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Lady in the Water is a 2006 thriller/fantasy film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.


Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), a former doctor, became a handyman at the Cove, a Philadelphiamarker poolside apartment complex, after his wife and children were murdered during a burglary, the emotional trauma of which left him with a debilitating stutter. The pool's filters keep getting clogged; the next night, Heep discovers the cause: Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a Narf, or sea nymph from supposed Eastern mythology (the mythology in reality having been invented for the movie), from a mythological place called the Blue World. He takes her outside for some fresh air, only to narrowly escape an attack by a Scrunt, a wolf-shaped creature who escapes human detection by its grass covering and ability to lay impossibly flat.

Story tells Heep that she is here to meet a writer, and that their meeting will significantly affect humanity's future for the better. Heep tours the complex, speaking with Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban), Mrs. Bell (Mary Beth Hurt), crossword enthusiast Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright), and five young male smokers (Joseph D. Reitman, Jared Harris, Grant Monohon, John Boyd and Ethan Cohn). His final stop is with Vick Ran (M. Night Shyamalan), who Heep discovers is a writer who has been working on a book, The Cookbook, containing his thoughts on cultural problems and leaders. It is he who Story came to meet, and after meeting with her, Ran's thoughts are cleared, his fear eliminated and his inner voice made more distinct. We learn Ran's book will significantly inspire a future President, a man with great oratorical skill hailing from the Midwest, to effect great positive change in the world, but that the book will gain the attention of this man in his childhood (and such widespread attention in general) because its ideas will be so controversial as to cause someone to kill Ran.

Upon the conclusion of her business, Story is supposed to be able to leave without being assaulted by the Scrunt. However, despite this, she is attacked by it. She is destined to become a Madam Narf, a inspirational leader of her people; the chance to kill her was enough to make the Scrunt go rogue and risk the wrath of the Tarturics (a deeply evil, parricidal simian trio whose malice is normally enough to keep peace in the Blue World). In order to help her heal, Heep dives into the pool and removes its grate, allowing him to find an alcove where Story kept kii, a mud that serves as antidote to the Scrunt's poisonous scratches.

Four humans have special powers to assist Story: the Symbolist, the Guardian, the Guild, and the Healer. Story believes Heep to be her Guardian. Heep visits Mr. Farber, a West Coast émigré hired to be the local paper's book and film critic, who advises him as to how the other individuals might be identified using normal movie tropes. Working off of Farber's words, Heep believes Dury to be the Symbolist, the smokers to be the Guild, and Mrs. Bell to be the Healer. Based on Dury's crossword entries, they decide to throw a poolside party, hoping that the mass gathering will confuse the Scrunt's sense of smell.

The night before the party, Heep asks Story how he might practice his confrontation with the Scrunt. She tells him how to find the Scrunt using a mirror, and how to challenge it to fight. The Guardian's gaze will hypnotize the Scrunt and cause it to back up, but Heep's gaze proves to have no effect; only a chance meeting with Farber saves Heep's life. Heep tells Story he is not her Guardian. Indeed, the next night, the plans immediately go wrong: they lose sight of the Scrunt, a walkie-talkie dies, and the band never draws people inside. In the confusion, Story is attacked by the Scrunt; Heep rescues her but finds her blonde, pale and unmoving. Dury protests he doesn't feel like the Interpreter, but then realizes who is: his son Joey (Noah Gray-Cabey). This leads them to realize that Farber's advice as to the identities of Guardian, Symbolist, Guild and Healer was altogether wrong. The scene then shifts to Farber encountering the Scrunt; he gives it a metafictional speech about why a character in his role would not die, but in this, too, he proves to be wrong.

Working off of cereal boxes, the true Interpreter, Joey, says that in order to heal Story, there must be present the true Guild (a gathering of seven sisters), as well as a "Man with No Secrets" (Tom Mardirosian) and a "Man Whose Opinion is Highly Respected" (Bill Irwin) as witnesses. Joey then realizes that the Healer is male, and they all realize Heep is the Healer. While being touched by the Guild, Heep "brings forth [his] energy" by bringing forth his long-suppressed grief and love over his family's deaths, Story's scars fully closing as Heep tells his murdered wife and children, "I love you all so much."

