Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Happening

It's apparently an average day, like any other; weather is happening, people are working, playing and doing all the things that people do on an average day. In New York's Central Park, people are taking breaks, walking, relaxing and carrying on conversations with their friends, until, without warning, the act of communicating becomes difficult, disorientation sets in and then, by whatever means are available, everyone starts to kill themselves. Word of the event begins to spread and the initial assumption is that New York has suffered some type of chemi cal terrorist attack. In Philadelphia, high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and the rest of the school's faculty are notified of the tragedy as classes are canceled and children are sent home to be with their families. Elliot and his math teacher friend Julian (John Leguizamo), decide to get their families together and take a train to the Pennsylvania farmlands until more information is learned and the possibility of further attacks has been reduced. Elliot and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), who are obviously going through some type of strain in their relationship, meet Julian and his 8 year-old daughter, Jess, at the train station and, after learning that Julian's wife is late and will have to take the next train, they head out. Once on the train, news of more attacks reaches the occupants and after hearing increasingly grim reports, the conductors stop the train, due to no communication from any of the stations, and basically, because of fear and self preservation, tell everyone they're on their own. Now, in a small town in the Pennsylvania countryside, Elliot, Alma, Julian and Jess are faced with limited options. It has become obvious that the attacks are affecting smaller and smaller areas of human population and even though Elliot is beginning to understand what is happening, he's also beginning to see that there may be no such thing as a safe place.

This movie falls comfortably into the area of classic apocalypse, as in, something has happened/ is happening, we're not really sure what, but there's a good chance a significant percentage of humans (if not all) could end up perishing. Similar to how apocalyptic films of the 50's capitalized on the fears of the atomic bomb and the effects of radiation, this movie, at first, makes use of the terrorist threat fears, and then moves into an entirely different, but not completely unexplored, realm. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has stated that his goal for this film was to create a current, well made "B" movie - much like those films of the 50's - and in that respect (and in my opinion), he easily achieved, and surpassed what he set out to do. The main difference between Shyamalan's film and the 50's versions is that rather than waste time on dialog involving pseudo-science and explanations that would become laughable in six to eight months (like much of the radiation hypothesizing of the 50's), The Happening looks for solutions based on common sense logic but never attempts to provide a definitive answer, relying instead on the notion that, as much as humans like to arrogantly think we're the be-all end-all of intelligence, there are just some things that we don't know and even when we think we have it figured out, we don't. That's my favorite aspect of the film: Humanity getting caught with their complacent pants around their chubby ankles.

Keeping with the "B" movie notion, rather than create the large (and expensive) spectacle of the world in danger, the story ultimately focuses on a few individuals who's purpose is to emotionally convey the vastness of the situation from the viewpoint of a mircocosm, and, for this particular story, Wahlberg, Deschanel and Leguizamo, along with a few others, do that incredibly well. Wahlberg and Deschanel are able to show the overall fear that such an event would induce while simultaneously displaying the emotional gamut of a couple suffering relationship strains as they try to assist friends and perfect (and imperfect) strangers through the course of an unprecedented event. Leguizamo is representative of the people in traumatic events who try to be brave for others as the fears concerning the fate of loved ones continually erode their internal supports. I've decided that Leguizamo should take more dramatic roles.

I didn't think this was a great movie, but I definitely believe that it was good and is worth seeing in the theater, especially if you are in any way a fan of the apocalyptic style of storytelling. This movie may not have major action or a spectacular budget, but the intense scenes when the event takes place more than make up for that. Shyamalan's ability to subtly film a sequence with an underlying intensity that lingers long after the initial scene has passed is uncanny. That alone is worth the price of admission or rental.

Oh, and one word of warning: If the notion of seeing someone intentionally inflict injury upon themselves intending to bring about their own demise bothers you, by no means should you see this movie. Seriously.

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