Monday, October 11, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan’s Happening: The Apocalyptic Genre and the Bible

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film “The Happening” is a strangely braided tale of mass obtusity and private sophistications, or so this reviewer devilishly advocates.

Although the hybrid concept is riveting, Shyamalan’s Happenings doesn’t really happen. Perhaps it came too soon after I Am Legend, is too similar to Signs, or counts too much on people being subtle. And M. Night Shyamalan should know by now that when the masses miss your subtleties, your movie gets cudgeled.

Still feeding off the success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan amazes movie goers once again with a script that nobody else would have been able to sell to anyone. What could have been a powerfully portent addition to the apocalyptic genre does grave injustice to the subject of the story, the stars that play it and the humanity it portrays.

Without any hint of urgency, the audience is informed that the world as we know it is coming to an end because for some unidentified reason all the bees have gone missing. That must have upset the plants, explains the plucky hot-dog eating breeder, because plants are more talkative than most humans. Apparently, we plastic MacHumans are too spiritually morose, even, to show some decent hysteria when our fellow men jump off buildings by the bushel or offer both arms for lions to devour. Blood-and-guts gush, sound effects thunder, but no tear is shed as the invisible foe prowls along in windy undulations and makes us kill ourselves in the most creative ways.

But then, there’s this curious, albeit completely over-acted, display of emotions when one single guy, who’s demonstratively not affected by the killer pollen, takes up a riffle and shoots some other not-infected person. At once Zooey Deschanel’s amazing blue eyes water up and fill the screen, and our hero – played by the usually well-composed Mark Wahlberg – bursts into feelings that weren’t there before when he and thousands of others were trying to escape mass execution by patiently waiting for a train, courteously exchanging tickets or the muffled bickerings of toothpaste-cap level arguments.

And the audience is left to pray: If the three concepts of Holocaust, some guy named Joey, and munching tiramisu can somehow find a way to go together, please God, let there at least be a very good reason!

But there is none, and God stays silent. Now why is that?

Religion is ubiquitous in the US, whether you like it or not. How can there be an apocalyptic movie without some mouth-frothing extras screaming quotes from the Book of Revelation in it?

The Book of Revelation is the most famous member of a body of apocalyptic literature that was produced two millennia ago. This genre was a typical result of the formation of empires that were as large as the known world, because to any human individual, empires are so huge that only a divine power can bring them to an end. Apocalyptic literature invariably showed God’s wrath being brought about by known natural events such as earth quakes, volcanoes or even meteorites.

In the twentieth century, the apocalyptic genre was revived by mankind’s growing global awareness but the rise of technology sired an apocalyptic sub-genre: movies and books began to identify mankind as rival God as the cause of global destruction. During the cold war we thought that nuclear weapons might do the trick, or else some martial virus that would escape from secret military labs. But in recent years our increased concern for the environment opened a market for the classical nature-strikes-back story. Hence we see Armageddon come in the wake of a mindless meteor, or The Day After Tomorrow mathematically triggered by pollution.

Shyamalan’s Happening however lets us guess at the nature of the story and leaves us indignant with the desire to know what we’re getting killed for. Is Syamalan saying that our collective behavior of the recent age translates into, or triggers, this mass self-suicide? Or has nature consciously declared war on us? Or are we all the victims of some transgressed critical-mass threshold? Why is the girl near the window with the tree saying that she sees “in calculus”? Why does neither the math teacher nor the science teacher submit some scientific substance to this ordeal, other than the glorious insight that there are some forces of nature that we don’t understand?

Are we supposed to quickly forget that to help us deal with exactly that, mankind has come up with religion, and that excursions into religious thought are deeply human? Shyamalan’s movie, however, is peopled by puppets that have not a thing to do with human beings, our true need to know, and the consolation of the belief in a God. Unless you count the sinister Mrs. Jones, who maintains her signature ignorance with signature zeal, while displaying Bible texts and Jesus statues all over her house. When she goes, and she goes grimly, she’s singing Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, while the green pastures that He leads us to are known to be the very fields that kill us.

Luckily, our hero is a stud and our heroine is hot. And that kid’s cute too. Too bad the kid’s not clairvoyant, the heroine a retired missionary and our scientific hero an Indiana Jones kind of theologian. He would have revealed within the first minute of the movie that the Hades-trailing fourth horseman of the apocalypse is chlorophyll-green, that the Biblical word for bee is closely related to the word “Word” (of God), and that the Biblical word for wind is identical to the word for spirit.

Nah. That would have made that movie perhaps too scary all at once.

But where a wrathful God would have saved a city on the merits of five righteous inhabitants, so Shyamalan’s The Happening is rescued from complete failure by Mark Wahlberg’s smile in the last minute of the movie. That two-second smile alone tells more story and shows more character than the entire preceding drag. It makes the movie mesmerizing and shows that somewhere deep under the roots of the killer grass there lies an initial intention of making a truly great film.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Be nice.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...