The Better Portion.
The crucial difference between these two ways of life is that the villagers take seriously (and choose deliberately) what kind of life is to be preferred: one in which economic prosperity is the highest good or one in which an authentically human life can be lived? The villagers have chosen the latter and it seems in many ways to be a better choice.
Despite the fundamental deception of the village's founding, the community possesses some authentic goods. While I would be loathe to suggest that the end justifies the means, the admirable qualities of this mythical place include charity, humility and fellowship.
Fellowship. When Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) misbehaves or murders, he is put in "the quiet room." The greatest punishment available in this community is to be shunned or isolated. Throughout the film, the villagers have a lively life together and truly enjoy each other's company. Whether it is sharing a community meal or washing the dishes, people stay together.
Humility. Although the village is founded upon a presumption that seems to say, "We can create a world without pain," Edward Walker (William Hurt) possesses the humility to ask, "What was the purpose of our leaving? Don't forget, it was out of hope of something good and right." He is thus willing to let the whole ideological edifice fall away if innocence can be protected. He adds: "If we did not make this decision [to go to the towns to seek medicine], we could never again call ourselves innocent, and that in the end is what we have protected here: innocence!" One is reminded of what Jesus says about scandal:
If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).Naturally, the "scandal" of a society built upon deliberate omissions and falsifications does not disappear because of the founders' desire to protect the innocence of the children.
Charity. No one can fault the intentions of the villagers. Who, if given a choice, would refuse a good life for his son or daughter? Yet it is not mere theoretical love that is displayed in the film, but concrete actions:
- Edward's agreement to allow Ivy to fetch medicines from the towns while knowing full well that the entire social order may collapse as a result of the secret being made known.
- Ivy's willingness to risk her life for the beloved, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix).
- The security guard's willingness to protect Ivy's secret and not exploit her.
I can't help but think of the Amish as a kind of point of reference in the film. The villagers are a kind of fictional doppelgängers with respect to them:
- the Amish are religious but the villagers are secular and therapeutic
- the Amish possess historical rootedness but the villagers create a history and culture from some raw materials and their collective imagination.
- the Amish are willing to let their children risk living with "the English" as they reach adulthood, whereas the villagers are fiercely insular.