With Story restored, the ceremony starts once more, but the Scrunt attacks. Heep meets the Scrunt's gaze with an iron resolve that seemingly stops the Scrunt in its tracks, but it is then revealed that standing behind him is Reggie (Freddy Rodríguez), an oddly lopsidedly muscled tenant, who is the true Guardian. Reggie's gaze is momentarily diverted by the cry of the Great Eatlon, a giant eagle who will ferry Story back to the Blue World, as it flies overhead. The Scrunt leaps to attack, but is lept upon by the Tarturics and dragged back into the woods.

Story hugs Heep goodbye, and he thanks her for saving his life. In the pool's reflection, blurred by the raindrops' ripples, we see the Great Eatlon land, enfold Story in one of its wings, and take flight once more. The film shows each of the tenants' faces as they watch Story and the Great Eatlon fly off into the storm, closing on a rippled reflection of Heep gazing upward.


The movie was originally planned for Disney, as Shyamalan's previous four films; but was rejected. Shyamalan was reportedly angry about the rejection and presented the project to Warner Bros., who agreed to make the film. The events that led to the making of the movie were featured in a book, The Man Who Heard Voices, by Michael Bamberger.

Shyamalan established a production facility at the Jacobson Logistics warehouse site in nearby Levittown, Pennsylvaniamarker, where sets for the apartment complex and a half-city block of row houses were built. Occasional footage was shot inside the overflow area of the warehouse. Most of the filming was completed after playtime hours.


Having already formulated ideas for the score the previous year, Howard wrote the score during the early part of 2006, and the orchestral score was recorded over a period of four days in May by the 91-piece Hollywood Studio Symphony.



The soundtrack for The Lady in the Water was composed by James Newton Howard. The last four tracks are non-soundtrack songs from singer/songwriter Amanda Ghost, Indie rock band A Whisper in the Noise and rock 'n' roll revivalists Silvertide. Each of the four songs was originally written by Bob Dylan. Howard won the IFMCA Award for Best Film Score for Lady in the Water in 2006, as well as the awards for Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film, and Best Single Cue of 2006 for "The Great Eatlon".

Track Listing
  1. "Prologue"
  2. "The Party"
  3. "Charades"
  4. "Ripples In The Pool"
  5. "The Blue World"
  6. "Giving The Kii"
  7. "Walkie Talkie"
  8. "Cereal Boxes"
  9. "Officer Jimbo"
  10. "The Healing"
  11. "The Great Eatlon"
  12. "End Titles"
  13. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" – A Whisper In The Noise
  14. "Every Grain Of Sand" - Amanda Ghost
  15. "It Ain't Me Babe" – Silvertide
  16. "Maggie's Farm" – Silvertide


Lady in the Water was critically panned around the time of its release and has an overall rating of 24% on the review conglomerate Rotten Tomatoes. Of Shyamalan's role in the film, Mark Kermode said, "It's like someone pouring petrol over their heads and setting fire to themselves".

Variety magazine wrote a scathing advance review that appeared on July 16, 2006. Common complaints about the film were that little effort was put into getting the viewer to believe in the world, that few moments of the film could be taken seriously, and that Shyamalan was using the film as a form of self-indulgence; instead of having a minor cameo, as in most of his films, Shyamalan cast himself as a visionary whose writing changes the world, and included a film critic — portrayed as arrogant, self-assured, and passive — who is despised by the other characters and who ultimately is violently killed. Many reviewers attacked this perceived self-indulgence: Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote of the story, "Apparently those who live in the water now roam the earth trying to make us listen, though initially it’s rather foggy as to what precisely we are supposed to hear — the crash of the waves, the songs of the sirens, the voice of God — until we realize that of course we're meant to cup our ear to an even higher power: Mr. Shyamalan".

Frank Lovece of Film Journal International said, "Fans of actor Paul Giamatti or of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan may get something out of Lady in the Water, a fractured fairy tale about a water nymph who comes to a Philadelphia apartment house to deliver an important message. Anyone else is likely to be perplexed by the muddled mythmaking or actively astonished at the self-indulgent ego of a writer-director-producer who casts himself in the role of a visionary writer whose martyrdom will change the world".

Michael Medved gave Lady in the Water one and a half stars (out of four) calling it, "... a full-out, flamboyant cinematic disaster, a work of nearly unparalleled arrogance and vapidity", adding that, "... Lady in the Water is all wet...".

