THE PLANK JUNE 14, 2008
Chris does an admirable (and hilarious) job of tearing apart M. Night Shyamalan's latest crime against cinema, The Happening. It is incredibly awful, so laughingly bad that at one point during the screening I attended last night a man in the audience yelled, "I can't take it anymore!" No one shushed him. While Chris deconstructs the film's myriad absurdities, poor performances, and atrocious script, he didn't go after what I believe is its morally appalling premise: that the mere existence of the human race is a cause for great shame.
As with most of Shyamalan's films, The Happening has an intriguing plot: centuries of human pollution has prompted nature to retaliate against us by form of a noxious gas released from trees, plants, grass -- it's never really clear. The toxin is first emitted in Central Park, smack dab in the middle of one of the most densly populated places in the United States. First, victims lose their critical faculties. Then they freeze. Then they killl themselves. From New York City "The Happening" spreads all along the east coast, from Boston to Washington. Shyamalan leaves little to the imagination in depicting man's nature-inflicted suicide. We see a woman stab herself in the neck with a hair pin. A man runs himself over with a lawnmower. On can't help but leave the theater thinking that Shyamalan derives a sick, masochistic pleasure in showing the deaths of all his bit characters, hopeless rubes are these human beings. They drove their SUVs for too long and had a big carbon footprint and now they're going to pay.
After 90 minutes of this, the culling of humanity ends. We catch a brief television news segment in which a scientist warns us that what the Northeast just experienced was akin to a terrestrial occurrence of oceanic "red tides." The earth warned us, but thankfully we get another chance to amend the errors of our ways. Like the end of An Inconvenient Truth, we're left with some hope that environmental catastrophe is not a foregone conclusion. Buy a plug-in car. Use public transportation when available. Turn off the light when you leave a room. An unoffensive, and indeed positive message. The second to last scene depicts the female lead waiting nervously in her bathroom to read the results of a home pregnancy test. To her delight, she is with child. Her husband comes home, they embrace. Humanity soldiers on. What a warm feeling after so many scenes of horrific death.
But Shyamalan is obsessed with conceits at the expense of every other aspect -- the script, character development, and most importantly, good taste. He lives by the conceit, and, in this case, dies by it. After the pregnancy scene, the screen goes dark and we find ourselves in Paris, the Jardin des Tuileries to be exact. It's eerily reminiscent of the film's opening, with two men walking, engaged in pleasant conversation about their plans for the evening. A gust of wind! One of the men starts to stutter. People freeze. Screams. Mon Dieu!. Roll credits.This isn't just radical environemntalist fare; it's perverse and anti-human. Shyamalan cuts immediately from the natural joy of pregnancy to its consequence: mass, nature-inflicted murder. It's not carbon output, styrofoam cups or the clearing of the rain forests that so angers Mother Earth and, thus, her self-appointed human spokesman. It's us.