June 21, 2008

What "The Happening" is actually about

A few excerpts from my review of the eco-disaster film "The Happening" in the new issue of The American Conservative.

Spoiler Alert!!!! (Although, I'm not sure that "The Happening" is all that spoilable.)

M. Night Shyamalan, an Indian immigrant raised in suburban Philadelphia, is a Crunchy Con auteur who makes mild, relatively wholesome high-concept genre flicks. His 1999 ghost story, "The Sixth Sense," was an instant landmark, while his 2002 alien invasion movie "Signs" was another popular New Age parable about the need for faith and family. His lesser hit in 2004, "The Village," offered an empathetic fable about middle class flight from urban crime. ...

As the mass suicides spread throughout the Northeast, a Philadelphia biology teacher (Mark Wahlberg of "The Departed"), his wife (Zooey Deschanel), and math teacher best friend (John Leguizamo) flee randomly through the ominously verdant hay fields of rural Pennsylvania. After much brow-furrowing, Wahlberg discerns the horrible truth. We polluting humans are enduring the righteous vengeance of … plants.

... The aesthetics of "The Happening" are so unappealing that the entire movie, originally entitled "The Green Effect," might be a covert satire on greenhouse effect alarmism over global warming. The environmentalists in the film appear demented, and there's little sign of pollution. Pennsylvania looks plenty green.

But can a movie be a satire if it's not funny?

More plausibly, "The Happening" could be an allergy allegory. Every year, in the greener parts of America, plants do afflict millions, making them feel like life isn't worth living. Shyamalan burbled, "One of the things that I guess was in the back of my mind was that one in six emergency room cases for the United States is asthma-related. I'm going, "What? … Everybody's like wheezing and there's a line outside the nurse's office for an inhaler. What's that about? We're becoming allergic to what?"

Perhaps that's why Shyamalan has his normally likeable stars act as if their heads are stuffed up and they're just not in the mood to deal with the end of the world. With the state their sinuses are in, the apocalypse leaves them irked and ineffectual. Maybe they could cope if Armageddon were postponed until the pollen count is lower.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

Danindc said...

Saw it tonight- so bad...

tommy said...

Am I the only one has yet to see a Shyamalan flick they liked?

Danindc said...

Ok- this is fairly funny- I had a platform on a national sports radio show when The Village came out....The host gave me time and I started out by saying, " I saw The Village today loved it and i don't want to spoil anything but it takes place in the present day and the monsters are fake...

rec1man said...

Incidentally Shyamalan is a SIB
I have not seen this film, but his earlier films were good

travis said...

The odd thing is that the denouement had almost nothing to do with plants. I think Shyamalan is more concerned with a phenomenon that you have noted -- white yankees have stopped having babies. I thought this review at i09 was spot on about Shyamalan's intent.

kurt said...

Consider the possibility that both allergies and asthma, like autism, are due to Mercury (Thimerosal) poisoning. This is the operating premise that led me to try chelation therapy with Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) for 18 months.

Guess what, my asthma is completely gone (I mean completely) and my allergies are much reduced (but not completely gone).

I would say that my operating premise turned out to be correct.

Ron Guhname said...

With "Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable" I thought this guy might have a bright future, but the last four films have been duds. True talent can only be shown over time.

albertosaurus said...

Shyamalian is an example of the Movie Birth Order Effect.

Take any director or actor's total output. Approximately one half to two thirds will be good and one third or more willl be bad. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and enter any dirctor or actor's name. You will find that almost all of them have been in critically sucessful movies at around the 50%-66% rate. The exception is comedy. Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chaze have much lower approval rates - about one third.

A typical movie hero like Schwarzenegger is likely to have made his big hits early in his career. Later the averages catch up with him ans his later movies are less sucessful.

We can see this trend because ex post facto we can judge all the pictures but the decision to fund the next movie is made marginally. This means that if Arnold had made End of Days first he never would have gotten a chance at Terminator.

Similarly Shyamalan is a worse than average writer/director who was lucky enough to create the best movie he was capable of first.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/m_night_shyamalan/

David Davenport said...

Consider the possibility that both allergies and asthma, like autism, are due to Mercury (Thimerosal) poisoning. This is the operating premise that led me to try chelation therapy with Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) for 18 months.

Guess what, my asthma is completely gone (I mean completely) and my allergies are much reduced (but not completely gone).



Correlation does not prove causation. Read "Fooled By Randomness" or "The Black Swan," by Nassim Taleb.

( Taleb's OK. He's from Lebanon, but he's Christian. )

Peter said...

Shyamalan burbled, "One of the things that I guess was in the back of my mind was that one in six emergency room cases for the United States is asthma-related.

Sounds dubious ... I'd like to see actual statistics.

SKT said...

That review above about Shyamalan being an "avowed Christian" trumpeting intelligent design is bogus. Shyamalan is a Hindu, and has never pretended or wanted to be Christian to make white people in America happy (unlike Bobby Jindal).

That said, he did go to Catholic schools and stuff, so he may have been influenced by that.

SKT said...

You guys have to admit, Sixth Sense was good and Unbreakable was also pretty good. A lot of people also liked Signs, though it was a bit slow for me. I agree though that Lady In The Water was God awful, but the Village was a decent film. I have not yet seen his latest movie.

Overall Shyamalan is a pretty conservative guy who stays away from sleaze/filth in his movies, and avoids the Hollywood party set by remaining close to his friends/family in his hometown of Philadelphia. He's also pretty well assimilated, and isn't grinding an axe against his adopted country. Maybe he's no Hitchcock, but he's no weasel like Spielberg either.

tommy said...

David Davenport,

Correlation does not prove causation. Read "Fooled By Randomness" or "The Black Swan," by Nassim Taleb.

"Fooled by Randomness" was okay, but forget "The Black Swan." The latter book is chalk full of ridiculous nonsense. "The Black Swan" would have been funny if Taleb's pomposity wasn't so unbearable.

skt,

You guys have to admit, Sixth Sense was good

I'll admit nothing of the sort.

Anonymous said...

albertosaurus,

Shyamalan hasn't done himself any favors by writing all of the movies he directs. Its a common phenomenon for a talented director to sabotage himself by directing scripts they've written when they'd be better off filming the best scripts they can find, even when its written by someone else.

Joe Carnahan is the same way. Smokin' Aces was a wonderfully filmed movie, but the script was just stupid.

One of the actors in Smokin' Aces, Ben Affleck, has a similar problem. He spent 10 years trying to be a movie star when he should have quit acting years ago and focused on directing (Gone Baby Gone was the best movie of last year).

Anonymous said...

Most (but obviously not all) outdoor allergies are caused by so many modern humans being cooped up indoors throughout their whole lives, never being exposed to pollen, etc. while they were growing up and thus never developing an immunity toward allergens.

beowulf said...

I was the anonymous who mentioned Joe Carnahan and Ben Affleck above, I forgot to log in.

I should add that The Movie Spoiler site already has The Happening summarized. So if you have no interest in seeing it, you can skim the play by play.
http://www.themoviespoiler.com/

Martin said...

It did have a punchy theme song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A53t5rM3N8

But, I don't know, as remakes go, it was a big departure. The original was much funnier:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061748/