Dharma-Inspired Move Review: The Village ~ An Imperfect Private Pureland
Another "Enlightenment through Entertainment" Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:An Imperfect Private Pureland : The Village
Tagline: Run. The truce is ending. | There is no turning back.
Plot: A thrilling tale of an isolated town confronting the astonishing truth that lies just outside its borders.
"The Village" is a timeless silver-screen parable on human-nature. A deceptively simple but brilliant tale, it is more a moral fable than a horror movie, offering more food for thought than palpitations of the heart. In fact, it can be used as an allegory for illustrating what truly defines a "Pureland" - the Buddhist notion of true paradise.
The story takes place in a self-sustained village of a primitive 1600s' Puritan setting. The village is contained by the fear of unknown monsters that lie beyond its borders. However, it is "utopianly" free of greed and thus crime. In fact, there is no need for money. A young man called Lucius (played by Joaquin Phoenix) nurses a burning desire to go beyond the borders, out of compassion to seek medicine for the seriously sick in the village. This is immediately reminiscent of Prince Siddhartha's (the Buddha-to-be) wish to see "the world out there", beyond the haven fenced by his palace walls. Siddhartha later renounces his princeship to seek Enlightenment, to discover the solution to suffering for all beings. Just as the palace imprisoned Siddhartha, the village was prison to Lucius. Fearless and of pure intent, both aspired to enter deep into Samsara (this world of prevalent suffering) to seek medicine for all - one in the physical sense and the other spiritual.
The village elders warn Lucius of the danger, advising him to stay home, to spare himself of the harmful temptations of greed that exist in the proverbial "big bad city" out there, which had already morally and literally destroyed people they know. Ironically, the elders themselves were controlled by greed to safeguard their carefully formed community, almost at the expense of compassion to those in the community itself. Greed thus, is not essentially in the city or any place, but in one's mind. Each of the elders keep a locked chest, which contains artifacts from their unhappy "previous life" before they formed the ideal society they now live in. Though a burden from the past, it serves as a stark reminder as to why the village was created, as a haven from evil. But the village was only almost paradise, being founded on fear (an aspect of hatred), with its inhabitants voluntarily quarantined and controlled by fear. Building on ancient legends, the elders secretly conspired to perpetuate myths of monsters roaming outside the village borders. These imaginary monsters prevent the villagers from ever being tainted by the sins of the city. In their otherwise seemingly perfect lives, this artificial "Pureland" harbours fear and delusion of the truth. Despite this, the motivations of the elders were noble, having taken lifelong oaths to never reveal the truth of how the village came to be, so as to protect the village, just as Bodhisattvas stand by their compassionate vows.
Referred to by the villagers as "Those We Don't Speak Of", we imagine the monsters to be horrible beyond description. And they are indeed so. The real monsters the elders were trying to protect the them from were the corrupting monsters of man's greed, hatred and delusion (the roots of evil) in the supposedly "well-to-do" city. These monsters can indeed wipe out the peace and harmony of the village if any villager gets "caught" by them.
The elder Edward Walker (played by William Hurt) is forced to reveal the truth that there is no real monster to his daughter Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), when she insists on journeying to the city to seek medicine for Lucius who was badly hurt. Indeed, there was nothing to fear, other than fear itself. She walked to the end of the woods and encountered a wall. Climbing over it, the audience sees a world of today's modern 21st century setting, though Ivy, who is blind, "sees no evil." The village had all along been hidden in the thick of an expansive "wild life preserve", funded and protected by her father. Being out of bounds and with the empty threat of wild animals abound, outsiders are intimidated by fear to stay clear of the preserve, thus preserving the sanctuary of the village. This clever use of fear interestingly mirrors the villagers' situation.
The village was an imperfect private "Pureland" of sorts created by the elders, who were bitterly disappointed by the evil modern man had done, who preferred to live in a simpler and purer society set in the past. It was a desperate bid to return to the innocence of the past. Sadly, it was run on fear and delusion. In Buddhism, paradise is found by purifying ourselves of the roots of evil and cultivating of their opposite qualities of generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. This is the way it has to be because the mind is the forerunner of all things. Thus does the Vimalakirti Sutra says, "When the mind is pure, the land is pure."
This story is shocking not just for the unexpected twists in the tale, but because it forces us to reflect on whether modernisation has truly made our lives, or rather ourselves, better. Are we significantly kinder and wiser than our "primitive" ancestors? Are we more free of greed, hatred and delusion? Has technological advancement made us more greedy, hateful and deluded? Is modern life only good for better medicine? What form of healing do we really need? Perhaps spiritual healing is much more crucial than the physical? If so, let the inner healing begin with the arising of compassion and wisdom. Let us heal this one tiny "village" of ours - this "global village" called "the world." Let us build a true Pureland here for all to share, and not hide it anywhere - a public paradise devoid of evil and fear. -shian