M. Night Shyamalan Old Discussed and Explained. I haven’t quite watched Old yet (later tonight God willing) but I already have a pretty extensive opinion about this movie. How can that possibly be? Well, A) I’m very opinionated regardless, and B) I’ve been a pretty outspoken fan of the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, upon which M. Night’s film Old is based. And while I’m looking forward to actually watching Old, I’m a little concerned that the open-endlessness of the book will get ditched by the practically-minded Shyamalan. Hey, I guess it could work. Maybe? But we will just have to see. M. Night Shyamalan Old Discussed and Explained.
If you are unaware of who M. Night might be, I can’t help you, cough (6th Sense) (Glass) and don’t even know why, cough (The Village), you are even here, cough (Unbreakable). It’s funny how Shyamalan went from Indie film maker, to established Hollywood film maker, and then back to Indie film make all over again. It’s what happens when you become a pariah and start funding your own movies all by yourself.
A few ground rules for this post. 1) The rest of this post is 100% spoilers. I highly recommend stopping now if you haven’t already watched the movie or read the book. 2) I will talk about the book first. If you have read the book, stick around. I’ll declare it loudly when we wander into movie spoiler territory. Having just finished the movie, the spoilers of the movie and the book are TOTALLY different. 3) I don’t have a three, I’m just checking to see if you are still reading. Great. Let’s get to it. All spoilers from here on out.
Sandcastle Comic Book Discussion and Spoilers
Quickly, let’s talk about the French book that M. Night used as the basis for his new movie Old. It’s a brilliant graphic novel, and tells the story of a group of people trapped on a beach. Young children, parents, older people. Soon we realize that there is an invisible force-field surrounding the beach and they cannot leave. Worse… on the beach, time is accelerated. Years pass in minutes. Children mature, have their periods, get pregnant, a baby is born, it quickly ages as well.
But why? What is going on here? We do not really ever find out. (The book actually gives us a range of possibilities, and ideas, which I will talk about later.) But ultimately? The book seems to be completely comfortable in its own skin of unknowns. There is one detail in the book though that we have to talk about. After the characters realize just how stuck they really are, that death is coming, and there really isn’t anything that any of them can do about it, one of the characters tells a story. The story is about a King who is visited by a half man, split right down the middle. The half man was death’s messenger and he had come to tell the King that he was going to die. But the king pleaded for his life. The half man capitulated, and said to the King, you will be given upwards of seven years to live… but one day he would come back, and on that day he would die.
In the intervening years, the king spent all his time building moats around his moats, and walls around his walls in order to keep the half man out. And he gave orders to his guards to keep absolutely everyone out. Then, seven years later, the half man returned, and joined the King in his inner sanctum and the King was angry with his men for allowing the half man through. But the half man lets him know that nothing can keep him out, and on this day, the King’s life would be taken from him.
Sandcastle Graphic Novel Explained
Sorry, but there is no explanation for the graphic novel Sandcastle! Hahaha. No, really, there is… but it isn’t going to be clean. The graphic novel tells a story about the inevitability of death. That we spend too much of our lives trying to hold onto that which we cannot hold onto. The sands in the glass of time are not stoppable. You cannot plug the sand… and the more we strive to do so, only guarantees we are missing the larger point. Take, for example, the King. He locked out his family, his friends, he spent all his time building moats and walls, but it was all for nothing. Right? But ultimately we are given no real explanation for the beach, the magnetic force-field keeping them in, nothing. Alright, let’s dive into the movie.
M. Night Shyamalan Old Discussed and Explained
Right out of the gate, M. Night Shyamalan diverged with Sandcastle, and went a new direction… in that he started the entire story from the vantage of a nearby resort. And it is there that we independently meet each of the various players. The players – let’s talk about them… because I think they will be critical to understanding this larger story.
