Population overshoot and collapse: M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening has not received the most favorable critical response, with Richard Corliss of Time wondering about the decline in the director’s talent, a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 20%, and user comments like “The Happening is just not happening” on IMDB. While I can see problematic areas in the film, especially when Shyamalan tries to film computer-generated R-rated gore, The Happening struck me as thought-provoking and visionary. The director’s effort to return to a 1950’s style paranoid thriller in the same vein as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has more contemporary relevance than yet another cumbersome superhero film.
At least, Shyamalan does not waste time with exposition. Two women sitting on a park bench in
Pretty soon, the plague (?) spreads throughout the
Soon, Mark Wahlberg appears as
In terms of their acting, Wahlberg proves unexpectedly funny in his role. As he strives to apply scientific techniques to deduce a method for survival, he also makes fun of his wife’s not really adulterous relationship with some guy named Joey by confessing of his attraction to a cute pharmacist. He says he almost bought some cough syrup for her even though he didn’t have a cough. Wahlberg has several moments like this, such as when he bursts into song outside of a boarded up home, and something about the hysteria of the film liberates his acting in ways I’ve haven’t seen since his performance in The Departed. For her part, Zooey Deschanel’s striking blue eyes have always given her an extraterrestrial look since she appeared in Almost Famous (2000), so she seems well-cast, although she can look too disengaged to be properly fearful from scene to scene.
Ultimately, I liked The Happening because it considers how multiple circumstances can abruptly reduce human overpopulation. Whether on Easter Island with humans, or with micro-organisms in a Petri dish, populations often balloon in size before dying off when resources can no longer support them. While the basic concept of the film may be far-fetched, something will happen to cut down the exponential growth of the human population, and The Happening dramatizes how mentally ill-equipped we are for this inevitable change.