Notes from Underground
What's "Happening" to M. Night
By ANDY NOWICKI
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Gibson's current pariah status is Hollywood, of course, stems from the uproar
surrounding his "Passion of the Christ" and his subsequent drunken run-in with a Jewish
policeman. The movie was loudly denounced as anti-Semitic by all the usual suspects
who routinely make such accusations against society's designated thought-criminals, and
both his film and his own reckless behavior convicted Gibson, in the eyes of the media, as a
thoroughly reprehensible bigot. His status as an ultramontane Catholic with a Holocaust-denying father, as well as his previously professed insensitivity toward sodomites, sealed
his fate. But Gibson has always retained support from
The derision that is now greeting Shyamalan, on the other hand, is in some ways more extreme. Granted, he's not the household name that Gibson is. He's also not regarded as a bigot; after all, he isn't of the Caucasian persuasion, and most of the chattering class is too infused with knee-jerk white guilt ever to think such a thing about a non-white. But Shyamalan appears to have become the whipping boy, not only of the opinion-shapers and their allies (who also hate Gibson, to be sure) but also of the moviegoing public. To draw a (semi-blasphemous but still apt) metaphor from the Christ story, Gibson is loathed by the Pharisees but still a hero to the commoners, and therefore unfit for crucifixion. Shyamalan, by contrast, is now hated by the mob as well as the temple priests; they would have the robber Barabbas released instead of him.
It's amazing to see how far Shyamalan's star has fallen in a relatively short period of time. Nearly a decade ago, he was the toast of Hollywood, almost universally praised. His creepy ghost story with a "twist" ending, "The Sixth Sense" (1999), was a major hit. Critics and audiences both loved it. "I see dead people," Haley Joel Osment's line, entered the vernacular alongside "Show me the money," "Hasta la vista, baby," and "Go ahead, make my day." Shyamalan's follow-up, "Unbreakable" (2001), didn't make as much of a dent at the box office but still won the allegiance of most critics. Then came "Signs" in 2003, which teamed Shyamalan up with Gibson and told a memorable story about one man's losing, then regaining, his faith during a terrifying alien invasion. Critics were split, but the film made a pile of money. There seemed to be no stopping the Shyamalan momentum.
It was at this point, at the height of his glory, that Shyamalan apparently decided to start taking some major chances, artistically speaking. With "The Village" (2004), he succeeded in alienating both horror-movie fans and critics. The fans just wanted to see monsters and mayhem, and instead he gave them a complex political allegory, which made them howl with anger, like carnivores denied their red meat in favor of spinach and tofu. The critics, for their part, couldn't stomach Shyamalan's deeply reactionary message, which sympathetically portrayed an all-white separatist group escaping a crime- and corruption-filled modern world.
Then with 2006's "Lady in the Water," Shyamalan further offended his detractors by
casting himself as an obscure writer whose work will one day usher in a golden age, and,
on the other hand, portraying a movie critic (played by Bob Balaban) as humorless and
spiteful, and richly deserving of the comeuppance he receives in the film's climax. Many
saw in those depictions the worst kind of self-congratulation; it apparently occurred to no
one that Shyamalan himself may have been winking playfully at his haters by including
those characters in the story. Then again, true haters are by definition not sensitive to
subtlety or irony; having to stop and think, after all, might interfere with their capacity to
go on hating.
Now Shyamalan has released "The Happening," which may prove to be the most misunderstood of all his films. Read just about any movie blog and nearly every movie review on record, and you will witness an all-out bloodletting. It's not pretty. A bizarre apocalyptic thriller in the vein of "The Birds" or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" with vegetation as the perceived enemy instead of alien or avian wildlife the movie seems to have the fascinating capacity to become anyone's ready-made scapegoat. Various critics read their various pet peeves into the plot, finding various rationalizations for their anger. Those sick of global warming/environmentalist propaganda think the movie is an effort to push a Green agenda down their throat. Those with a bee in their bonnet about religion suspect that (horror of horrors) Shyamalan wants to endorse faith and family. Once again, horror and sci-fi fans are disappointed with the film's lack of "rock 'em sock 'em" moments. They want more blood, more action, more special effects. "The Happening" is a monster movie in which the monsters are never seen, their identity never really known, and their motives for attacking humans left largely unexplained. In other words, it's a thinking man's horror movie. And who wants to think, especially during the summer?
The conventional wisdom, now
more than ever, is that
Cheers to you,
June 30, 2008
© 2008 WTM Enterprises. All rights
Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.
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