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And it’s true. Lady in the Water may not be the best movie ever made… but it’s not the worst… and it’s definitely important. In so many ways it was ahead of its time. We hear this phrase, “ahead of its time” tossed around a lot. This isn’t an empty statement. Our society (western culture) breaks down into two groups: those who believe in mythology as a literal fact, and those who discount it as a lie. This would be a binary opposition, like deism versus atheism. But we are no longer living in a modern age. We are all post-modernists. Binary oppositions are over. There needs to be a third option.

In the past few years, multiple books have been published across various genres (works such as A Whole New Mind, A New Kind of Christian, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl) that point to a significant paradigm shift that is either on its way or presently occurring. This shift is sometimes described as an evolutionary shift in consciousness. Other times it’s analogized as a shift from left to right brain thinking. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle. We’re getting there but we don’t have the whole picture yet. Lady in the Water not only provides a cinematic representation of this shift in consciousness, but it also provides a roadmap to follow, like the pictured example on the front of a puzzle box. This is because Lady in the Water is a fairy tale, and not just any fairy tale, it’s a new fairy tale that speaks to our current situation.

Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim writes in Uses of Enchantment that “In a fairy tale, internal processes are externalized and become comprehensible as represented by the figures of the story and its events” (25). This means that fairy tales aid individuals in bringing unconscious material to the forefront and in front of the conscious mind. This externalization of internal processes enable individuals to identify with this material, integrate it, and not only cope with what is going on, but to grow with it. This is the standard psychological process of identification, integration and transformation. As Jack Zipes states in Why Fairy Tales Stick, “Fairy tales provide us with hope that some relevant transformation is possible” (23).

This process of transformation that we are going through is the journey of mythology returning from a literal interpretation and re-establishing itself as metaphor again. This is purely evolutionary. It’s memetic survival. This is best exemplified in the Christian telling of the divine incarnate. For the meme of the divine incarnate to survive the Middle Ages and into present day, it had to transform from a metaphor into a literal fact. We are now in a transitioning period where literalism is returning to the abstract, or as Daniel Pink talks about in A Whole New Mind, we are shifting from left to right brain thinking. This is also the transcendental optimism that is found in the meme of 2012, that we are on the brink of an evolutionary leap in consciousness.

Mythology is redefining itself as both fact and fiction. This means that our mythologies (and our religions) are going to be understood as both abstract and literal truths… but they won’t necessarily be understood as factual. They will be literal because they point to internal process that are true for us as individuals but collectively they will be abstract truths. It’s both abstract and literal truth because it speaks to the “true” places inside of us.

This is kind of like the way we understand analogies. When we say “like the pot calling the kettle black,” we understand that both a pot and a kettle are black (and this is literally true), but we also know that what’s being communicated is a truthful statement on an entirely different plane of understanding. When we use that phrase “like calling the kettle black,” what we’re usually implying about the individual that this analogy is addressed to is that “you are not much different than that which you criticize.”

This film received a lot of negative reviews, and it wasn’t just criticism, the reviews were hateful. In his film review for RogerEbert.com, editor Jim Emerson writes, “Were I the late Joseph Campbell, who devoted his life to exploring how myths are not arbitrary shaggy dog stories but speak to the hunger for meaning deep within our species, I would will my spirit to return from the Land of the Dead, raise my hollowed body from my grave, and pelt this movie with rotten lotuses.”

I would have to disagree. I’m slightly suspicious that Mr. Emerson might have used Joseph Campbell as a kind of pop-reference to spice things up a bit. I doubt he’s actually read anything by Joseph Campbell, because if he did, he wouldn’t be talking about “pelt[ing] this movie with rotten lotuses.” Lady in the Water is not only a new fairy tale, it’s also a new myth. Granted those are two different modes of literary work, but the characters in the film are participating in a new mythology, while the story, written by Shyamalan, is a new fairy tale. This film provides us with a working definition of mythology and acts as a roadmap to guide us towards the meaning and understanding of myth as it relates to our society.

In a 2006 interview with Time Magazine, M. Night Shyamalan says, “I feel like we are in the death rattle of religion right now. Its parameters which were totally appropriate and defendable for the history of man are on the verge of being obsolete, and that is because of this real and cyber global community that we are in now. Isolation of cultures, which was the glue, is vanishing. We need to have a faith, a type of belief that makes sense to everyone in the room who hears it. In the Buddhist philosophy, it is all boats to get us to the shore. We have to let go of the feeling that the boat is the shore. We don’t have to let go of the boat — we can still love the metaphors and they can mean a great deal to our cultures, but they have to be seen as boats.”

This “death rattle of religion” is the internal process that Lady in the Water speaks to. The problem is that this film was ahead of its time.  It bombed in the box office and memetically it failed- because we weren’t ready for it yet. It’s a lot like reading the story of Oedipus to a three year old. That child is not nearly at the stage of psychological development for that story to be relevant or cathartic. And that’s kind of what happened with our society and this movie. We missed the boat. But I’m bringing it back around. I think we’re ready now.

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