Also panned was the fact that the film was based on a bedtime story Shyamalan told to his children; Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat commented: "If Shyamalan is going to use his kids as a focus group for future projects, maybe he should start making movies for Nickelodeon already and stop wasting our time"; an ironic comment, considering Shyamalan's next project would be a live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender.

CNN's Tom Charity, among many others, has called Lady in the Water the worst film of 2006. It was listed by Variety as one of the ten "biggest (financial) losers" of 2006.

Not all reviews were negative: Harrison Scott Key wrote in World magazine that, "The plot turns into a puzzle... and it's quite fun to watch. Ultimately, the movie has us asking one of the most important questions an audience can ask: What happens next? And that makes it a good film". Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote that though the film is "built on too much ponderous self-regard ... [t]here is a good chunk of Lady in the Water that is simply too well made and affectingly acted to dismiss as a mere exercise in arrogance".

The film was nominated for four Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay, winning two for Shyamalan as both Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actor.

Box office

In its opening weekend (21-23 July 2006), the film grossed a total of $18.2 million, placing third in the United Statesmarker box office results for that weekend. It was Shyamalan's lowest opening for any of his five major films. Due to negative reviews and poor word-of-mouth, its second week fell sharply to $7.1 million, pushing its total to only $32.2 million. Its third weekend was no better, falling another 62.1% to $2.7 million. As of September 14, 2006, its total was $42.285 million. In addition, the film only made $30.5 million in the foreign box office, pulling its tally to approximately $72.785 million internationally. The movie had an estimated budget of $75 million for production and a further $70 million in advertising costs.

Home media

This movie was released simultaneously on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video on December 19, 2006.

The extras included on the DVD are:

  • Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story
  • Reflections of Lady in the Water 6-Part Documentary
  • Additional Scenes
  • Auditions
  • Gag Reel
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • DVD-ROM PC Weblink
  • English, French & Spanish subtitles

Related books

Children's book

Shyamalan, who credits the development of the movie to a bedtime story he told his children about what happens in their pool at night, wrote the 72-page children's book Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story (Little, Brown, New York, ISBN 0-316-01734-5) to coincide with the movie. The book's illustrations were made by Crash McCreery. It was released on the same day as the film, on July 21, 2006.

The book describes the narf, scrunt, Tartutic, and Eatlon, in detail, their roles are identical to those in the film. The book includes details not present in the film and omits others: additional details include the description of the sensations experienced by a vessel upon its awakening and the suggestion that a narf's presence activates the lawn sprinklers. The roles of Madame Narf, Healer, Symbolist, Guild, and Guardian are only suggested and not stated openly.

The tone of the book resembles in some respects that of Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, sharing with it an air of unnerving mystery and a similar pace.

The Man Who Heard Voices

The Man Who Heard Voices (Gotham Books, New York, ISBN 1-59240-213-5), by Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger, recounting the making of the film, was released July 20, 2006.


  1. Brian Lowry, Lady in the Water, Variety, July 16, 2006, Accessed May 10, 2008.
  2. Peter Travers, Lady in the Water, Rolling Stone, July 20, 2006, Accessed May 10, 2008.
  3. Sink or Swim, Entertainment Weekly, July 7, 2006, accessed May 10, 2008.
  4. IFMCA Award (2006) "Awards and Winners 2006"
  5. Lady in the Water on
  6. BBC - Five Live MARK KERMODE
  7. The New York Times (July 2006) "Finding Magic Somewhere Under the Pool in Lady in the Water" by Manohla Dargis
  8. Film Journal International Lady in the Water, by Frank Lovece
  9. Michael Medved's Eye On Entertainment - Lady In The Water Review
  10. Film Threat Review
  11. - 2006: Hollywood diagnosis, Sun., Dec. 24, 2006.
  12. World (Aug. 19, 2006): "A thrillertale: Middle Earth and Philadelphia collide in Lady in the Water", by Harrison Scott Key
  13. The Boston Globe (July 21, 2006): "Fractured Fairy Tale", by Wesley Morris
  15. Kevin Costner Almost Got 'Lady' Lead, Wednesday, July 19, 2006
  17. (June 26, 2006) - "Early Lady Review!" by Mike Sampson

External links

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