Enter Guy (played by Gael García Bernal), and Prisca (played by Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread), who travel to a resort with their two young children – Trent (age 15, Trent played by Alex Wolff from Hereditary and the brilliant movie, Pig – and the adult Trent, played by Emun Elliott from Prometheus and the Phantom Menace) and Maddox (played by Thomasin McKenzie from the brilliant film Jo Jo Rabbit, and The King). Guy and Prisca are NOT doing well. Heck, it’s a final vacation before the couple get a divorce. Next, we meet a married couple, Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), when Patricia falls and has a Grand Mal seizure. And at this time, we also meet Charles (played by Rufus Sewell who was brilliant in Dark City), a surgeon that assists Patricia. And we also meet Charles’ wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee of Neon Demon, and Fury Road fame) who is probably the most stereotypical trophy wife imaginable, their daughter Kara (played by Mikaya Fisher as the 11-year-old, and Eliza Scanlen as the 15-year-old), and Charles’ mother Agnes (played by Kathleen Chalfant). Toss in a rapper named “Mid-Size Sedan” (played by Aaron Pierre), and his female companion who dies too quickly to even note, and we now have all the various chess pieces necessary to now turn the blender on.
Said blender starts spinning when the manager of the resort they are all staying at recommends to them a secluded beach that is to DIE for! hahaha. (sorry… I enjoyed that more than you did, for sure.) And almost immediately upon arriving at the beach the body of Mid-Size Sedan’s companion is discovered. She’s naked, and did I mention dead? Floating in the water, and immediately the racism begins. “I’m standing right here.” “But his nose is bleeding.” “It’s been bleeding for hours.” But before they can sort out the chaos of Mid-Size’s girlfriend dying, Agnes also dies. Now, I’m not great with math, but 1 plus 1, is two. And that is two dead people so far.
That is only the beginning of all the weirdness. Like, oh, by the way, the small children becoming teens mid-beach excursion. And slowly the group begins to realize that it is the beach itself that is making them age. Worse, their health is also deteriorating. They also start realizing that there is a member of each family that has some other illness happening. A tumor the size of a melon. They also make efforts to try and leave, but are unsuccessful, and when they do try to leave, they are knocked out, and they wake up back on the beach. In the middle of their trying to get off the beach, they discover a notebook that details that a previous visitor to the beach thought that they were being watched.
Along the way, Charles began developing schizophrenia or PTSD, or some mental/medical degeneration. He’s going on, and on about some weird movie with Jack Nicholas – Jack Nicholson?? It was pretty funny. But does anyone know which movie he is thinking about? I couldn’t place it. Regardless, as a result, he flips out, and kills Mid-size Sedan. Similarly, Jarin and Kara also die while trying to escape from the beach. (Brings us to five dead, I think, at this point?) And Patricia and Chrystal die from their medical problems (there was even a surgery where they pulled out a watermelon sized tumor from her abdomen). That puts us at seven dead. Then comes Charles again, who attacks Guy at night, but his wife cuts him with a rusted knife. And the rust causes an infection that ultimately kills him. (Eight).
Possibly the only redeeming news in this entire movie is that Guy and Prisca reconcile – remember they were initially going to divorce, and this was going to be their last vacation together? Well, they put all that behind them, just before the two of them die together. (Ten.)
In the morning, the only two people alive are Maddox and Trent. Trent had been given a secret message from the manager’s kid, which he guesses is informing him of an underwater coral passage that might allow them to escape. I.e., it won’t cause them to pass out like all the other ways out of this inferno. He and his sister go for it, swimming through the coral… but after they fail to come back out of the water, a resort employee (played by M. Night) says that the entirety of the group is now dead. Which is when it’s revealed that the resort is a front for a research pharmaceutical company that is using the guests to test their drug trials. And since the beach accelerates the lives of the guests, it makes it a perfect spot for medical testing. In a single day, they can play out a drug regimen on a disease. And with that, the researchers move on to another group of test trial subjects. The siblings, take the notebook to the police, and they are able to let them know about the immoral scientific testing the resort is doing. And with that, the duo head back home to live with their aunt. The end.
M. Night Shyamalan Old Discussed and Explained
M. Night did something entirely different with his interpretation of Sandcastle…
“It was always this ending. For me, the graphic novel had no ending essentially, and didn’t explain anything. It had a few frames where they were insinuating something, so I kept writing that version of the story in my head. I go, ‘Oooh. That must mean that. That must mean there’s something else going on.’ So, to me, it was very much from the graphic novel like a painting that was unfinished, so the ending was from that. It was always that version. And there were different rhythms of how to convey that ending. And there were various versions of conveying that ending, but it was always that ending.”
