Sunday, August 24, 2008


“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”
-- attributed to Albert Einstein

Regardless of how I ultimately feel about any particular M. Night Shyamalan film, one of the things I can generally count on is the fact that the performances will be uniformly top notch.
For the first time though, it’s the performances I have a problem with…

Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school Science teacher, who, along with wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), serve as the main protagonists of Shyamalan’s latest (and first R-rated) effort, The Happening.
In the film, a bizarre occurrence in New York’s Central Park sparks fears of a terrorist attack, and the Moores join Elliot’s best friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), as they leave Philadelphia by train to join Julian’s mother, away from the city.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not necessarily saying that the acting in The Happening is bad, but rather, I do think there’s been some serious miscasting here.
Wahlberg, Deschanel, and Leguizamo, as expected, all bring their own levels of quirk to their characters, and I can imagine Shyamalan wanted actors who could partially offset the grim scenario that unfolds onscreen.
What we occasionally get though, are performances that don’t seem to be taking place in the same movie. Strangely, there seems to be a remove here, particularly for Deschanel, who mostly feels as if she’s tuned to an altogether different frequency. (And I love Deschanel, so it kills me that she seems so out of place in The Happening.)
And mind, I’m not asking for extreme histrionics here, but rather, a little more emotional indication of the gravity of the situation.

Wahlberg is also oddly off-synch here for some reason. There are two particular scenes that stand out in my mind as bothersome.
One—in which Elliot falls back on his Science teacher mindset to push him into action—is unintentionally funny, while another—in which he tries to communicate with what he believes is the film’s central threat—is meant to be funny, but isn’t.
Again, I really think this is more a case of miscasting than anything else, and perhaps, Shyamalan looking for something in the performances that just doesn’t jibe very well with the film’s overall tone.

Also, by the very nature of the premise, we really don’t have any luxury to get to know the characters as well as we normally do in a Shyamalan film.
The scenario doesn’t afford the script any significant lulls in which to explore character in the way Shyamalan usually does, thus, there’s that nagging feeling that the Moores aren’t as well fleshed-out as characters were in, say, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable.

Where The Happening does succeed though, is in the frightening and troubling scenario Shyamalan posits; the set pieces that showcase the havoc wreaked by the film’s central threat are wildly disturbing.
And the nature of that central threat is also alarmingly within the realm of possibility.
Man has spent centuries believing himself the master of his own destiny, when the truth is, very little is under our control; even our very own bodies have the potential to betray us, and at the very end, they do.
If we’re not even in complete control of our selves, how can we even dare to believe that we’ve brought the world to heel?

Any notion of man at the top of the hill, in the driver’s seat, or whichever metaphor you choose to use, is a dangerous delusion. We’ve raped and plundered the environment while enshrouded by that hubris.
We as a species are on a path that seems to be headed for ruin, oblivious—or worse, uncaring—of how our existence impacts on everything else around us.
Thus, when some horrible effect rises in response to the cause which is the human race, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Some schools of thought liken our species to a disease on the body of Mother Earth, and if that is true, then the antibodies have to kick in sooner or later, right?

The Happening may be flawed, but it’s nonetheless a chilling cautionary tale of an Armageddon all-too terrifying, and all-too plausible in its inexplicability.
If only for that reason, it’s a film that really should be seen, and just maybe, it’ll cause us to be a little more introspective of ourselves, before it’s too late.
Then, with any luck, we may keep on existing, there, but for the grace of Whatever Else Is Out There.

“Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end, it’ll be just a theory. We will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding.
“To be a good scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature.”

(The Happening OS courtesy of; images courtesy of,, and

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