. And, yes, it absolutely is a metaphor of purification and starting anew for Cleveland Heep.
It’s also what is known as Apotheosis in the Hero’s Journey: recognition of the Divine within one’s Self in this case.
Cleveland thanks Story for saving his life, because he knew that he needed saving. By saving her, he did save himself. By rescuing his Feminine, the Feminine also rescued her Masculine. Symbiosis.
Oh, but wait! I haven’t answered the question of why Reggie only works out one side of his body!
[clip] During this final scene, it is discovered that Reggie is the Guardian and that he must face down the Scrunt. Reggie is the perfect person for this. He must face the dangers of the Land because he has been doing what the majority of us do all the time: working out only one side of our being!
That is what Reggie is a symbol of. Some of us work out our internal, emotional structure and the larger portion of the population works out their external, intellectual structure, but the lesson here is that we have to work out both parts evenly or we are out-of-balance and incomplete individuals.
And that, Dear Listeners, has been my interpretation of the 2006 film, Lady in the Water. I could further surmise as to whether the tenants of The Cove are more archetypes of Cleveland’s personality or if they are people that he must help to dive into their own emotional depths, but I think I’m going to leave that part up to you to decide.
How do you feel about my analysis of the film? Have I made you think that, perhaps, it isn’t as terrible as you thought it is or have been told it is?
Please like, share, subscribe and comment or criticize. Any of the above will continue to help me spread the message of Be Your Own Hero.
This is going to become a regular thing I do now, isn’t it?
Well, what else can I do? Here I was, with my Lady in the Water script all tied up in a nice, neat, little, packaged script, and I just had to go and watch the new Aquaman movie. Lo and behold, what is it all about?
The land and the sea and becoming master of two worlds.
Ah-ha! But what does Queen Atlanna say to Orm at the end of the film? [clip]
Yes! Yin and Yang, folks. The land and sea are one! The path to wholeness and oneness of being is the middle way between the parts that make up the whole.
You are the Hero. You are Aquaman. You are Cleveland Heep. I know you would rather be Aquaman, but I’m trying to make a point here. You are land and sea rolled into one. Don’t be all of one and ignore the other. Don’t deny parts of yourself that you consider to be weak or undesirable. Be the Master of your life.
That’s all I’m going to say about Aquaman for the time being. I think it actually is a pretty significant movie and I need to watch it a few more times to get it all figured out. I’m not sure if I agree with the other line that Queen Atlanna speaks when she says that a Hero is greater than a King. That really doesn’t fit the standard role of Archetypes. The Hero should always transition to Warrior or Mentor or to King or Queen. Maybe she said it, not because it’s true, but because it was what Arthur needed to hear at that moment. I’d love to hear your opinion on that line if you’d like to leave a comment about it.
Thank you very much for listening. I have been your host, Mark. This has been the eighth Examining the Spiritual Elements of Movies episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts and I know that if you choose to dive into the emotional depths of your soul just as Cleveland Heep did that the ensuing adventure absolutely will change your Self and will change your world for the better.
I will see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.
Change your Self; change your World.