He’s right. It literally didn’t explain anything. But it didn’t need to – that is the thing he doesn’t seem to grasp. Sandcastle was talking about life. It was a metaphor for our day in and day out struggle in understanding what is really important. The racism is just thrashing in the wind. The elitism is useless. The fighting, the arguing? Totally futile. And that if we don’t really understand what is important in life, we will barrier ourselves off from the world as we become afraid of the coming end.
M. Night though, he has made this movie about pharmaceuticals. Wait, what? How does that explain the beach? It doesn’t. The drug company is just utilizing the beach for its own good. But even Shyamalan’s explanation does nothing to explain it. Why is everyone aging so quickly on this particular beach? What is this force-field that is keeping them there? It just seems like a really blunt and totally unsophisticated twist. Trust me, I want M. Night to get back on his game. But he needs to get back to trusting his audience. Give them some benefit of the doubt, and allow them to think just a little. Ten years ago, when Sandcastle hit the English markets, it had an impact solely because of its ambiguity. And M. Night’s belief that it always implied this ending has got to be the furthest thing from the truth. To him, sure. Which brings me to a really interesting page that enumerates a number of the options available to the reader for explaining the events of the graphic novel. Let’s take a look at it:
- We could all be having a drug induced collective hallucination.
- A prototype chemical could have been released that causes them to age 1,000 times faster than normal. e.g.: a cosmetics lab looking for anti-aging cream?
- Dream theory – that everything they are experiencing is actually someone’s dream.
- Book theory – that everything they are experiencing is just a book someone is writing (which, is what was happening! hahah.)
- The next page then continues with the “Experiment Theory,” that all of it has been staged to see what they do and how they react. “That the Arab was framed, to observe everyone’s reaction.”
Personally, I think this is a good START at a list of the various theories that could explain Sandcastle. But my favorite theory to explain the graphic novel is just that it is a metaphorical, or allegorical view of life as we know it. Just a warning to those of us reading that we can become the King if we are not careful.
M. Night Shyamalan Old Discussed and Explained
None. There are no theories for Old. Why? Because M. Night gave us the one theory that can explain his movie. He went with the theory #2 listed by Sandcastle… that it is an anti-aging drug company, or a cosmetic company hoping to make a mint off of their research. And that the research rides on the back of unwitting resort visitors. He didn’t give us much to really talk about. But as he didn’t explain why it is that the beach was causing humans to age at a 1000x rate, maybe we can discard that theory, and come up with our own?
Shyamalan did keep the racial overtones that ran through the graphic novel, even if they are a bit more sedate, and explained away immediately by mental disorders. It could be that the Experiment theory – #5 listed in the book – is more on target. That the entirety of their experiences is just a setup to see how everyone will respond. And if that is the case, they failed miserably. Both in the book and in the movie. They acted 100% out of their own self interest. They pushed blame to the outsider (to Mid-Size specifically) and immediately assumed that the outsider was to blame.
Thoughts on the Movie Old
I have been a huge fan of M. Night’s return to movie making on his own dime and his return to his Indie roots. But with Old, I’m reminded of many of the problems that I have had with his movies since day one. And that is mainly his propensity to over prescribe to specific theories that are too narrowly focused. Let’s just say that there isn’t a metaphorical bone in the guy’s body. So the movie was a bit too rigid for my tastes.
Regardless, it was a really fun envisioning of the graphic novel. And if you refuse M. Night’s overly prescriptive vision for the movie, it could be a fun philosophical life boat experience. Put humans in rat-maze, watch what happens, sort of film. But even the acting, the characters, the backstories were all too fleetingly explored. Too many stereotypical characters (the rich beautiful wife that dies aging – covered in makeup, the racist surgeon that stabs to death the rapper – and blames it on ‘madness,’ the troubled married couple, … you get the idea.) I didn’t care about a single one of them. Oh, wait, I did hope that Guy would figure out what the title was of his wife’s book. Did any of you catch what it was? It started with A Dangerous – something… ?? Maybe they mentioned it, and I missed it while getting popcorn? But this is important to me. Anyone know??!?
I definitely would like to hear from you guys on what you thought about this movie? Am I off base with my meh response? What are you thinking about it?
Edited by: CY